This season, more than ever, there’s been a sentiment among fans that the Flyers have become passive as an organization. We went from GMs like Bob Clarke and Paul Holmgren who could go scorched Earth at the first sign of trouble to a GM in Ron Hextall who tends to dig his heels in and believe in his off-season work until it’s absolutely necessary to make a change. And generally, that change has been minor. A Lecavalier dump to LA, a Filppula acquisition to sure up a gaping hole at 3C, a send-off of Kimmo Timonen into a Stanley Cup sunset, to name a few.
Up until this year, I feel he was justified in many of his in-season decisions. He was building up the prospect pool and the cap situation wasn’t favorable; we are all well aware of this by now. But this year was painted differently. This year we were looking to take the proverbial next step towards becoming a legitimate Cup contender. And so far, the team has largely looked as mediocre as ever.
So, is the mindset changing in the front office? Are we going to see the front office “raise the bar”? I’m not holding my breath.
In an interview about 2 weeks ago with Jason Myrtetus and Chris Therien on 97.5 The Fanatic, Hextall was asked about his approach to in-season deals. Below is the exchange between he and Therien:
Therien: …If there’s one area you’d like to improve on or you can improve on, what would it be and how difficult can it be to make those kind of moves…maybe you talk about trades during the course of a year?
Hextall: It is difficult. There’s no question the salary cap has made it extremely difficult. You might find a team that wants to do something but you don’t have a fit. So…there might be 5 teams that want to do something and the chance of you having a fit are not great so you gotta continue to plug away at it. Its gotta fit for both teams. It’s gotta fit financially, cap-wise and it’s gotta fit player-wise. Some team might wanna move a forward for a forward, well, some team might wanna move a forward for a D, we don’t fit. And then, even if you do fit, how does the money come in? How’s the cap come in? So it is difficult. I think more and more we’re seeing trades made around the draft, and then obviously the free agent signings and other than that, it is hard. In saying that, we continue to talk like any other team in the league and see if we can make our team better. The problem is, if you trade this position, you create a hole there to fill another hole. It’s like the dike. You wanna plug the hole dike and it’s kinda why we went to the draft and develop philosophy because you wanna become as good a team as you can become without having holes so…we all have minor holes we’d love to fix. We’d love to have a veteran defenseman maybe that’s a really sound defender. You’d love to have a guy that can score 40 goals. But these guys don’t grow on trees, and as I said you open up one hole to fill another.
On the whole, the quote is fairly logical. It’s obviously hard to make in-season moves for various reasons. What has me concerned are the statements I’ve made bold for emphasis. “You open up one hole to fill another” and “...you create a hole there to fill another hole”. I find this to be a risk-averse approach. Does that mean it isn’t true? No, not necessarily. There are certainly times when trades are made and this occurs, particular in player for player deals when a roster player(s) is moved for another roster player(s). But is it always the case? I don’t believe so, especially when you are in the position in which the Flyers currently find themselves as an organization. They have a significant amount of cap space. The prospect pool, even with much of their top-end talent graduated to the NHL level, is among the best in the league. The team is (apparently) looking to take the next step toward legitimate contention, though they have some clear flaws. Looking purely from a trade perspective, the Flyers are in as ideal a situation as possible. So it is a bit concerning to me when the GM comes out and compares making in-season moves to trying to patch a dike.
Take Wayne Simmonds for example. Using the dike analogy, would trading Wayne Simmonds create another hole in the dike? He’s on the 3rd line putting up mediocre play driving metrics. He’s been taken off the first power play unit and a legitimate argument can be made that both JVR and Nolan Patrick can replace or even enhance that net-front position on the top unit. He’s known as a leader on the team, but I can’t say that his leadership is enough to make up for his diminishing on-ice value. Finally, he’s in a contract year and due for a significant raise. If they were to trade him, even for a position other than RW, would you be creating a hole in the team? I would argue no.
I think the same can be applied to the coaching staff. Dave Hakstol is, overall, a mediocre run-of-the-mill coach. I think he teeters between below average and average over the course of a season but in the end, like his results have shown in his career, he’s pretty average. Are you creating a hole in the dike by firing him? Truthfully, only if whoever you bring in next is worse, which I would argue isn’t very likely. It’s probably most likely you bring in someone who is also average, but maybe in a different way. And who knows, maybe you even find someone who is better! As I mentioned in my last article, I believe there are better options who are likely to be available in the off-season. This applies even more so to Ian Laperriere. The PK has been an utter disaster since he took the position 5 years ago. Assistant coaches don’t tend to get fired in-season, but are you creating a hole in the dike by firing him? Given the team’s 5-on-5 prowess this year (yeah, they’ve been pretty good, fam) I think it’s easy to argue that his PK is the biggest hole in the dike of all. It may be risky to fire him in the sense that in-season firings of assistants don’t happen very often, but given how putrid and frankly historically bad the PK has been under his tutelage, can it really get much worse without him?
Again, there are times where making deals or coaching decisions can create holes. I’m not saying this is never the case. What I am saying is that it doesn’t have to be the case, particularly when you have the resources the Flyers currently have at their disposal. It’s just a matter of being smart in your decision-making, and since that’s ultimately your job as GM, it shouldn’t be something you are hesitant or even afraid to do. Taking chances are necessary when you are in a position of power. Staying the course and even going as far as being risk-averse can be just as detrimental to a team’s success as being too bold.
So, as has been the outcry from fans all season: it’s time, Ron. It’s time to make changes at the NHL level to put them in position to bring the Cup back to Philadelphia for the first time since 1975. After all, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.