The summer of 2018 is the first time that Ron Hextall has significant cap space and open roster spots to make a splash type move in free agency or via trade. There’s a loud, vocal segment of Flyers fans that is demanding he does so ASAP and I think the large majority of Flyers fans want to see Hextall make additions this summer. Hextall himself has more or less hinted that he’s going to make some additions, saying that the Flyers are going to look at adding help at center, on defense and maybe even a scoring winger. He also specifically said they’d be looking to add a good PK forward. He even said he was open to shoring up the goaltender position.
The question is, will that quell the tide of anger and rising impatience on social media? Being a loser with nothing better to do-er, being an avid Twitter user, I interact with many other fans. I usually talk hockey with them, because not everyone appreciates me repeating Mystery Science Theatre 3000 lines when I see tweets about Dustin Byfuglien, or my live tweeting of The Big Lebowski. Damned heathens. Anyhow, a lot of them want the Flyers to take the next step by adding more talent that can help immediately.
In the wake of the up and down 2017-18 season, and especially it’s disappointing end, it’s understandable for fans to call for changes. We see the Vegas Golden Knights, and their sparkly uniforms, in the conference final in their inaugural season. We see teams make significant additions to their NHL roster and it’s a hard to get excited for Valtteri Filppula and Brian Elliott. Teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning shore up their rosters at the trade deadline and we wonder why the Flyers aren’t doing the same.
I get it. I want additions, too. I don’t think it’s fair to the fans, players, or even the coaches to not make some additions to the roster this summer. That said, the Flyers are in a tricky spot. They have a load of cap space now, but in a few years guys like Nolan Patrick, Travis Konecny, and Ivan Provorov will be making significantly more money. Hextall has to avoid locking up guys at or over 30 years of age to contracts that go longer than a year or two, even if they are great fits for the Flyers immediate holes. Even in trades, Hextall must be prudent. Guys like Charlie Coyle, Ryan O’Reilly and Matthieu Perrault would definitely help. but at what cost? If the Flyers had a Stanley Cup level roster and desperately needed a third line center, sure, overpay for a guy like Coyle or Perrault. Otherwise, it’s really hard to justify some of the trade or free agent suggestions out there.
Now, if a player like Jeff Skinner could be had at a fair price, kick the tires. He’s a guy you could plug in next to Nolan Patrick for the next four years and watch them tear things up. Or a free agent like John Tavares, who steps in as a super star level presence and skill, radically making your team better in one fell swoop. Guys who are merely good to very good players like Paul Stastny or James Neal don’t have that level of impact. You’d certainly like the talent they bring, but you have to ask yourself what level of play will they be at at the end of the contract? I mean, if you could do a JJ Redick-style deal with a guy like Stastny, absolutely. The worry for a guy like him isn’t next year, it’s three years down the road, when he’s 35 and probably in decline and Nolan Patrick is asking for $6 million per year.
Would the masses be happy if the Flyers simply opened the roster and line up spots to kids? Thus far the Flyers have avoided Edmonton Oilers’ approach of rushing kids in and letting them sink or swim, but the Flyers do have solid veteran leaders that Edmonton lacked. Young defensemen like Samuel Morin and Philippe Myers could step in next season and bring more talent (and certainly size) to the blue line corps without a trade or free agent signing. Of course, that would probably lead into a knock on Hextall I have read on social media, that he is gun shy about making a risky trade to add experienced roster pieces. I don’t buy that, as the Brayden Schenn trade was a pretty significant move. Of course that was a big move that didn’t feature a significant roster addition, so it’s not going to mollify those who have that concern.
The truth is, we may get no new data on that this summer. But this is the first time that Hextall refusing to make a deal to help the NHL roster would be a choice of his, rather than a matter of economics or roster space. This year, he has both cap room and the roster space to make some ripples or even a splash but that doesn’t guarantee he will. I’d like to think, and hope, he does. If they stand pat and just work in kids, it’s hard to expect the 2018-19 season to have higher expectations than previous years.