Ron Hextall will say a million times that he "likes his team" and thinks they can compete this season. He's been saying it since he took over as general manager, and he'll keep saying it, because he's not going to call his team bad in front of the media.
But I've been convinced basically all summer that ... well, to put it bluntly, Hextall is not an idiot. He doesn't look at the current Flyers roster and see a Cup contender or a team that can go deep in the playoffs. And here's the first real proof that he feels that way, via Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet:
One other note about Hextall, open in his desire to be patient: When Philly talked with Florida about the number one draft pick, he wanted some kind of cover in case the Flyers' 2015 first-rounder (which would have been part of the deal) was too high. "Lottery protection" is a staple of NBA trades. For example, when Steve Nash was traded from Phoenix to the Lakers, one of the return picks was a 2015 first-rounder. But, the Suns can't use it if it is top 5 in 2015 or top 3 in 2016-17. In 2018, it is unprotected. (Neither Hextall nor the Panthers would comment.)
"He wanted some kind of cover in case the Flyers' 2015 first-rounder was too high."
You know, in case the Flyers were so bad that the 2015 draft pick would've been a top 10 pick, or even higher. He didn't want to give up that pick in a trade with Florida for last year's No. 1 pick, and he knew that the pick being high is a very real possibility.
This falls in line with his philosophy on the young defensemen. If he thought this team could be competitive this year, do you think for a minute that Samuel Morin would be in junior or Shayne Gostisbehere would be in the AHL? Hell no. We all know that those guys would improve the Flyers defense as it currently stands, and the Flyers wouldn't be comfortable letting a year of Claude Giroux's prime slip by if they thought they could compete for the Cup right now.
But Hextall has made clear that it's not about right now, even if he hasn't said that in as many words. And you know what? That's OK, even if it's a departure from basically everything we've ever known with this organization. Hextall has a plan. It's going to take a year or two or three, and we're just going to have to get on board.