VOORHEES, N.J. – It’s going to take more than a couple blunt questions at a press briefing to get Ron Hextall to show his cards.
The Flyers general manager would make an exceptional professional poker player but he doesn’t offer many ‘tells.’
He can sit in front of a bunch of cameras and microphones and defer queries about “serious contention’’ with the best of them.
So when someone on Sunday tried to draw him out on whether the signing of free agent James van Riemsdyk to a five-year, $35-million contract signaled the Flyers’ intention to dive into the deep end of the Stanley Cup pool, Hextall was ready with a quick answer.
“Our philosophy four years ago was more to get our (salary) cap in order and gather young assets, and we’ve kind of been through that process now,’’ he said.
“It’s coming to fruition in terms of guys we have on our team, and when we can add somewhere to strengthen our team, we want to do it and we’ll continue to try and do it.’’
This latest acquisition, it seems, should not be viewed as the final piece of the puzzle.
There’s still a somewhat cloudy goaltending picture to clear up. Both Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth are in their 30s (the final years of their contracts coming up) and hotshots Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom might be at least a year away.
The defense looks promising but young. There is a good mix of veterans and kids up front.
At best, the Flyers didn’t hurt their chances of moving closer to Washington and Pittsburgh in their division with the JVR signing; along with Tampa Bay and Boston in the conference.
Realistically, the Flyers are still a couple of years away from a deep run. In the meantime, it would be nice if they at least won a playoff series.
Adding van Riemsdyk was a nice move but certainly not a real game-changer.
“Whenever you can make your team better you want to make your team better,’’ Hextall said. “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 the player. We know the person, people inside this organization. Obviously it helps.’’
At the very least, JVR brings instant offense after a 36-goal season. His presence could allow the Flyers to move Claude Giroux back to center (his natural position) and gives them a more balanced lineup. Plus, van Riemsdyk is an experienced hand on the power play.
Still, inquiring minds want to know if the Flyers will be playing hockey in May of 2019 for the first time since 2012.
Again, for the umpteenth time, Hextall is preaching patience.
“If we can speed things up, make ourselves better, we’re all for it,’’ Hextall said. “But we’re not taking a prospect and going to give him away for a two-year asset that we may or may not contend with. The plan here is the same, we’re continuing on the course that we set out. And trust me when we get calls, I get asked about the players we don’t want to move. Nothing’s going to change here in terms of our long-term vision and future. We’re not going to think short-term.
“We think we got better for today, yeah. We didn’t give any assets up. We feel like we got a guy who’s 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 it.’’