A lot has changed around here since Ed Snider left the scene but one thing remains a constant and it can be summed up in one word.
Now in Season 4 of a rather comprehensive rebuild, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall continues to make good on a promise he made to the team’s late owner – namely, that he would rebuild the franchise the right way without cutting corners or needlessly shortening the timeline.
Nearly halfway into the current season, the fruits of some of Hextall’s labors are on full display, even if the results don’t manifest themselves in the standings.
In just a couple short seasons, the defense has been overhauled. The backline is now younger, faster and some might say smarter than at any time in recent memory.
Hextall began the process several years back when he traded away veterans Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn, realizing they didn’t figure in the Flyers’ long-range plans.
Drafting Travis Sanheim (2014) and Ivan Provorov (2015) just added to a stable of promising young prospects, including Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Samuel Morin and Philippe Myers.
Provorov and Gostisbehere entered this season having already accomplished quite a bit in the NHL. And this year Sanheim and Hagg have made a rather smooth transition from the AHL to the big show.
Throw in a 2015 trade to acquire Radko Gudas and a new contract for veteran Andrew MacDonald and the Flyers would appear to be set on the blue line for years to come.
Up front, the Flyers had the good fortune to move up from No. 13 to No. 2 in this year’s NHL Entry Draft, landing them the rights to center Nolan Patrick.
Patrick underwent offseason abdominal surgery and also suffered an early season concussion, so it might be a little premature to make a judgment on his achievements in the NHL to date.
History, however, shows No. 2 overall draft picks usually wind up becoming successful NHL players and Patrick has shown flashes of promise.
The big question for Hextall would appear to be whether veterans like Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds still will be in their primes when kids like Provorov, Gostisbehere, Patrick, Hagg and Sanheim reach theirs.
Likewise the goaltender situation. Carter Hart might be the best of a crop of hopeful kids in the Flyers’ development system. But he’s only 19 years old and at least a few years away from making it to Philadelphia.
On the flip side, Alex Lyon, Anthony Stolarz and Felix Sandstrom have not had the steadiest of campaigns. Stolarz was fairly impressive in a brief trial with the Flyers last season but his career has been hampered by injuries and some uneven play.
But the offseason signing of Brian Elliott to replace the departed Steve Mason has covered some of these blemishes.
In what could best be described as nothing less than a brilliant month of December, Elliott put together a personal six-game winning streak and picked up NHL star of the week (second once, third once) honors in back-to-back weeks.
So it would appear the Flyers have some stability in goal for at least this season and the next.
Whether or not coach Dave Hakstol can put all these pieces together in a winning fashion remains to be seen.
Voracek was blunt with his assessment of the Flyers’ immediate future last April when the players were cleaning out their lockers.
Mindful the Flyers have not won a playoff series since 2012, Voracek acknowledged a good portion of the blame falls on the shoulders of the team’s leadership group.
If the Flyers should fail to make the playoffs this season, it would make the first time they’ve gone home early in back-to-back seasons since 1992-93 and 1993-94.
That wouldn’t go over too well with a grumpy fan base or ownership for that matter.
And it might even test Hextall’s patience.
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