Forced restraint from Flyers on July 1 spending

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Forced restraint from Flyers on July 1 spending

Ron Hextall likely won’t forget his first free agency experience as the Flyers' general manager any time soon.

If for no reason other than the only player of consequence he signed was his own goalie, Ray Emery.

Meanwhile, all around him, the NHL was rocking with a record number of signings worth more than $420 million.

Teams with money spent recklessly. Like the Flyers almost always do.

This time, however, the Flyers were on the bench without a dime to spare.

The Flyers need another defenseman. Washington signed two in Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik.

They need a left wing. Matt Moulson returned to Buffalo. Thomas Vanek went to Minnesota.

Frustrating?

“No, not really,” Hextall said. “To be honest with you, July 1 is one of those days where we all can get carried away. I look on my board here and look at our team, and we’ve got a good team.

“Sometimes this day, you make some of the poorest decisions you make, and quite honestly we didn’t have to think it through that hard.

“We’ve got a couple guys we’re still looking at if we get them in the right range -- one guy specifically -- so there’s still things you can do.”

They also signed goalie Rob Zepp for the Phantoms and forward Blair Jones as a Phantoms call-up.

For once, the Flyers felt what it’s like to be the cash-starved Islanders with holes to fill and no money to buy the ingredients to fill them.

“This is the day where a lot of times you do something and you have buyer’s remorse,” Hextall said. “But it’s hard ... you have a lot of holes to fill. Back in L.A. a few years ago, we were in that position where we had a lot of holes to fill, and it’s hard to fill all your holes in a cap world in free agency.

“Again, it’s one of those days where sometimes you look back and you did something good -- I think there’s some good buys in the market -- but there’s some other ones that are inflated.”

The Flyers are boxed in by not being able to move Vinny Lecavalier’s contract. His $4.5 million cap hit over the next four years prevented them from getting involved with any quality forward or defenseman on the market.

“We’ve got nothing imminent on Vinny,” Hextall said. “We’ll keep looking at the situation, and like I said, deal with it internally, and if there’s something to report we’ll get it back to you guys, but as far as I’m concerned right now, Vinny Lecavalier could be in a Flyer uniform in September.”

That can’t possibly happen. It would be awkward and a subject of almost daily speculation, especially if Lecavalier has a poor start to the season.

“Not at all,” Hextall said. “Vinny’s a pro, and we’re pros, and I think you guys all know we’ve had discussions, but he’s been nothing but a pro.”

Hextall said the Flyers will still be looking to add a depth defenseman. South Jersey's T.J. Brennan went to the Islanders for $600,000.

“We would have had interest in him,” Hextall said. “Quite honestly, we’ve been working at a number of other things, but we would have had interest in him.

“We still have a player that we covet right now. We’ve been working on that and also been talking to other GMs trying to move things around a little bit. It’s been a busy day and you don’t get to everything that you want to get to.”

Hextall is trying to win a game of blackjack holding with a hard 12.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Hextall said. “I think a lot of people filled up today and that’s always what happens July 1. It’s not going to be easy. We’ll continue to chip away and work away, and we’ll find a way.”

RFAs
Hextall said the Flyers will not pursue any restricted free agents, such as PK Subban, and weren't in position to do so anyway.

Ron Hextall, Flyers follow through with wingers on Day 2 of NHL draft

Ron Hextall, Flyers follow through with wingers on Day 2 of NHL draft

CHICAGO — If the Flyers had somehow managed to finagle a third pick in the first round of the NHL draft on Friday night, they had a specific kid in mind.

Guelph left winger Isaac Ratcliffe.

"When you really like a guy, you go after him and that's what happened," general manager Ron Hextall said after trading up in the second round Saturday at United Center to draft the power forward (see story).

"He fits the organizational needs at left wing. Real good size. He plays hard and can score goals. He is really raw, at the front end of the process. Some are average and some on the back end of the process. He's got work to do. We like his upside."

The Flyers swapped their own second-round pick, plus two more (75th and 108th overall selections) with Arizona to move from 44th to 35th and select Ratcliffe (see Day 2 draft tracker).

"He is a prototypical power forward," Hextall said of the 18-year-old. "Didn't quite have the power down yet in terms of his body. He needs to put some weight on and add strength. Real excited about him."

The Flyers came into the draft with 11 picks and ended up with nine because of a couple deals. They finished with seven forwards (three left wingers), one D-man, a goalie, and have 10 picks already stockpiled for 2018, too.

Speaking of goalies, Hextall didn't foresee himself taking one early in the draft. Yet he did, selecting Russian Kirill Ustimenko at No. 80 in the third round.

"I'm not gonna chase a goalie," Hextall said days earlier.

Did he chase this kid? Well, Ustimenko, 18, was considered to be a possible sleeper. NHL Central Scouting had him ranked fifth internationally. The Flyers saw a lot of him overseas.

"We did not chase him," Hextall said. "We were surprised he fell there. We actually talked about him much earlier. Our guys really liked him and our comfort level was better than other teams."

