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Flyers fined for breaking holiday travel rule

But Hextall brushes off the violation

IF YOU AIN'T cheatin', you ain't tryin'.

That was the message emanating from the Flyers, hours after they were fined an undisclosed amount of money by the NHL yesterday for violating the Collective Bargaining Agreement's moratorium on team activities during the holiday break.

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said the team knowingly violated the rule, but risk was outweighed by the reward of a potential victory.

Hextall said he was approached by Flyers players asking if they could schedule their chartered flight for Dec. 26. Normally, the team would have flown on the afternoon that day, but the 3-day holiday break barred any team activity from Dec. 24 to 26.

So, instead of flying on Dec. 27, the day of the game against the Predators, the Flyers departed Philadelphia International Airport at 8:24 p.m. on Dec. 26 and hoped word would not leak out. That flight data was ultimately culled by Rogers Sportsnet in Toronto, which first broke the rule violation.

"After giving it some thought, it's pretty hard not to allow them the best possible chance to win the game, given the fact they want to do something they feel is best for the hockey club," Hextall said. "In the end, yeah, we were willing to accept the consequences."

Hextall said he would not disclose the amount of the fine. The NHL said it would have no further comment on the matter.

"I'm not going to get into details," Hextall said. "Not important."

On one hand, the Flyers broke a seemingly minor rule. Outside of the holiday season, the NHL requires all teams to be in town the night before a regular-season road game.

On the other hand, this was just another example of the Flyers' willingness to push the envelope of the CBA in order to gain a competitive advantage. The optics surrounding the Flyers' cushy relationship with league headquarters were already unseemly, especially considering a player on the team's payroll (Chris Pronger) is working in an official capacity for the league in helping determine player discipline.

The Flyers are also the only team in the NHL to exceed the league's salary cap in real dollars spent almost every season since the cap was put in place in 2005. They have used the long-term injury exception every year to remain cap compliant.

Rather than remove any doubt, the NHL chose to fine the Flyers an "undisclosed" amount. That leads many to believe the amount was an embarrassingly small dollar figure, a relative slap on the wrist. After all, if Hextall's story is to be believed, how much was the league going to punish a GM for putting his players first?

Still, the league acted swiftly in fining the Los Angeles Kings a cool $100,000 on Dec. 2 for allowing suspended player Slava Voynov to practice with the team. The NHL also publicly announces fines to players, last month a $2,000 bill to Nashville's James Neal for diving.

A fine for this type of violation could have ranged anywhere from $1,000 to $500,000.

Making optics worse for the Flyers, Sportsnet also reported that of the 12 other teams to open on the road on Dec. 27, at least 10 of them followed the letter of the law and flew early in the morning on the day of their games. One of those teams, New Jersey, only had a short bus ride across the river to Manhattan. The other, San Jose, does not publicly allow their flights to be tracked using

The Flyers were one of the few teams that were forced to change time zones. Yet, they weren't even the team with the longest distance to travel for that game. Chicago endured a 2-hour, 20-minute flight to Denver, plus the longest bus ride in the league from airport to downtown.

"The hardest part about our situation was the distance we had to travel," Hextall said. "All of the sudden, we're getting our guys up at 5:30 in the morning and asking them to perform that night. You've got to skate because you hadn't skated during the break, it was a long flight. It would have been an extremely tough travel day.

"Everything sort of just made sense when it came together to make the decision that we made, for better or for worse."

Hextall seemed to show little remorse for the rule. He said the decision was ultimately his call and Flyers chairman Ed Snider "has been great with everything so far." When he was asked a rhetorical question if there was a different way to handle it in the future, Hextall said "that's not up to me, that's up to the league and the NHLPA in the future."

"In the end, obviously, I thought it was right for the players," Hextall said. "When they came to me, I thought it was a reasonable request. When they asked for it, it was hard to say no."