With training camp just about two weeks away and the beginning of the regular season just a month ahead of us, we're slowly starting to see more of the team's key figures around in the media. That includes general manager Ron Hextall, who took some time this morning to speak with the Breakfast on Broad crew on TCN about a number of topics.
The whole 13-plus-minute interview is worth watching, as it touches on several different Flyers-related subjects ranging from the serious to the more light-hearted. It can be seen at this link (warning: the video will autoplay, which is why it's not embedded it on the page here).
On the challenge of balancing the primes of the team's top players with the early-career phases of some of its younger players:
Well, you can't really speed up the process. I think that when you look at a player's career, it's not just one or two years, it's four, five, six years. We believe [Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux] are going to be in their primes for a number of years, not just coming into their primes. We're not too worried about that. Obviously, you'd love to speed the process up with some of our young players, but you can't. You've got to be patient, you've got to let them develop at their rate, at the rate they're ready to develop at. And we'll give them due time. In saying that, if young guys are ready to play at the [NHL] level and make us a better team, we'll do what we can to make some room.
On how the team's leadership will improve from last season:
I think leadership, people grow into leadership, and our leaders last year were pretty young for the most part. I think they learned a lot last year, I know there are some things that go on in the summer that you teach, we've got some things at training camp that will try and escalate the process. But I think your best leader is your coach, and I think Hak is gonna be a great leader for us, so we're certainly excited about him.
On whether or not he believes a change of scenery will help Sam Gagner:
I do. Sam, he's a really skilled player, he makes a lot of plays, and it's something when we looked at the end of the year, we wanted to add a skilled forward that makes plays, and Sam just happened to fit the bill. He played in London, a high-powered offensive team, and then he went to Edmonton, a young team, kind of an offensive team, they were really young at the time, and I think Sam went in there and it was just a different situation. They expected a lot from young players, and it was tough, I think, for all of them. And he comes into a situation, now, I think, with a fairly mature group of forwards, and he needs to play a two-way game, and as I said, the skill level, shootouts, and just upping our number of plays that we make in the offensive zone, we really believe he's going to help us.
On whether or not having an outside perspective from his time in L.A. is helping him, after having spent so much of his hockey career in the Flyers' organization:
I've always said, when you're working in pro sports or really any walk of life, the experience that you get is invaluable. So I think to step away, and I think, not only stepping away from Philadelphia, but going into a different type of situation. L.A. was a not-a-great team when we went there, and we really had to rebuild the whole infrastructure of the organization. So I think all of that experience is more valuable, to me, than leaving Philadelphia, necessarily. So I learned a lot out there, a lot about hiring people, and building a team, really, from the grass roots, because we had a lot of work to do.
On having the patience to not call up a young defenseman last year in hopes of immediately helping the NHL team:
It's been proven, year over year, for as long as I've been in the game, that bringing young players in too early is suicide. We're not willing to do that. We want to bring our young players in, but again, we don't want to force them. The worst thing you can do to young players is force them to a level they're not ready for. We don't want a kid who potentially, a first- or second-line player, maybe starting off on your fourth line, and playing, y'know, six or seven minutes, and as the game gets richer mid-season, all of a sudden, less, and maybe you start sitting out, it's just not good for the development of young people, young players, and again, it's been proven over and over.
On where the team stands on potentially giving those prospects a shot to make the team this year:
We know where our prospects are, for the most part. How they show in camp can certainly impact whether they make the team or not, but the hard part for us is, you can't look at a player in preseason and say "he played great". He's playing against 10 NHL players who are looking to get ready for the season, not necessarily have their midseason form yet, and he's playing with 10 other guys that aren't necessarily NHL players. The level of play, quite frankly, is not up to the regular season. So to evaluate at that point, it's hard, so you've always got to be cognizant of the fact that they're really not at the level they're going to be playing at opening night.
On the decision-making process to keep players at the NHL level:
Well, I think the evaluation starts the year before, where they're at, what they've accomplished, y'know, how far along we think they are, how they did maybe in development camp, their testing at training camp, and then you see the level of play, and then you've got to make a judgment call, whether he can maintain that level. And not only maintain it, because we see some kids come in for a couple of weeks, or a month, and play at a high level, and all of a sudden there's a drop, and then what do you do with the kid? Do you keep him, or do you send him back to junior? It's really hard. Philosophically, when our young players come up, I want them to come up and be there for 10 or 15 years. Not come up, down, up, down - it's just not good for development. And again, it's history. It's not something that's been reinvented.
On Dave Hakstol, and what he's learned about Hakstol since the hiring became official:
I think you always look at everything, like who is successful coming out of college or junior, there's not a lot in the NHL, there's not a lot of guys who make that jump. It came down to my feel for Dave, and I met with him for four days, and on the phone, we were together a lot whether via phone or in person, and it's just a gut feel. He's got a lot of real intangibles that are hard to teach. The leadership, the work ethic, his focus is absolutely pin-point, and obviously I think he's going to be a terrific NHL coach.
I think Dave, everything that I thought about him, and I didn't know him that well when we hired him, everything I thought about him has kind of played true. He's a very honest guy, and as a player, you're going to know exactly where you stand, but not in a vicious way, in a real direct, honest way. "This is where you stand", "this is what I need from you". Like I said, I think with today's athlete, I think he's the type of coach that not only can be successful, but be successful long-term.
Hextall also talked about training camp, the possibility of Danny Briere and Kimmo Timonen eventually joining the front office, his mustache from back in his heyday, and more. You can watch the whole interview (again, autoplay warning) at this link.