Ron Hextall thinks next season will be better for Flyers | Sam Donnellon

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall.

SO, TO SUM UP Thursday's end-of-the season session with Flyers general manager Ron Hextall:

The coach isn't going anywhere.

Steve Mason is wrong: A one-goalie system leaves a team dangerously exposed, especially if health and consistency are issues.

Jake Voracek might be on to something when he says the core group that has won one playoff series in six seasons may not look the same when training camp opens in September.

To that point, said the GM, the Flyers hit a "speed bump" this season, but they are getting younger and will continue to do so as Hextall's youth movement continues to produce talent from within; i.e., there probably won't be a sniper signed this summer.

Oh, and in case you never saw him play: Yeah, Hextall is "(ticked) off" about the way this season went.

But first, about the coach. The winning and losing streaks, the scoring surges and droughts, the tepid 5-on-5 play weren't all the responsibility of the coach he hired two summers ago and continues to profess faith in. Hextall blames himself for carrying eight defensemen and for "the mix of players" assembled. The only coach fired after the Flyers finished their underachieving season was assistant Joe Mullen, who had run the team's power play through four coaching reigns.

But Dave Hakstol? "Hak is smart. He knows what's going on."

"Let me throw it back to you and ask you if every player has a responsibility to get the most out of themselves," Hextall said. "To me, that's fair to ask. It's a fair statement. When I was a player, damn right it was up to me to get the most out of myself."

To that end, Hextall said, certain players will be, ahem, encouraged to alter (read, upgrade) their offseason training programs. Asked whether some, as Voracek suggested earlier this week, might not be around to do that, Hextall didn't exactly douse their anxiety.

"Pro sports is all about proving yourself year after year," he said. "Every one of our players has to prove themselves next year. Will it stay together? I don't know. If we'd have won a couple rounds of playoffs, there's obviously a better chance of them staying together. Does that mean it's not going to stay together? I don't know what's going to come our way. Am I happy with the team? No. I'm not. How can you be, right? We missed the playoffs and, again, we were capable. I don't know one way or the other whether there's going to be change."

In response to Mason's contention that situations in St. Louis and Tampa Bay proved the folly of giving two goalies significant work over the season, Hextall said: "I guess if you ask the Pittsburgh Penguins right now, they'd say you need two, right? The Lehigh Valley Phantoms?

"Our tandem last year worked very well. Neuvy (Michal Neuvirth) and Mase last year were terrific. This year they weren't as good. It worked two years ago. I think Mase played 58 games this year. He played the biggest part of the workload. You have to have two goalies. Look what happened to Montreal last year."

After playing in 66 of the Canadiens' games the year before, starter Carey Price suffered a medial collateral tear in his right knee in the Habs' 12th game and was lost for the entire season. A season that began with nine straight wins and talk of a Cup run ended in disaster, the team missing the playoffs.

On the eve of this year's first-round playoff series with Columbus, Pens goalie Matt Murray suffered what was described as a lower-body injury during warmups and had to be replaced by Marc-Andre Fleury. Murray started 46 games for the Pens this season, as did Fleury, who was thought to be headed out at the trade deadline.

"In the month of March, we played 16 games in 31 days," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said after Fleury stopped 31 shots in Pittsburgh's 3-1 victory Wednesday night. "We relied on both of them through that process. The fact we were able to share duties really helped our team in that condensed schedule down the stretch. Marc was a big part of that."

Said Hextall, "I've seen coaches try to . . . dictate the whole season before the year and you look back and it's almost laughable. It doesn't happen. It's not a perfect science. When a goalie's on a roll, you want to play him. You don't want to leave your second guy out too long. It's a tough thing with goalies. It's a hard area to manage. You try to manage your guy's health, his rest, the amount of practice he gets. There's a lot that goes into those decisions. It's not just, 'OK let's play Mase two and Neuvy one' or however you want to do it, it's not that simple . . . There's a lot that goes into those decisions that's not as clear-cut and easy as we all want them to be."

Including who his two will be to start the season next fall, because he doesn't know how the expansion draft will shake out. Neuvirth could be grabbed by Las Vegas and Mason re-signed eventually. Or Neuvirth could remain as a tandem with Anthony Stolarz or another of the half-dozen goalies to emerge from the system. The only certainty going forward is that the Flyers will be going forward, continuing the youth infusion that was Hextall's mandate when he was promoted three years ago.

"It's funny because what keeps me sane, or partially sane, is the growth around this year," he said. "Because this was a frustrating year for sure."

"Obviously, in the end (it) is (about) the Flyers. The Phantoms feed into the Flyers. The juniors, the college guys, the draft picks, everything ends up being reflective of the Flyers. There's disappointment this year, no question. But in all the other areas, again the Phantoms, those kids are playing a huge part for them. They're not 6/7 defensemen, backup goalies, fourth line, fifth line, scratch players. They've got a big chunk of the pie there. So, we've got some really good things going on there. Our prospects around the world have really grown this year. This franchise is in a good place."



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