Minutes after the Flyers officially confirmed the signing of James van Riemsdyk to a five-year, $35 million contract, Ron Hextall addressed the media in Voorhees on where things currently stand for the team following the biggest signing of his tenure as general manager of the Flyers.
A nearly-full transcript of his comments (cut off slightly at the beginning, as no one had started recording it at that point) can be read below, lightly edited for clarity. Thanks to the Flyers’ PR team and The Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi for Periscoping Hextall’s comments.
- The team is excited to have JVR. (Duh.) They were very happy with the term and think he fills a role as a goal-scoring winger with size.
- Hextall was a bit wishy-washy as to whether the team is looking to make moves elsewhere in free agency, suggesting at some points that the team was done looking for upgrades and at other points that the team may still try to bring in depth bodies at center and/or on defense. More than anything else, he stressed several times that he’s not looking to give out a ton of term, and that he’s not going to make a move for a guy if it’s just a lateral move from the in-house options currently available.
- The one spot where Hextall did say that they’d still like to add a player is in looking for a penalty-killer. Didn’t confirm that that’d be someone outside of the organization, though.
- Hextall confirmed that the team will be moving on from Valtteri Filppula, and that they made no real effort to re-sign Brandon Manning (who signed with Chicago earlier today).
- Hextall says that today’s signing does not affect the team’s willingness to bring back Wayne Simmonds. He stressed that the two are different players who play different positions and they’d like to have both of them.
Full text is below. Enjoy. Hextall’s comment in normal font, media questions in bold.
...he’s obviously got soft hands, and goal-scoring is a premium. So he was a good fit for us, I think. Probably the fact that he was here before came into his decision. We couldn’t be more excited to have him.
Does that change anything in terms of having [Claude Giroux] playing the left side?
I don’t know. We’ll see where we are in training camp, whether we add anybody or if we are as-is. We’ve got a few options in the middle. Obviously G is one, Jordan Weal, a couple of our kids, we’ve got options there. I think with [Sean Couturier] and [Nolan Patrick], we feel pretty comfortable. Beyond that, we’ll have to figure out what our best option is, whether something comes our way between now and then or we use somebody in-house, but we weren’t going to go looking for another player that was a sideways move from someone in the organization.
Are you still looking for a free-agent center that could be the 3C? Or are you done?
I don’t believe so. The term, we just weren’t willing to go with the type of term. We had a guy we were in on, and he’s gone elsewhere, so that’s pretty much where we’re at. We’re not willing to commit on term for someone that is maybe not an upgrade on what we have in-house.
Does this change the situation with Wayne Simmonds, getting JVR? Or do you still want to try and extend Wayne Simmonds?
No, this doesn’t change anything with Wayne.
What made now the timing for when you wanted to go for a player like JVR, at the years and the term that you’re giving him?
Well, whenever you can make your team better, you want to make your team better. The term we can live with, we can manage our way around the salary cap. We’ve looked up, down, and all-around at different projections for the next few years, and we felt comfortable with the term, and with the player. We know the person, people inside this organization. Obviously, it helps.
You said a few weeks ago you were also trying to upgrade the defense. Is that still a possibility in the free agent market?
The guys that we felt were upgrades right now, there was too much term there for us. We’re not willing to commit long-term to a defenseman. We’ll continue to look at what’s out there, whether it be through trades or free agents, and try and bring in, if nothing else, depth.
We haven’t spoken to him live yet, but do you get the sense that maybe ... the fact that [JVR] was here fairly briefly the first time, is there maybe a little bit of a sense of unfinished business that he would like to justify that his pick in the draft and that sort of thing?
I think you’re better to ask him that. The one thing we were really comfortable with is, James was drafted as a Flyer, and whenever you’re drafted somewhere you do have a little bit more at stake there. So again, we felt with the fit, we needed some size, we needed goal-scoring, we needed a left winger, this one just fit all-around for us, and James felt the same way.
This is the biggest free-agent signing since you’ve been here. A lot of that is because you haven’t had the cap space until now, but do you think this signifies that you’re all-in and that you’re bidding to be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender right now?
Well, our philosophy, I mean, four years ago was more to get our cap in order and gather young assets, and we’ve kind of been through that process now, it’s coming to fruition in terms of guys we have on our team, and if we can add somewhere to strengthen our team, we want to do it, and we’ll continue to try and do it.
In Toronto, James played the netfront on the power play. Obviously, Wayne’s here, he’s one of the best if not the best at that role. Do you envision James playing on the top power play unit, and if so, how do you see that fitting?
I don’t know what’s going to happen there. Hak, we’ve talked long and hard about it, and ... we know James is very good netfront. He’s got great hands, he’s got good size. We feel like this addition with our power play, we can put out two really good units. He gives us another left shot, which we needed. We got Patty [Nolan Patrick], we got Konecny, we got the two young defensemen on the back-end, so where everybody winds up, I don’t know. That’s one of those things you try in training camp, and there’s a chemistry thing there, so I don’t know where it’s going to shake out, but we feel pretty comfortable that the power play has taken a step here.
