Hextall staying the course yet sees room for improvement

Ron Hextall

VOORHEES, N.J. – Four years have come and gone since Ron Hextall took control of the Flyers but he says he should be on the clock for only two of them.

The first two, he insists, were spent cleaning up what he inherited from the previous regime.

It wasn’t until he had the chance to draft blue-chip prospects like Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny that the general manager believed he could fully steer the course of the ship.

With that timeline in mind, Hextall once again did his best to calm the fears of those who wonder if his team is making enough progress. . .and if that progress is being made in a timely fashion.

Only Hextall knows what year, if any, all his touted prospects eventually will take control of this outfit and push it to the top of the mountain.

This much we do know: For the umpteenth time, Hextall is not going to go for any old “quick fix’’ for a win-now approach.

That doesn’t mean he won’t sign a big free agent (he could have upwards of $20 million in salary cap space), it’s just that he will be prudent about it.

“If we think a change is going to make us better as a franchise and as a team, we’re going to make it,’’ Hextall said at Thursday’s press conference at the Skate Zone. “We’re not going to make a change to appease people or because we are supposed to or for whatever reason. We’re going to make changes to get better.

“If we feel like at one position anywhere in the organization, whether it’s my staff, coaching staff, the players, the trainers, the scouts or whatever. If we feel like we’re going to get better, we’re going to make that change. We’re not going to do it what makes us popular.’’

Hextall helped build two Stanley Cup winners in Los Angeles. He holds people to a high standard.

“We’re not satisfied,’’ he said. “There’s a big difference between people doing their job and being satisfied. We have no reason to be satisfied. Matter of fact, if we were, that would be pathetic.’’

Hextall said all coaches will return next year, including assistants Ian Laperriere, Gord Murphy, Kris Knoblauch and Kim Dillabaugh (goaltending)

While the regular season was satisfactory (98 points and a playoff berth), the postseason was not.

“We’re continuing evaluating, but at this point, yes. I think there’s area for improvement for all of us,’’ he said. “We could have been better this year and certainly in this (Pittsburgh playoff) series. We will continue all summer to evaluate areas, personnel-wise. We can get better.’’

Will the fans, ownership and the media remain patient? Hextall isn’t losing any sleep over that question.

“Four years ago, I sat here,’’ he said. “I said our vision is to build a top contending team to win the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen overnight. If someone thinks we’re going to add three players, four players this summer that are going to make us the top team in the league, I don’t know where we’re going to get those players from nor the cap space nor anything else.

“This a bit of a slow process. Four years ago again, when we started, really Ivan (Provorov) and Travis (Konecny) were the start of the turnover. It’s only two years ago. It sort of took two years to get the wheels in motion and we’re on plan. Are we happy where we’re at right now? Hell no. We just lost in the first round in a series that I felt like we shot ourselves in the foot, numerous times in this series.’’

Simmonds’ situation

Hextall said there was no point for Wayne Simmonds to have surgery on his torn pelvic muscle before the season.

“Certain injuries there’s not really nothing you can do,’’ Hextall said. “Like the non-weight bearing bone, there’s nothing you can do. He either plays or he doesn’t play. The wrist, he sat out. The core injury, came to camp with it. We didn’t know anything about that prior to that. Long as you can plow through the pain, you can play. There’s no perfect way because if you get surgery at that point, you’re weak all year. If you don’t, you’re weak all year. There’s no necessarily right or wrong there. Wayne’s tough. He’s got a high pain-threshold. He played through.’’

Interest in Filppula, Lehtera

Of all the Flyers’ impending unrestricted free agents, Valtteri Filppula is the only one Hextall has shown real interest in re-signing.

“Fil is the one guy where we have interest, so we’re going to see what happens here. The other guys, unless something changes, we don’t plan on bringing them back right now.’’

That list includes Brandon Manning, Matt Read, Johnny Oduya and goaltender Petr Mrazek.

Hextall did say he wants to bring back Jori Lehtera, who is somewhat overpriced with one year left at $4.7 million.

“Right now, and I told him this yesterday, the plan is to have him back,’’ Hextall said. “Everything’s up for change. Right now, we’ll have Jori back.’’

The goalie paradox

Hextall acknowledged the injury problems with Michal Neuvirth and Brian Elliott led to a difficult situation.

He was forced to trade for Petr Mrazek in February and call up Alex Lyon from the Phantoms.

Hextall said that Neuvirth’s ongoing injury woes created a problem for the Flyers yet again this past season.

“It can be disruptive, for sure,’’ Hextall said. “That hurt us this year for sure.’’

With Neuvirth sidelined, Elliott had to play a lot of games, until he, too, fell to a core muscle injury on Feb. 10 which required surgery.

“Ell (Elliott) has played a lot of games, lot of good games,’’ Hextall said. “Would have been nice to back him off a bit. You know minimize the risk of injury. I don’t think that’s why he got hurt but did it play into it? Yeah.’’

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About Wayne Fish 2451 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.

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