The 6-foot-3, 187-pound Ustimenko catches left and had some impressive numbers in 27 games for MHK Dynamo St. Petersburg this season with a 1.74 goals-against average and .938 save percentage.

If you are keeping track, that's Anthony Stolarz, Carter Hart, Alex Lyon, Felix Sandstrom, Matej Tomek and now Ustimenko.

That's an enormous number of Flyers goalie prospects at this point.

Left winger Matthew Strome fell into their laps in the fourth round, where the Flyers had back-to-back picks at 106 and 107.

They took Strome (No. 106), the third brother in recent drafts, joining Dylan (2015 draft/Coyotes) and Ryan (2011/Islanders), who has played 258 games for New York.

"Call a spade a spade — his skating has to improve," Hextall said of Matthew. "We all know it. He's a good hockey player with good size. He makes plays, scores goals and knows how to play the game.

"He's got one deficiency there he can focus on and we like where we got him. It's up to Matthew to put the work in."

A 6-3, 207-pound left winger, Strome, 18, was projected to go in the second round. Upset?

"Not really," Strome replied. "Just being drafted and being one of the top 300 players or whatever it is, just to be honored, it's very special.

"I'm going to use it as motivation to prove people wrong. If people did think I slipped down, I'm gonna prove them wrong, that they made the wrong choice."

He said "all" the attention in his family has been on his brothers. Now it's his turn. His brothers helped prepare him for the moment.

"Entering my first OHL year, they told me there would be ups and downs and I would have to work through it," Strome said. "The past couple weeks, they told me, 'Enjoy the moment, it goes by fast.'

"Once it's over, you're on that team for three years and you've got to make [sure] that first impression on them is really good."

At No. 107, the Flyers tabbed 18-year-old Russian right winger Maksim Sushko (6-0/185), who last season played for Owen Sound (OHL), where he scored 17 goals with 32 points in 54 games. He spoke through an interpreter.

"I model my game after [Nikita] Kucherov of Tampa Bay," he said. "I like a physical style of play and give out assists. I'd like to become a better sniper."

In the fifth round, at No. 137, the Flyers tabbed 18-year-old left winger Noah Cates, from Stillwater High School in Minnesota.

He served as captain of his team and scored 20 goals with 65 points in 25 games last season and has committed to the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

In the sixth round, at No. 168, the Flyers chose smallish (5-10, 163) 17-year-old Swedish center Olle Lycksell, who played for Linkoping last season in the Super Elite League where he had nine points in 29 games.

"He's a hard worker who understands the game and has good hockey sense," Hextall said.

Hextall had two final picks in the seventh round.

At No. 196, the Flyers took their only defenseman in this draft, overage Wyatt Kalynuk, who is 6-2, 186 and 20 years old.

"Really good skater," Hextall said. "Good mobility and size, good puck skills. He's been through drafts and he's going to Wisconsin, which we really like. So we have four years with him."

Ironically, Hextall traded their final pick at No. 199 to Montreal for a seventh-round pick next year so the Canadiens could choose goalie Cayden Primeau, who happens to be Keith Primeau's son.

Habs GM Marc Bergevin called and asked for the pick.

"I thought he would go sooner than he did," Hextall said.

Ron Hextall doesn't make move for veteran goalie; Steve Mason 'still in the mix'

Ron Hextall doesn't make move for veteran goalie; Steve Mason 'still in the mix'

CHICAGO — While the Flyers picked up a young first-round centerman in Nolan Patrick — who many feel will be in their lineup this season — at this weekend's NHL draft, they returned home with one major dilemma unresolved.
 
They still don't have a veteran goalie to pair with Michal Neuvirth next season.
 
The draft is usually a pretty good place to piece together a deal for a goalie about to become a free agent or one already under contract who a team might be willing to move.
 
In the Flyers' case, general manager Ron Hextall said nothing came about. That might be because a couple of teams made some moves prior to the draft involving goalies and there doesn't seem to be a rush to fill the spots.
 
"I didn't expect to [do a deal]," Hextall said. "I would have liked to have it done a month ago. But I am not going to do something just for the sake of having something in place.
 
"We are going to do our due diligence. Sometimes you have to wait and sometimes it's part of the process to see what is out there. It's a high priority. We have to get something in place."
 
Three teams have three goalies — Arizona, Dallas and Carolina. And there are several in free agency.
 
Hextall likes to get a jump on free agency but …
 
"I don't know," he replied when asked if that is where he's headed.
 
Maybe a trade? Again, no commitment. Hextall said he's not worried.
 
"My comfort level is there are a number of goalies out there," Hextall said. "So, there's not six No. 1 spots out there and just one goalie. I have comfort in that.
 
"We are still doing our due diligence and in the end, it's probably going to come down to a guy we take and term and money. I might like this guy, but is he asking unreal term? We'll go somewhere else. I keep telling you, [Steve Mason] is still in the mix."
 
Like a lifeboat in the vast ocean.