Hextall puts his words into action with the Flyers

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Flyers general manager Ron Hextall. (David Maialetti/Staff file photo)

IT WAS all talk. Until yesterday.

We'd heard lots about Ron Hextall's plan and vision for the Flyers over the first 10 months since his promotion - and very little action. Fewer specifics.

There was June's lopsided trade of Scott Hartnell for R.J. Umberger.

Then Michael Del Zotto's signing off the scrap heap to try and replace Kimmo Timonen in August.

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There was Shayne Gostisbehere's strange call-up, 3 weeks after Hextall swore he wouldn't use prospects before they're ready.

Along the way, we've had a questionable handling of Steve Mason's injuries, plus a polarizing contract extension for veteran defenseman Nick Schultz.

In all, it was a rocky-at-best start to Hextall's tenure at the helm of the Flyers.

That was until we finally got our first real glimpse of his road map for the Flyers' rebuild over the past 4 days, which included trading Timonen and Braydon Coburn for a slew of draft picks, bringing roster and salary-cap flexibility that hasn't been seen here really since the start of the cap era in 2005.

Maybe it just took that long for Hextall to begin cleaning up the mess left by now-president Paul Holmgren.

"We've got a lot of work to do between now and the next 2 or 3 years, and we know it," Hextall said after wrapping up his first deadline as an NHL general manager. "There's nothing wrong with that. Essentially, the work never ends, because even when you build a top team or you get near the top, you still want to stay there and win. So, it's go-go-go. But I like the moves that we made. I think we're in a good spot."

When Hextall took over on May 7, 2014, the Flyers had a first-rounder but didn't pick again in this June's deep draft until one pick in the fourth round.

Now, the Flyers will have seven picks in the first 101 slots in June, including two firsts, a second, two thirds and two fourths - Nos. 11, 24, 51, 73, 84, 96 and 101, not accounting for the lottery and how the final standings will shake out over the next 5 weeks.

The last time the Flyers selected at both No. 11 and 24 was in 2003: Jeff Carter and Mike Richards.

"We've got picks," Hextall said. "We need to make them count now. This is only the first part. That's what excites us, when you're trying to build a top team moving forward. Rome wasn't built in a day."

It was tough to believe Hextall would top his return for Timonen, which ultimately could be two second-round picks if the Blackhawks advance far in the postseason.

Yet, he managed to do that, bringing back perhaps the best return of the deadline for a single player other than what the Coyotes got for Keith Yandle from the Rangers on Sunday. Coburn brought back just the 25th first-round pick in the 35-year history of deadline day since 1980.

Most teams would have been happy to flip Braydon Coburn for a first- and third-round pick and salary-cap flexibility. Hextall pressed for Radko Gudas, too, a prototypical third-pairing defenseman with cost certainty. Gudas, 24, has a $992,000 salary-cap hit next year, followed by restricted free agency.

Now, with Coburn taken out of the puzzle, Hextall can begin to realign salaries on defense that actually match productivity. This year, the Flyers spent more real dollars on defense than any team in the East other than Montreal.

It was too much. It still is too much. Healthy scratches and sixth defensemen can't be earning $3.6 or $3.5 million.

"We had to relieve it a little bit," Hextall said. "We're probably not quite there yet, either. In a perfect world, that's the way you do it [Gudas contract], but there's also entry-level contracts, where [the player's] contract doesn't necessarily reflect their play, so you have one contract who balances out the rest.

"It's a balancing act. It's a juggling act. And it's hard. You can't sign a guy now for 6 years and then all of the sudden in Year 1 you're going, 'Oh boy, what have I done? How am I going to get out of this one?' You've got to be cognizant of the year beyond."

This year, Scott Laughton is the only player to see the ice on an entry-level deal. Thankfully for the Flyers' capologist, more prospects like Laughton are on the way.

The deadline could have been better, like Hextall finding a new home for Nick Grossmann, further clearing out room for next season. In keeping him and others, Hextall created goodwill for himself not only in the Flyers' locker room, but also with chairman Ed Snider. He believes the Flyers can be somewhat competitive while rebuilding.

"We didn't shred things," Hextall said. "I don't think we did enough where we said this team doesn't have a chance. We won a lot of games without 'Coby.' We're not just going to throw away today for a small piece or secondary piece. Part of what we needed was having our cap at a place where we have flexibility."

The Flyers have that now. And everyone, including Hextall, can breathe a little bit easier with a better peek into the master plan.

"I don't know if you ever say you've accomplished everything, because you have a lot of visions," Hextall said. "But I think we accomplished part of what we wanted to. It's my first one in charge. It's kind of different. It's an anxious time for everybody. I didn't get a lot of sleep in the last week."

 


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