IF THERE was ever any doubt about whether Ron Hextall's views were in line with chairman Ed Snider on the subject of tanking, no longer.
Yes, as Paul Holmgren joked on the day he was promoted to president last May, Hextall really does have a Flyers logo tattooed on his butt.
Aware of the fans in Buffalo cheering for the Sabres to lose recently in a game dubbed the "McEichel Bowl'' for increasing odds of landing generational talents Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, Hextall shook his head on Wednesday night.
"Anybody who wants to build an organization who wants to lose, and have that thought in their players' minds . . . " the Flyers' general manager said, his voice trailing off. "Wow."
For the Flyers, the proof is on the ice. They very well could have been the Maple Leafs or Coyotes with little effort.
Flip back the calendar to Jan. 5 and check out the standings. The Flyers were 14-18-7 and in 25th place, limping home after losing five straight to close out a wandering and once-promising eight-game road trip that began with three wins. They were tied with New Jersey, one point ahead of Arizona and just four clear of Buffalo.
Toronto (then 21-16-3) was eight spots north in the standings in 17th place and had 10 more points.
Now look at today's standings. The Flyers (31-29-17) sit in 23rd place. They are 15 points ahead of 27th-place Toronto (25-point swing) and 25 points up on 29th-place Arizona (24-point swing). With a little maneuvering, the Flyers probably could've guaranteed themselves nearly a 1 in 10 shot at McDavid.
"I'm not sure there's enough incentive there to lose," Hextall said. "You look at the odds, there's an 80 percent chance to not get No. 1. That's not real good odds."
And, well, the Flyers keep trying to win. They might as well at this point. Their lottery odds can only be affected by a half percentage point either way, positively or negatively.
In a year when tanking in hockey is nearly as evident as basketball, the Flyers' plan might seem foolhardy in nature, but if nothing else it is at least principled.
"There's a tremendous prize, a reward, for being poor," Coyotes GM Don Maloney actually said on a Phoenix radio station this week. "And we're doing a good job of being poor."
If Hextall were to play Gary Bettman for a day, how would he reshape the NHL's draft lottery, which has been tweaked this season? This year, a team in the Flyers' position has nearly doubled its odds to land the No. 1 pick from 3.6 percent to 6 percent under the new format. It isn't nothing.
This year's odds will also be the same for 2016. Every non-playoff team has at least a 1 in 100 shot to win. Run the odds simulator on NHLLotterySimulator.com and you'll realize that anything can happen in a one-shot lottery.
What if they were larger for the 14th-place team? Put aside the conspiracy theories about the league rigging the lottery system. As much of a boon McDavid would be in Toronto, the Leafs have 100 other problems - and the entire process is certified and validated by an independent accounting firm. You can bet Maloney and Buffalo's Tim Murray lay awake at night worrying about a team like the Kings somehow hitting the jackpot.
What about a system that rewards winning? An idea was floated around the league this week with the premise of awarding lottery odds based on points earned after a team is eliminated from playoff contention. That way, the focus would remain on the ice, giving fans something to cheer about, and also keeping players and management focused.
That would seemingly only speed up the race to be eliminated. The faster you're out of the mix, the sooner you can start accumulating points. Buffalo is already 51 points out of first place in its division. A team like the Flyers, always focused on winning, wasn't officially ousted until last Sunday - with 13 days left to play.
The Flyers dug their own grave. Now they must lie in it, not far from no man's land. But Hextall doesn't have a problem sleeping at night.
"I think the way it is now is good, but I'd like to see the odds be a little less up top," Hextall said. "I personally don't think it needs to be [vastly] changed, just a little tweak here and there. I just think it should be flattened out a little more."
Steve Mason earned his second road win of the season on Wednesday night (2-12-6). He has a total save percentage of .928, five games shy of a Flyers full-season franchise record held by Roman Cechmanek (.925, 2002-03). Boston's Tuukka Rask won the Vezina Trophy last season with a .930 save percentage . . . Jake Voracek has more assists (56) than 813 other players in the NHL have total points . . . Phantoms forward Zack Stortini was named the AHL's Man of the Year, awarded for outstanding community service . . . Ron Hextall said he would like to re-sign restricted free agent defenseman Brandon Manning and conversations with his agent already have begun.
2015 DRAFT LOTTERY ODDS (through Wednesday)
(last year's odds in parentheses)
1. 20 percent:- Buffalo (25)
2. 13.5 percent: Arizona (18.8)
3. 11.5 percent: Edmonton (14.2)
4. 9.5 percent: Toronto (10.7)
5. 8.5 percent: Carolina (8.1)
6. 7.5 percent: New Jersey (6.2)
7. 6.5 percent: Columbus (4.7)
8. 6 percent: Flyers (3.6)
9. 5 percent: Colorado (2.7)
10. 3.5 percent: Dallas (2.1)
11. 3.0 percent: Florida (1.5)
12. 2.5 percent: San Jose (1.1)
13. 2.0 percent: Ottawa (0.8)
14. 1.0 percent: Los Angeles (0.5)
Note: No. 1 can fall no lower than No. 2.
2016 DRAFT LOTTERY ODDS
* 3 separate draws held to determine Nos. 1, 2, 3.
* 30th-place team could fall as low as No. 4.
* Same odds as above. For each subsequent draw, odds for each team will increase proportionately based on which team won the previous draw.
* The 11 clubs who did not win No. 1, 2, 3 will then be assigned first-round selections No. 4 through 14 in