COLUMBUS - The NHL's trade deadline is 17 days away, Ron Hextall's last chance to shake up a stagnant Flyers roster until the summer.
Right now, we know as much about Hextall's long-range plan for the Flyers as we did on May 7, 2014, the day he was promoted to general manager. That is to say: not much.
"Nothing has really changed," Hextall said yesterday in a conference call with reporters. "If the right deal comes along for now and for the future, we'll make it. If it doesn't, obviously we won't.
"We'll do everything we can to get into the playoffs, short of selling off younger assets. We have our vision for the future, so we're not going to do anything short-term that's going to hurt us long-term. We have a vision for the future, but I'm not going to get into particulars."
Only one truly imminent move looms for the Flyers right now: clearing enough salary-cap and roster space to make way for Kimmo Timonen to return to the lineup.
The Flyers are over the $69 million salary cap, squeezing by daily only with the help of long-term injury reserves. To make room for Timonen's $2 million salary, one defenseman must be moved, which could be something as simple as waiving seldom-used Carlo Colaiacovo.
Timonen, 39, skated again yesterday by himself in South Jersey, and Hextall said the plan was for him to rejoin the team for the first time at Tuesday's morning skate, the Flyers' first home practice following their road trip.
Timonen said last week he would need "four or five good practices," before being ready to return to the lineup. That would theoretically make Feb. 21 a possibility, a date Hextall threw cold water on yesterday.
"I personally think it's too early, but it's going to be we'll see how Kimmo feels," Hextall said. "From where I'm looking right now, I would probably suggest that's not good for Kimmo or for us, at least at this point. I'd question whether he's had enough practice by then to get back into a game, given the length of his layoff. So, I don't believe it will be that early."
That would make finding a new temporary home with a Stanley Cup contender for Timonen before the March 2 deadline extremely difficult. Even Feb. 21 would allow for only five full games to show scouts he can perform, a small number, given his age, his conditioning and his medical concerns with blood clots.
"We're not going to put Kimmo at risk or move his time schedule up so teams can see him," Hextall said. "This is about what's best for Kimmo. We're not going to rush him for reasons that aren't prudent."
Sure, Timonen wants to return to leave the game on his own terms, but he is also motivated by one last shot at a Cup. Not moving Timonen before the deadline would make his comeback not only silly, but detrimental to the future.
The Flyers must pay Timonen a $750,000 bonus once he hits 10 games played this season. Since the Flyers already are exceeding the cap, that would be applied to next year's limit, which is already tight.
The Flyers have $62.2 million committed to 18 players already - and that does not include two players Hextall would like to bring back: restricted free agent Michael Del Zotto and unrestricted free agent Nick Schultz. With consent from the NHLPA on the use of the standard 5 percent escalator in doubt, and a shrinking Canadian dollar, the salary cap could drop for the first time in league history.
Adding $750,000 - with the potential of another $250,000 on top of that if he hits 20 games - for Timonen to then retire helps no one.
According to a source, the Flyers and Schultz's camp made progress in negotiations on an extension last week. The belief is a deal will be worked out before the deadline, taking Schultz off the table to be moved as a rental option for playoff teams.
Hextall's meetings with his scouting staff spanned 4 days this week, extending through today. His biggest question mark for the trade deadline is his defense, which is his one position of strength for the future with top prospects. The Flyers need to find a way to move logjam pieces such as Braydon Coburn and Nick Grossmann to pave the way for prospects such as Shayne Gostisbehere and Samuel Morin.
Navigating that gap - from present to future - with a secret map is somehow still strangely dependent on where the Flyers sit in the standings in 2 weeks. It shouldn't be a part of the equation, yet it apparently will be.
"That's going to be part of the equation. The other part is going to be what type of price people will pay," Hextall said. "There's a lot that goes into the decision-making. It's probably a little bit early now, but, as we close in here, we'll gauge where we're at and the prices and we'll make decisions."