Flyers finally taking the long view

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Flyers chairman Ed Snider (left) and general manager Ron Hextall (right). (David Maialetti/Staff file photo)

THERE ARE no Cinderellas in the NBA.

Mull that for a moment. They have as many teams in their playoffs as the NHL does, as many revenue-producing rounds, but there is an almost zero percent chance that any seventh or eighth seed wins an NBA championship this year, next year, or any year after that.

Not in the NHL. The Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup 3 years ago as an eighth seed. The Flyers reached Game 6 of the 2010 finals after making the playoffs on the final day of the regular season. There are so many instances like this that it can become the sports equivalent of a hallucinogen, bending an organization's sense of reality so much that it begins to inflict lasting wounds upon itself.

That's been your Flyers, year after year, in a nutshell - pun intended. In years past they might even have been the team coughing up draft picks for well-worn veterans at the trade deadline, trying to infuse a team thisclose with enough talent to make a run.

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But over the weekend, in his first trade-deadline stab as the main man, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall got his Sam Hinkie on. By dealing Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn - their top defense pairing of just a year ago - Hextall procured three more high picks and now has seven among the first 101 of an NHL draft deeper than it has been in over a decade.

He also added a stay-at-home defenseman who will stay at home for the rest of this season with a knee injury.

Only in hockey can a GM do this and then, hours later, standing in front of a roomful of reporters, say with a straight face, "I don't look at our team and say, 'We can't take a run at the playoffs. I believe that we can. I really do . . .

"Cinderella runs happen every year.' ''

Only in hockey can that roomful of cynics nod in unanimous agreement. Only in hockey can the coach and teammates of those traded/popular veterans shrug their shoulders after hearing the news, echoing their boss' contention that this Cinderella's route to the ball is no longer or shorter than it was before the weekend.

"We were playing good with 'Coby' and we were playing good without Coby as well when he was hurt,'' Jakub Voracek said. "Even without Coby I'm sure we can make the playoffs. We know what we've got. It's business. It's hockey. People come and they go.''

"We still believe in our group and we're definitely not going to quit now,'' said Sean Couturier. "For the rest of the season we still have a lot of hockey left. We can still battle for a playoff spot.''

Couturier also said this: "It's always sad to see a teammate leave but it's part of the business. And to see what we've got in return is pretty good for the future. The future is bright for us.''

So let's talk about that future. Couturier was the first-round draft pick the Flyers received, with Voracek and a third-round pick, for Jeff Carter back in 2011. Picked eighth overall by the Flyers that summer, he was expected to have emerged as a two-way star by now, but has struggled offensively.

He is 22.

The Flyers used their other pick in the Carter trade to draft center Nick Cousins. In his second full season in the American Hockey League and fourth overall, Cousins has 48 points in 55 games and is still just 21.

There are also defensemen Robert Hagg, Samuel Morin and Shayne Gostisbehere on the immediate horizon.

They are part of what Hextall was talking about when he said yesterday, "When you look at young players, young pieces, young prospects, we've got a lot of them coming. And that's what excites us. You're trying to build towards a top team for an extended period of time and I think we're well on our way to that.''

They are also part of what Hextall was saying when he warned, "We've got picks. We've got to make them count now.''

The last time the Flyers had two first-round picks, in 2003, they chose Carter and Mike Richards. It was also the last time the Flyers had a future that looked this promising. Impatience, their age-old nemesis, sabotaged that, something Hextall seemed painfully aware of, and hopeful to avoid, when he said of Ed Snider, "He's on board with this.''

"I think the biggest mistake a manager can make is being too impatient with young kids,'' Hextall said. "It takes time, and it takes some of them a little bit longer than others. I think history shows that certain teams, you get a little anxious for a player to become really, really dominant and all of a sudden you trade him and he becomes the player you thought he could be.''

It is as good an explanation as any why Couturier is still a Flyer, and maybe why Brayden Schenn and Matt Read are still here, too.

Hextall didn't find a glass slipper yesterday. It still feels, with 19 games left, that midnight has come and gone on any Cinderella run. But he did break some ground on that blueprint of his, giving fans of this team just a little more hope that this happily-ever-after of which he speaks arrives before they, too, grow too old.

 


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