NEXT MONTH, Ron Hextall will mark his third anniversary as the Flyers' general manager. In that time, he has conducted three drafts, handpicked a coach whose college-level "culture" he touted, and methodically begun a youth movement that he believes will lead to an era of elite-level teams that perennially challenge for the Stanley Cup.
That vision, though, is as murky as it was when he was elevated to his current position. Despite almost unheard-of health and the first emergent players of his systemwide youth movement, the Flyers will finish this season with a worse record than last and miss the inclusivity-oriented NHL playoffs for the second time in his three seasons as GM.
As for that culture. Entering their final two games this weekend, the Flyers have scored 212 goals this season and allowed 230, numbers that place them among the league's worst. They are good at home. They are bad on the road. Throughout the season, they were a maddening model of inconsistency, capable of routing the league's best teams one night and succumbing meekly to some of their worst the next.
Seeking to stem this, the coach, Dave Hakstol, has shuffled lines incessantly, benched players both young and old - often touting his team's effort as he does so.
If a culture is being instilled, its effects have yet to take hold.
There is also this: Of the seven forwards 24 and under who saw action this season, only Sean Couturier and Scott Laughton are listed as taller than 6-foot. Injured early, Laughton played in two games without registering a point.
Bullies, they are not.
That would be fine if a few projected as future 30-goal scorers. But as promising as Jordan Weal's last two months were, as hopeful as we are about Hobie Baker finalist Mike Vecchione or Travis Konecny, they look like pieces right now, not future stars.
For sure, there are names on the horizon, young forwards such as German Rubtsov and Pascal Laberge. And with 6-7 Samuel Morin dipping his toes into the NHL these final few games, the rollout of the Flyers' big, young defensemen has begun. If you don your orange-colored glasses, there's even a case to be made that the Flyers are closer than they seem to Hextall's vision, especially if you believe that Shayne Gostisbehere and Claude Giroux will return to form next season, or that just one of the seven goalies in their system emerges as elite.
But that just gets you close. What we don't know about Hextall, what is equally murky given some of his moves so far, is whether he can put a roof on even if he gets the foundation built.
Sports is full of good masons. The guys who can put the top on - Pat Gillick, Phil Jackson, Scotty Bowman - they're not as easy to find.
Three seasons into his tenure as the Phillies' general manager, Ed Wade had done the following: traded Curt Schilling, signed Carlos Ruiz as an amateur free agent, drafted Pat Burrell, Chase Utley, Brett Myers and Ryan Madson. In the immediate years that followed, he also drafted Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels.
Three seasons into his long tenure as the Eagles' executive vice president, Joe Banner had done the following: used a first-round pick in 1997 to draft defensive end Jon Harris (bust); picked Duce Staley in the third round that year; allowed Ricky Watters to leave; drafted Tra Thomas and Jeremiah Trotter in 1998; hired Andy Reid and drafted Donovan McNabb in 1999.
In his nearly three years as the general manager of the 76ers, Sam Hinkie did the following: traded all of the significant pieces of the existing team for draft picks and inconsequential players; used those picks and the Sixers' own to draft Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Jahlil Okafor and Richaun Holmes. One month after his resignation, the Sixers drafted Ben Simmons with the first pick overall, and added Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Furkan Korkmaz with first-round picks Hinkie had acquired through trades.
Wade and Banner couldn't close the deal. Until Terrell Owens arrived, Banner's Achilles' heel was receivers. Wade's was trades. Hinkie left the Sixers with a future of picks almost as exciting as the assets accumulated. But as his successor, Bryan Colangelo, already has exhibited with the something-for-nothing trade of Nerlens Noel, a lot can slip between the cup and the lip.
The players Hextall added from the outside to this team after last season - Dale Weise, Roman Lyubimov, Valtteri Filppula - did not improve it. The coach he hired has yet to prove his professional acumen.
As Gillick and his peers will tell you, part of the art is adjusting on the fly. Trading Bobby Abreu, not trading Shane Victorino a couple of times, eating that ridiculous contract Adam Eaton was signed for - you've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em.
Three years in, we have no idea whether that's part of Hextall's DNA. Like the team he is assembling, there is as much to doubt as there is to believe in.