Flyers GM Ron Hextall needs to make more deft moves

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The Flyers need to figure out a way to get rid of Vinny Lecavalier. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

LESS IS MORE.

No other phrase better sums up the 14-month tenure of Ron Hextall as Flyers general manager than this.

Whether we are discussing getting two second-round draft picks from the Blackhawks for the now-retired Kimmo Timonen, first- and third-rounders and a much cheaper defenseman from Tampa in exchange for Braydon Coburn and the contract that pays him $4.5 million next season, getting a third-rounder in 2017 from Boston for one-goal scorer Zac Rinaldo or miraculously dealing Chris Pronger's contract to Arizona, Hextall already has turned water to wine several times.

Yesterday's signing of goalie Michal Neuvirth to be the Flyers' backup certainly doesn't fall into this category. But it is a deft pickup of a goalie who has been a starter before and wishes to be one again, a goalie who was picked 35 places higher than the goalie he now backs up. And it absorbs only $1.625 million of about $6 million Hextall had freed up from a roster still infested with overpaid underperformers.

I've read and heard several times that the Flyers will not be active during the free-agent season. I sure hope that's wrong. The whole intrigue of this for the Flyers is not about whom they can get, but whom they can get rid of.

R.J. Umberger, Andrew MacDonald, Luke Schenn, Matt Read - there's still a lot of fat left on the bone with this team, still a lot of big contracts attached to expendable players, especially when projecting into the future. The Flyers expect to have plenty of good, cheap labor joining their blue line over the next couple of seasons, players like Robert Hagg and Shayne Gostisbehere - and by the way, I am really psyched that I can now type his last name without looking it up. Honest.

At the top of that fat content is Vinny Lecavalier and a contract that pays $4.5 million for each of the next three seasons. Why Hextall did not try to buy him out before this is at the top of the intrigue. But if those trade-deadline deals and the great Pronger escape didn't buy your GM some "In Hexy We Trust" points - well, then, Sam Hinkie has a whole lot more work to do.

Here are two thoughts: There are a group of teams that might need dead contracts to reach the NHL's salary-cap basement of $52.8 million. That's how Pronger became a Paper Coyote, and maybe one reason Kings GM Dean Lombardi was even in conversations about Mike Richards with the GMs of Edmonton and Calgary before the Royal Canadian Mounted Police got in the way.

If there's any light in the dark tunnel, it's that Vinny will cost a team less to play for them next season, while counting against the cap more. Just as Pronger costs Arizona $575,00 in real money but counts as $4.5 million toward getting to the cap-mandated minimum payroll of $51.7 million, Lecavalier's real cost from here on is $2 million less than his cap hit.

Still, $13.5 million over the next three years for a 35-year-old player coming off two subpar seasons?

If Hextall pulls this one off and I'm the Phillies, I have Andy MacPhail call him immediately.

That Umberger is even here is the best evidence that, despite refining his public rebuilding message to include a win-now clause, Hextall's target date is not the upcoming season, but the ones after it. He traded a better player for a worse one in the Scott Hartnell deal for one season of cap relief. That's not a win-now strategy.

Hextall made it clear after the season he did not want Lecavalier back.

"It hasn't worked for him and it hasn't worked for us," he said. So far, though, there aren't even mumblings that Hextall has received even tepid interest about Lecavalier, who has become the NHL player version of Mel Brooks' "The Producers." Vinny was a compliance buyout of the Tampa Bay Lightning after the 2013 season, which enabled Paul Holmgren to offer him $22.3 million for five years. Vinny's career earnings already exceed $98 million, the most of any player in the NHL.

He had eight goals and 20 points in 57 games last season. Only Ryan Howard's deal compares. But at least the Phillies got a few seasons from their former MVP.

About five teams still must reach that $52.8 million threshold, five teams that might be forced to add more even if it makes them less in the short term. Hextall already has achieved what was thought impossible in clearing Pronger from the books. All we ask now is that he performs another miracle.

Or two. Or three.


Email: donnels@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @samdonnellon

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