Philadelphia is all about the process. The 76ers trusted that process, and now they’re set up for post-season success with guys like Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid leading the way. The Phillies are teetering on the brink of a playoff spot, albeit early on in the season. The Eagles just won a Super Bowl. Someone check the Flyers’ pulse, and quick!
After another first round exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Flyers are left head-in-hand, sulking in defeat after reaching the post season for the second time under Dave Hakstol. This is becoming a trend, and not one that Ron Hextall and crew should be proud of.
Hextall has spent the past four years stockpiling prospect after prospect, draft pick after draft pick, in hopes of fielding a competitive team in the near future. Since taking office, he has acquired 24 draft picks through 20 transactions, all the while giving up only 12. Hextall is all about the future, but what happens when the future keeps inching closer and closer, and all the moves he has made so far just aren’t enough?
Well, we don’t know what that’s like just yet. Yes, Hextall has fielded competitive teams year in and year out, and they’ve been to the playoffs twice out of his four years at the helm. However, given the situation that former Flyers GM Paul Holmgren left Hextall in, we’ll call it “cap hell” for obvious reasons, Hextall has been pretty limited in decision making regarding money.
Many fans alike have been vocal to say the least, demanding Hextall start making moves to make this team a contender. The frustration is justified in a way, but it’s time to pump the brakes on the call to win now.
Back in 2014 when Ron Hextall became the general manager, he was presented with a very challenging task. He was expected to rebuild a depleted farm system, all the while resurrecting the Flyers cap situation that Paul Holmgren shot to hell. Here we are in 2018, with arguably the deepest prospect pool in the NHL, and just south of 20 million dollars to spend when free agency begins. Two points, Hextall.
Taking this a step further and looking at the draft year by year, in 2014, Ron Hextall drafted Travis Sanheim, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Mark Friedman, and Oskar Lindblom, just to name a few. Sanheim and Lindblom figure to be permanent fixtures in the lineup for years to come, with Aube-Kubel and Friedman proving to be worthy of a call up in the near future. Fast forward to 2015, and Hextall drafts Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny. There’s no need to go into how good those two are.
2016 had one shining jewel among a few others that could prove useful in the future. Hextall took Carter Hart in the draft this year, along with German Rubtsov, Pascal Laberge and Linus Hogberg. Last year, Hextall had arguably his best draft yet, taking Nolan Patrick and Morgan Frost in the first round, with later round picks including big-bodied forward Isaac Ratcliffe, Russian goalie Kirill Ustimenko, Matthew Strome, Maksim Sushko and Noah Cates.
Ron Hextall checks all the boxes necessary when it comes to drafting, but free agency hasn’t proven to be as fruitful as the draft has. Signings like Dale Weise, Ryan White, Roman Lyubimov, even Boyd Gordon aren’t exactly the kind of signings you would expect a contender to make. However, signings like Michael Del Zotto, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, and Brian Elliott prove that Hextall isn’t completely inept when it comes to signing players that can help the team now.
After a few years of creating such a deep prospect pool, and the promise of a better team in the coming years, clamoring for these kids to make their way up the pipeline sooner rather than later is at an all time high. Fans want big names in free agency, high profile trade targets, moving up in the draft and choosing an NHL ready player, essentially anything that helps the team now.
That’s all find and dandy, but most fans have their blinders on to the fact that signing a high profile free agent to a short-term deal, which is what Ron Hextall has said he intends to do, doesn’t help the team down the road. In all likelihood, Morgan Frost, Pascal Laberge, Ratcliffe, Strome, Cates, even Rubtsov aren’t going to be on the Flyers roster for another 2-3 years. Sure, winning now is great, but when you realistically have a better chance in a few years, and may have even more than the approximate 17 millions dollars when you are ready to contend, why not give it a year or so?
Many are so quick to jump the gun and declare Hextall a bum, gun-shy, whatever you want to call him. The fact of the matter is, he’s looking at this whole situation from a more logical standpoint than 99% of us. He understands that with the prospects in the system and where they are development-wise, he has another couple of years until the real pressure surmounts and winning is the only option.
To the fans who want Hextall’s head, slow your role. To the rest of us that can look at this situation from a logical standpoint, kudos. A process is a process for a reason, it takes time to complete. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the team that Ron Hextall envisions won’t be either. To put it in the best way possible, I’ll quote one of my favorite Guns N’ Roses songs. “Said woman, take it slow, it’ll work itself out fine. All we need is just a little patience.”