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Ford: Can Flyers make patience pay off?

If this were another year, or another era, or another mind-set in the history of the Flyers, the team would enter this offseason with the cool, rational bearing of a man whose pants are on fire.

If this were another year, or another era, or another mind-set in the history of the Flyers, the team would enter this offseason with the cool, rational bearing of a man whose pants are on fire.

The team needs scoring on the forward lines. It has two good goaltenders. It has a potential wealth of capable young defensemen. It has prospects on the verge of making the league. This is a team good enough to make the playoffs, and with enough character to come back from a three-game hole against perhaps the best team in the NHL before being eliminated in the sixth game by a 1-0 score.

In the old days - defined as every year between the 1975 Stanley Cup victory and when Ron Hextall became general manager in 2014 - those circumstances would lead to a pyrrhic offseason formula: trade a goalie, trim some defensemen, give up some prospects, overpay for a couple of forwards, preferably really old ones, and plan the parade route.

Aside from never working, it was always a great plan.

Well, those days are over, and if it seems ironic that stability has arrived in the form of a man who was among the least stable in franchise history, maybe that's the only way the narrative could ever change. Hextall was brought back on board because he's smart and paid his executive dues in the league, but he was trusted only because he was a Flyer. You can be a subversive only from within.

"My job is to watch over and make sure we're OK today but also that what we're building toward remains the same," Hextall said. "People question this, but I'm not an impatient guy by nature. Maybe I was when I was on the ice, but I've been off the ice for 17 years or whatever it is. The whole thing we started to build two years ago, the vision's the same. We're on the path and a lot closer than we were two years ago."

This offseason will really be the first test of Hextall's resolve. The climb has been a slow one so far. The Flyers didn't make the playoffs a year ago, and only eked their way in this time, but that 15-5-3 record since the end of February can make a fellow think twice about the exact nature of the plan.

"We need some ugrading up front. We need some goal-scoring/playmaking. That would be our No. 1 need," Hextall said.

There will be some forwards available when the free agent market opens July 1, but Hextall cautioned that the salary cap has a little more breathing room that it did before but not much. As for trades, Hextall said they'd look at that, too, but he mostly shrugged when he said it.

The Flyers need help in the offensive end. Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, and Claude Giroux were their only 20-goal scorers during the regular season, and, as a whole, the forward line is thin on both size and skill. They had eight shootout losses, the most in the NHL, and while that ability doesn't matter in the postseason, it speaks to their lack of scoring snipers.

Without a significant offensive upgrade, next season might represent more slow growth, but not the sort of improvement desired by fans who haven't seen the team win a playoff round since 2012. And these are fans who were used to being fed a heaping bowl of hope every offseason. That's just not what Hextall is dishing up.

"If you have a team like us [that] you could call a bubble playoff team, you want to be on the right side [of the bubble], and getting better. If you are an older team just making the playoffs, you're future's probably not that great," Hextall said. "We feel next year, are we going to be a top eight team, a top six team? I don't think so. But I think we should be better than this year. We're moving in the right direction."

Perhaps fans looked at the Flyers differently when the team skated off the ice to their cheers following the Game 6 loss to Washington, but Hextall saw the same flaws that chased the team into the dressing room after their Game 3 debacle in the same building six days earlier. Those are flaws that won't be corrected quickly, just as quick fixes didn't correct other flaws in the past.

"We've got work to do. We're not going to throw rose petals out there because we made the playoffs and lost in the first round," Hextall said. "We're all about winning. We're taking a bit more of a patient approach, but that remains our focus."

A bit more? Yes, you could say that, and Hextall does, over and over.

Now, we'll see if he lives it, too. That has been the hard part before.