Wes Herrmann The Hockey Writers
Ron Hextall – First 3 Years as Flyers’ GM
This May will mark the third anniversary of Ron Hextall’s promotion to general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers. In those three seasons at the helm of the organization, Hextall has led the team to just a single playoff berth.
But those three seasons were the re-tooling phase. He made a coaching change, eight influential free-agent signings and nine player trades to try and push the Flyers past that.
For next year, Hextall has said he’s ready to give the kids a chance, thus ending the re-tooling phase of turning the team into a contender. So how did the first three years of Hextall’s regime go?
- Signed Michael Del Zotto, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Ryan White and Nick Schultz
- Traded Tye McGinn for a third-round pick (Felix Sandstrom)
- Traded Kimmo Timonen for two second-round picks
- Traded Braydon Coburn for Radko Gudas, a first-round pick and a third-round pick
The summer of 2014 was easily Hextall’s best year on the open market. Del Zotto became a top-four defender for the team over the next few seasons and White and Schultz were important soldiers for the re-tooling. Bellemare has since fallen under fire from fans, but he was a quality European free-agent nab.
McGinn never worked out as an NHL player after the Flyers traded him to the San Jose Sharks, and Sandstrom has some hoping he could be at least an NHL backup goaltender at some point in his career. The Timonen trade lucked into an additional second-round pick when the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, but getting even just one second-rounder for the then-39-year-old was savvy.
The Coburn-for-Gudas-and-picks trade may go down as Hextall’s best when his GM career is over. Gudas has since become a better defenseman than Coburn, and the picks were essential in moving up in the 2015 draft to get Travis Konecny.
- Re-signed Schultz
- Signed Carlo Colaiacovo
Schultz, the former Wild captain, was important in his first year with the Flyers. Hextall rewarded him with a two-year extension. One was probably enough, especially at a $2.25 million cap hit. However, the extra year and money didn’t break Philly in any way.
Colaiacovo played 33 games for the Flyers, and it would probably be hard to find many that can remember any of them. He was signed in a depth role and was fine there, but it wasn’t a move that defines Hextall’s regime in any way.
- Traded Scott Hartnell for R.J. Umberger and a fourth-round pick
Now, the Flyers can be happy that Hartnell’s cap hit is no longer on their books. Instead, he’s eating up a ton of salary for the Columbus Blue Jackets as the team tries to turn into perennial a contender.
But that doesn’t mean it was a good or even so-so move for Hextall and the Flyers. Umberger was a huge disappointment and it has to figure that more could have been had for Hartnell, the former Predator who was coming off a 20-goal, 52-point season with the Flyers.
- Signed Michal Neuvirth, Phillipe Myers and Colin McDonald
- Re-signed Michael Raffl, White and Del Zotto
- Traded Nicklas Grossmann and Chris Pronger’s contract for Sam Gagner and a conditional pick
- Traded Zac Rinaldo for a third-round pick
- Traded Luke Schenn and Vincent Lecavalier for Jordan Weal and a third-round pick
Neuvirth played such an important role as a strong backup that he was able to push Steve Mason for games in his first season. It’s possible that the Flyers don’t make the playoffs in 2016 without him.
Myers, though, will go down as the biggest signing of the 2015 summer. He was only 18 and still a prospect, but after no one selected the defenseman in the 2015 draft, Myers was free to sign with anyone. He has the potential to be a top-three blueliner in the future.
McDonald has only played 11 games in the orange and black, but every one of them has shown he can still play in the NHL. He’s also the captain of a young Lehigh Valley Phantoms team. Del Zotto and White both had strong 2015-16 campaigns and the former stayed in Philly past that.
Hextall completed a trilogy of impressive trades between the offseason and January 2016. First, he unloaded Pronger’s contract and Grossmann, a depth d-man at that point, for Gagner. The former Oiler didn’t have much of an impact in Philly, but the money-saving element was enough.
Then, through some sheer magic, Hextall somehow received a third-round pick in exchange for enforcer Zac Rinaldo. He’s now playing for the Providence Bruins in the AHL.
Finally, Hextall made another cost-effective move after Lecavalier agreed to retire at the end of the year if the Flyers moved him to Los Angeles. The elder Schenn brother, Luke, was also included, and the deal keeps getting better with Weal’s end-of-season breakout this year.
- Hired Dave Hakstol as head coach
- Signed Evgeny Medvedev
If this list was done after last season, the hiring of Hakstol would be a good move. After last year, the move’s certainly been knocked down a peg. Missing the playoffs, questionable lineup choices and mishandling of goalies do that. Firing Craig Berube was definitely the right move, but Hakstol will have at least the start of next season to prove his hiring wasn’t a bad decision.
Medvedev was signed to a costly $3 million contract, but just for one year. If it was more, there’s no doubt this would be a bad signing. It was a high-reward, low-risk deal, but unfortunately for all parties, it ended as low-risk, little-reward as Medvedev suited up for just 45 games.
Hextall no doubt had a solid 2015-16, especially in trades, and there wasn’t much to complain about. It’s possible to put the signing of Chris Porter, then the following loss of him on waivers after a strong preseason, under this category, but it’s barely a blip on that season and beyond.
Ron Hextall – 2016-17
- Bought out Umberger
- Signed Mike Vecchione
- Traded Mark Streit for Valtteri Filppula, a fourth-round pick, and a seventh-round pick
- Improved the Phantoms
In the shortest “good” list of the three seasons, Hextall made the obvious move of buying out Umberger to start the 2016 summer. In free agency, he signed T.J. Brennan, Andy Miele, and Greg Carey, who all helped lead the Phantoms to their first playoff berth in seven years.
Filppula was a salary dump for the Tampa Bay Lightning, but for the Flyers, he adds a crucial offensive element down the middle of the lineup for at least one more season. The 39-year-old Streit was on an expiring contract but earned Hextall quite a return.
To end the season, the former Kings assistant GM won the Vecchione sweepstakes, nabbing the college free agent over several other suitors.
- Signed Roman Lyubimov
- Re-signed Bellemare
- Traded Petr Straka for a conditional seventh-round pick
Like his fellow Russian countrymen, Lyubimov was an experiment and although he looked fine most of the time, he wasn’t a full-time NHL player. He’ll likely return to the KHL this summer after 47 games in Philadelphia.
Most Flyers fans will have the Bellemare extension as a bad move. As a Bellemare apologist, I believe he’ll make more of an impact on the fourth line with better teammates and a move to the wing. Having said that, the deal was a tad pricey at $1.45 million a year.
Straka was a Phantom who Hextall traded to give a chance with another organization. The deal has probably already been forgotten for the most part, but as a player trade, it had to go somewhere on this list.
- Re-signed Neuvirth
- Signed Dale Weise and Boyd Gordon
Neuvirth’s first year proved his worth. His second proved the team should look elsewhere. Ron Hextall didn’t think so and instead gave him two more years and a raise. The Hartnell-Umberger swap has been the GM’s worst move, but this one is the most perplexing.
Weise had a strong end to the year, but it was too little, too late. He has three more years to try and prove the ending wasn’t a fluke, but those three years are also why his signing is on this list. A case can be made that Gordon belongs on the “mediocre” list, but he failed epically as a fourth-line center, something that could have helped the Flyers a lot this past season.
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