You had talked about maybe a veteran defenseman. I don’t know where the process is right now, if it’s ongoing, but can you address that at all? Did you try? Are you still looking?
Well, a couple of guys were off the board before we even started, which is very typical. You start reaching out, term starts getting talked about, we weren’t comfortable going there. As of right now, the one thing we don’t want to do is box our kids out that we feel like are pretty good players, long-term here. So the term thing is a big issue for us right now. We’re sort of waiting, so we’re not going to bite into a long-term deal with a defenseman. So whether something’s going to come around, I don’t know. Again, we’re going to try and continue to get better at every position.
You had talked about the fact that Sam [Morin] is going to be out for a big part of next year, and [Brandon] Manning, you had talked about that a little bit, that he might fill that hole a little bit, but it didn’t work out. Did you make an attempt there?
Were you interested at some point?
No. We felt like our kids, if we gotta push our kids a little bit, then we’ll do that; if we can find something better in the meantime, we’ll do that, but again, we weren’t willing to reach out long-term. Brandon Manning was a good player for us. He was an absolute warrior and a character guy, and it’s actually very happy to see him sign a two-year deal in Chicago.
I think de Haan is still out there, does his surgery concern you at all or is he a guy that you’re still interested in?
I don’t really want to discuss the ins and outs of it.
You mentioned in April that you might possibly come back around on Val Filppula. Has that ship basically sailed at this point?
We’re gonna move on. Like I said, we looked long and hard at what we have within, whether our guys in the minors or guys on the big team that can be moved around, we got two or three options there. We’re excited about this addition here, it fills a hole that we felt needed to be filled in terms of size and goal-scoring, and like I said this gives us more flexibility within our top-9 and our top-12.
You’ve talked before about how training camp in September isn’t really the full audition. Obviously we’re a couple months away from that, but saying that you don’t want to box kids out — who are some of the kids that you’re saying, ‘he’s got a legitimate shot to make this roster’?
Well, I think everybody knows Travis Sanheim and Phil Myers are kids that, hopefully, they’re not too far away, so I don’t want to sign a guy to a five-year deal and all of a sudden we’re looking, ‘OK, what are we gonna do now?’ Those are the type of decisions that, if we have to, we’ll go to training camp, whether we sign a depth defenseman or an NHL defenseman, short-term, tryouts, there’s a lot of options out there that we’ll look at between now and training camp and get a better feel in September. But if the right players are out there on a short-term deal, we’ll take a long, hard look at it.
How about centers?
We’ll continue to look at what’s around, whether it’s the market or trades. Sometimes in the market guys are looking for three, four, five-year deals, and all of a sudden, mid-July, they’re happy to get one, so we’ll continue to look and see if there’s a fit for us, but like I said, I feel pretty comfortable, from within, that we can fill that, as good as players right now on the market that we’d have to commit term to.
That’s kind of what I was asking — who are your in-house guys?
Well, obviously, G [Claude Giroux] can move into the middle. Jordan Weal, Scotty Laughton ...
Those guys have been there. Is, say, [Mikhail] Vorobyev ready to take that step?
We’ll see. We’ll see. He’s looked good in development camp; not evaluating, but the kid’s a good player. We’ll see as we go along, but like I said, I like our internal options better than committing a term deal to a player.
Would it surprise you if [Morgan] Frost really pushed the envelope there?
We’ll see. He’s got work to do, I told you guys that a month or two ago. He’s got to get a lot stronger, he knows that, we know that. We’ll see.
Can you talk about the progress Frost has made from last year to this year, where he’s at?
Yeah, he ... it’s hard for me to say. Progress during the season? Absolutely. He had a terrific year. Played on a top team, and they went far in the playoffs, I think he learned a lot about pushing through in the playoffs, going through a couple months of playoff hockey, which is a lot for a young person, so I think he learned a lot. You look at him now, he’s certainly stronger than he was a year ago, but he’s got a couple months here and he’s certainly got some work to do.
Size-wise, is he any more ready? I know a few months ago you said you wanted him to put on some weight.
He’s got to get stronger.
Can you touch briefly on Ratcliffe as well, as far as his progression that you’ve seen in his game?
Yeah, again, we don’t evaluate here, but based on last season, he progressed probably like we’d hoped. He’s gotten quite a bit stronger. He’s a big guy with really good hands. You’re standing out there yesterday [at development camp], you’re going ‘a guy that big shouldn’t have that good hands’. He’s got good hands. He’s a big guy, he moves really well for his size and his age. You look at him, 19-year old kid that’s as tall as he is and is coordinated as he is, it’s not the norm. We’re excited about the prospects for him.
Another guy, Matthew Strome, I know when you drafted him there were questions about his skating, are you happy with the progress he’s made in that area?
