Gradually, general manager Chuck Fletcher, hired last December to replace the fired Ron Hextall, is putting his stamp on the Flyers.
He acquired and signed center Kevin Hayes, who would have been one of the top players available if he had reached free agency.
There were the deals that brought veteran defensemen Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun to the Flyers.
There was Fletcher’s excellent first draft with the Flyers in June.
But if you look at this year’s team, its success or failure will mostly be because of Fletcher’s predecessor.
Hextall’s fingerprints are all over the Flyers.
Many of the players Hextall drafted, including Carter Hart, Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Oskar Lindblom, and Nolan Patrick, are expected to play key roles this season. And some of his other draft picks, headed by Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost, Isaac Ratcliffe, German Rubtsov, Nic Aube-Kubel, and Felix Sandstrom, are knocking on the NHL door.
The players who were with Hextall during his time with the Flyers were thrilled to hear that their old boss was hired Wednesday by the Los Angeles Kings as a part-time adviser in the hockey operations department.
"I’ll always be thankful to him for drafting me,” said Provorov, selected with the No. 7 overall pick in 2015. “He brought a lot of young guys here, drafted them, and built a very good core that’s going to help us in the future and help us now. His job’s not going to go unnoticed, and we’re really happy for him that he’s back in LA. He deserved to have a job in this league.”
Shayne Gostisbehere was selected (shrewdly) in the third round of the 2012 draft, back when Paul Holmgren was the general manager. He, too, was happy Hextall had landed on his feet and praised his work with the Flyers.
“He was here four years and he really helped us get into a good situation with the cap, allowing us to go out and get guys like JVR and Hayeser,” said Gostisbehere, referring to teammates James van Riemsdyk and Hayes by their nicknames. “Obviously, it didn’t end well with him, with us not winning, but he did set up our team and you have to be grateful for that.
“We had kind of a messy cap situation before, but he did some things [to fix it] and he replenished our farm system and really got it going,” Gostisbehere added. “It’s good to see he got a job again and now he’s going to help another NHL team try to win.”
Hextall, 55, is returning to Los Angeles, where he was an assistant general manager from 2006 to 2013 and helped the Kings win their first Stanley Cup in 2012.
“I’m really excited; it’s a good opportunity with people I’m familiar with,” he said Thursday.
Hextall will still live in South Jersey and will travel to L.A. once a month, spending five to seven days there to observe some of its home games. The rest of the time, he will be in touch with the Kings brass via phone and will be part of numerous internal discussions, including trades.
“I think it’s good to have another voice around. I think it always helps,” he said. “That’s what Blakey [Rob Blake, Kings GM] said to me, so I’ll probably be doing a little of everything. I’m certainly willing to do whatever” is needed.
Hextall, who came close to landing the Minnesota Wild’s GM job recently, said he was “disappointed not to finish what we started” in Philadelphia, “but that’s life and you move on.”
Being out of the NHL for nearly 10 months “was hard because I’ve been in the pro game since I was 20,” he said. “It’s hard when you have a lot of time on your hands and a lot of time to think and reflect. But in saying that, since I was 20, there were a lot of things I couldn’t do, and I certainly caught up on some of those things I missed: my family and my kids and my parents and my wife. So I put the time to good use.”
Hextall keeps close tabs on NHL teams, especially the Flyers.
“I am proud of the job we did. I think we did a lot of really good things there, and I think it’s going to show in the next few years,” he said. “I know Chuck’s done some good things, so I think the Philadelphia Flyers have a lot of good things looking ahead for them.”
Hextall still feels a bond to the Flyers players.
“A lot of those kids, we drafted and developed, and you have relationships with the players on the team,” he said. “I still care about every one of those guys. I do follow them, for sure.”
Hextall, fired because of philosophical differences and because management thought he was too passive in the trade market, built through the draft and made sure players were fully seasoned before promoting them to the Flyers, who went 165-128-58 under his watch and made the playoffs twice in four seasons.