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Sports Tonight: Ron Hextall has ownership of this Flyers team

John Smallwood, STAFF COLUMNIST

Updated: Wednesday, October 4, 2017, 3:28 PM

Jakub Voracek celebrates his goal against the Bruins with his teammates during a preseason game last week.

Considering it has been six months since the Flyers have played an NHL game that counts, fans won’t mind having to wait three hours longer than typical for the first puck of the 2017-18 season to drop.

Sixers rookie Markelle Fultz drives on fellow rookie Ben Simmons during the Blue versus White intersquad scrimmage at the Palestra Oct. 1, 2017. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz runs with the football past Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Chris McCain during the first-quarter on Sunday, October 1, 2017 in Carson, CA. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
The Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant salutes the crowd after his final game, on April 13, 2016, at Staples Center in Los Angeles. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times/TNS) Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times
Photo Gallery: Sports Tonight: Ron Hextall has ownership of this Flyers team

Tonight at 10:30 on NBCSN — yeah, that’s late — the Flyers will open a season filled with anticipation and curiosity at San Jose on national television.

What is this amalgamation of veteran talent and young potential going to be?

General manager Ron Hextall has stood solidly behind his plan to rebuild this organization without gutting it of players who could keep it competitive during the growing pains. It’s the toughest two-step in any sport to try to pull off, and while it’s still not a completed job, this is a season to start seriously evaluating results.

Most executives in sports come in with a five-year window to turn things around. Hextall took over for Paul Holmgren in 2014.

By Year 4, things are no longer connected to the previous administration. The team the Flyers put on the ice tonight is the one that Hextall has used three seasons to compose.

The anticipation and curiosity are over whether this team takes that huge step forward.

I remember the 1996-97 Sixers season, and I haven’t sensed a vibe like this since Allen Iverson arrived in Philadelphia sans his signature cornrows. He also had only a couple of tattoos.

Frankly, the level of excitement for this Sixers preseason opener against the Memphis Grizzlies at 7 at the Wells Fargo Center (TV: TCN-Philly; radio: 97.5 The Fanatic) would have been there last year, but 2016 No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons had already suffered an injury that would keep him from playing any games.

No Sixers rookie since Iverson has debuted with as high a profile as Simmons.

Not even Joel Embiid had the expectations of “game-changer” like Simmons does.

Add in the debut of 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, and there likely has not been a preseason opener such as this in Philadelphia since the Sixers sent Moses Malone onto the court with Julius Erving in 1982.

A lot of times, winning in the NFL comes down to what the quarterback does, but sometimes it’s about what he does not do. Staff writer Zach Berman talks about how Carson Wentz’s not making negative plays has helped the Birds to a 3-1 start.

The Eagles and Arizona Cardinals will play Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. Staff writer Paul Domowitch breaks down the matchup and tells which team has the edge.

The Flyers are opening a season with five rookies for the first time since 1992. Staff writer Sam Carchidi talks about what they can bring to the team.

Columnist Bob Brookover writes that the reluctance of Phillies president Andy MacPhail to commit to long-term contracts for older, free-agent pitchers goes against what the team needs right now.

Chip Kelly might have flopped in the NFL, but the former Eagles coach had great success in college football. Still, Kelly was accused of pushing the rules at Oregon. At cbssports.com, Dennis Dodd writers a “show-cause” penalty makes it tough to hire Kelly because of the current scandal in college basketball.

Disney World is supposed to be the happiest place in the world. Iliana Limon Romero of the Orlando Sentinel reports that U.S. women’s soccer star Alex Morgan got a little too happy at Epcot Center and received a police escort to the exit.

Don’t think of Ben Simmons in terms of hoping the Sixers have the next LeBron James. Hope that Simmons is more of the next Kobe Bryant.

By basketball ability, James has been the best player in the world for nearly a decade, but there is a missing intangible, loyalty.

James left Cleveland after seven seasons. He came back only after his legacy was secured with two titles in Miami. Even then, James, who did go on to win a title for Cleveland, inked a four-year deal that allows him to walk again after this season.

By ability, Bryant is only slightly behind James. Bryant, however, spent his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers – an NBA record.

Through great years and lean years, Bryant stayed loyal to the Lakers and helped deliver five NBA championships.

If Sixers fans believe Simmons is destined for the greatness most predict, they should hope that he will have the same commitment to Philadelphia that Bryant had to Los Angeles.

Tonight’s schedule TV/Radio

NL Wild Card Game
Rockies at Diamondbacks, 8 p.m. (TBS)

NHL
Blues at Penguins, 8 p.m. (NBCSN)
Flyers at Sharks, 10:30 p.m. (NBCSN; WPEN-FM 97.5)

Preseason Basketball
Grizzlies at 76ers, 7 p.m. (NBCSP+)
Hawks at Cavaliers, 7 (NBA TV)
Nuggets vs. Lakers, 10 p.m. (NBA TV)
Timberwolves vs. Warriors, 2 a.m. (NBA TV)

College Football
Arkansas State at Georgia Southern, 8 p.m. (ESPN2)

WNBA Finals
Los Angeles Sparks at Minnesota Lynx, 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Local Events

Preseason Basketball
76ers vs. Grizzlies, 7 p.m., Wells Fargo Center

Changes in listings: Comcast SportsNet has changed its name to NBC Sports Philadelphia (NBCSP). The Comcast Network is now NBC Sports Philadelphia+ (NBCSP+).

John Smallwood, STAFF COLUMNIST

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