Yeah, he’s made some strides. He had a real good year. The skating, it’s always something he’s going to work at. The kid absolutely works his tail off. He’s made some progress for sure.
The one thing James won’t bring you that I know you wanted to address was penalty kill improvement. Is that something that you’re hoping can happen from within here, or is that something you want to address?
Yeah, I don’t have the answer for that right now. We’d certainly like to address it with a player. Not sure the right player/term will be out there, but we’ll continue to monitor it, and if we can make a trade of some kind that helps us we’ll look at that as well. We’ll continue to try to upgrade there, and if not, we can do it from within. So, if we have to, we will.
In April, you had said that everyone was kind of staying in their role. Is Lappy in that role on the PK?
[/nods head to say yes]
You said JVR’s signing doesn’t really impact the Simmonds situation, but have you met with his rep and met with him and so forth? You are committed to a re-sign, and would that be sooner rather than later if you had a preference?
We’ll talk. Where talks go, I have no idea. We’ll talk to Simmer’s representatives in the next little while here, and we’ll see where it goes. If we have to go into next year, we’re comfortable with that. If we work something out in the meantime, we’d be comfortable with that. Until we seriously talk, I don’t have anything there. We like Wayne Simmonds, this doesn’t change anything for Wayne. This is a left winger, this is a different player than Simmer. We’re excited to have James, and certainly we’d like to have Simmer for a long time, too.
You see [Simmonds], going forward, as someone who can play on a lower line for you?
Yeah. He can play it every way, when you think about him. He’s the netfront on the power play, he’s a physical player, he’s a forechecker, he’s a straight-line, go-to-the-net-with-your-stick-on-the-ice guy. Simmer can play up-top or down your lineup.
Did you see anything specifically last season from your core pieces or your young players that made you want to take the next step in contention by adding a player like JVR?
We’ve always wanted to get better. We’ve had some cap squeezes that we’ve had to kind of work through, and we’re not squeezed right now. We didn’t want to have a seven, eight-year deal, as I told you guys a while ago, unless it was really the right player. We felt like a four- or five-year deal, we could manage. And that had to be the right player, too. We had about maybe four or five forwards pegged, and that was it. That was our line. We weren’t going past that. We weren’t signing something similar to what we have, so we got one of those guys, and we feel fortunate.
Obviously JVR fills a need, you guys need a real goal-scorer up there, but other parts of his game, he doesn’t have the greatest reputation for his defensive play, he had 18 assists last year — do you think that’s just part of where he was with the Leafs? Is he a better player than that? Is he a more well-rounded player than that?
I’ll say this. We talk about our players a lot, and we talk about every other player in the league. There are very few perfect players. Look at every player on our team, there are very few perfect players.
Are you close with any of your restricted free agents?
[/shakes head to say no]
When you see, on July 1, the numbers can always get out of control, do you see with some of the defensemen, does it make you want to negotiate with Ivan [Provorov] a little bit sooner than letting him play out the third year?
No. Restricted years, they’re a lot different than UFA years.
Does having James now long-term, along with the other core pieces you have, make you a little bit more willing to dive into the trade market and take this key prospect pool you’ve really accumulated here, and maybe use that more to help you now, versus maybe waiting on guys?
No. We’re not changing the path that we went on four years ago. To work at something for four years, and all of a sudden grab these prospects and trade them for an older player, that’s not what we’re doing. We’re not changing course here. If we can speed things up, make ourselves better, we’re all for it. But we’re not taking an A-prospect and give him away for a two-year asset that we may or may not contend with. So no, the plan here is the same. We’re continuing on the course we set out, and trust me, when I get calls, I get asked about the players that we don’t want to move. Nothing’s going to change here, in terms of our long-term vision and our future. We’re not going to think short-term.
Do you think you did speed things up by signing JVR?
We think we got better for today. We do. We didn’t give any assets up, and we feel like we got better. We got a guy who is going to score hopefully 30 goals for us. That’s a lot of goals over the course of a year. So we’re excited about him.
This might be a reach, but the fact that you mentioned early on that you weren’t here before (during JVR’s first stint with the Flyers), are you maybe emotionally detached that you weren’t around here to see what took place, you’re just looking at it from the perspective of someone neutral, and bringing this player in, you didn’t have any real background with him?
I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. We have people who were here, and trust me, I picked their brains. I feel like I have as much background on him, certainly more than I would have with someone who wasn’t in our organization before. We always do our background check, but this one was actually pretty easy to do.
You didn’t sign him to a six, seven-year deal, but it still takes him into his 30s. What do you know about him that makes you confident that he’s not going to decline rapidly at the tail end of the deal?
Well, first of all, at the age, we’re pretty comfortable with the start and the finish of the deal. If he was three or four years older, it’d be a little different, but we’re very comfortable in this age group. He’s a fit athlete, he’s got good size, and he takes care of himself. We don’t have concerns about the term.