I like what Ron Hextall didn’t do at the trade deadline.
I like what he didn’t say, too.
He didn’t trade prospects for proven players. He didn’t trade draft picks for a rental. He picked up a waived veteran defenseman and lost an expendable one via waivers.
He didn’t say that the Flyers’ surge since a 10-game winless streak in late November and early December that has them at the brink of first place sped his timetable, forced his hand, made him rethink that big window of opportunity he’s been preaching about since taking over as the general manager four year ago.
“This is a dangerous time,” he said instead. “It’s an emotional time for all of us.”
Here’s why: Every team the Flyers are likely to be matched with in the Eastern Conference playoffs became significantly better before Monday’s trade deadline. Tampa Bay added Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller. The Rangers sent Rick Nash to the Bruins. Pittsburgh added Derick Brassard. Toronto added Tomas Plekanec. Columbus got Mark Letestu. Even the Devils got into the act, renting free-agent-to-be Pat Maroon from Edmonton for the rest of the season and making a rare deal with their rivals across the river to get the Rangers’ speedy Michael Grabner, also a free-agent-to-be.
The trade-off was young players, prospects, and draft picks. The Flyers have plenty of all three.
They still do, and they were coveted. “You’ve got to really think things through,” Hextall said. “It’s an easy time to jump because somebody else did something. That’s not the way we operate.”
Well, not anymore. But there was a time, say, over the last 30-odd years, when the Flyers brass, seeking to renew an expiring claim as a championship organization, would look at the standings, deem their rebuilding plan an accelerated success, and jump – no, dive – in.
Instead, Hextall picked up 36-year-old defenseman Johnny Oduya on waivers and lost 26-year-old depth defenseman Mark Alt. The transactions may have made the Flyers slightly better in the short run, and certainly, with Travis Sanheim playing much better at Lehigh Valley, a move without significant risk.
“You have a chemistry in your room,’’ Hextall said. “So to make a deal it’s got to be the right player, got to be the right price. Otherwise you are affecting the chemistry in your room. … This group has battled hard for us this entire year. … We owe a certain amount to them.
“I’ll tell you what I liked the most. We went through a 10-game losing streak that included one-goal games and losses in shootouts. We weren’t as bad as people thought or as bad as probably we thought. Our guys stuck together. At that point you went ‘Wow.’ There was a lot of adversity there. A lot of negativity. Our guys stuck together. Nothing came out of the locker room negative. To me that’s a sign right there we’ve got a great group in our room. And you have to be careful not to mess too much with that chemistry.”
Truth is, he has to an extent. But only because of unwanted subtraction. When Wayne Simmonds went down with an upper-body injury, Hextall promoted rookie Oskar Lindblom, who has synced quickly with Nolan Patrick on the second line. So much that Hextall said he intends to keep the kid up when Simmonds returns.
The mini-crisis created when both Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth were injured seems to have been averted with last week’s trade for Petr Mrazek. Not only has the 26-year-old Czech played well, he seems to be instantly liked by his teammates, particularly those on defense.
Trading a couple of draft picks for Mrazek wasn’t messing with chemistry. Hextall was telling the players that they had earned their shot at an unlikely title. It did however, compromise his plan to hold his assets, to grow a team from within. “Just because we are a point out of the division lead,” he said, “we’re not going to make a deal that makes us a little bit better right now but we give up two young assets, or a good young player, a draft pick. We’re not going to make deals to go essentially all in just for one year.
“When I took over four years ago I said we’re going to make a long window here. Well, we can’t forget about the window. We’re not going to mortgage our future to take one run with rentals and stuff. We’re going to do it the seven, eight, 10-year way, where we feel like we’re going to be competitive for a long period of time. And not mortgage the future.”