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.

NHL Notes: Islanders fire head coach Jack Capuano

NHL Notes: Islanders fire head coach Jack Capuano

The struggling New York Islanders fired coach Jack Capuano on Tuesday, ending his tenure in the middle of its seventh season.

General manager Garth Snow named assistant GM/coach Doug Weight as Capuano's interim replacement. Snow told reporters Tuesday that the Islanders weren't where they wanted to be in the standings and that everyone's disappointed in their performance his season.

"At the end of the day organizationally I don't think Jack was probably going to be a coach that we were going to bring back," Snow said, adding that the team will begin a full-time coaching search now.

Snow said the halfway point of the season played a role in the timing of firing Capuano a day after beating the Boston Bruins 4-0. The Islanders were 17-17-8 and are in last place in the Eastern Conference with 42 points (see full story).

Predators: Hunt claimed, Fiala sent to AHL
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nashville Predators have claimed defenseman Brad Hunt off waivers from the St. Louis Blues.

In other moves announced Tuesday, the Predators assigned forward Kevin Fiala to their American Hockey League affiliate in Milwaukee and have placed defenseman Petter Granberg on injured reserve.

Hunt had one goal and four assists in nine games for St. Louis this season. He has appeared in a total of 30 NHL games over parts of four seasons with the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis. He has two career goals and six assists.

Fiala has six goals and three assists in 32 games for Nashville this season.

Granberg has played in 10 games for the Predators and has 10 penalty minutes.

Difficult to see now, but remember: Flyers’ window just starting to open

Difficult to see now, but remember: Flyers’ window just starting to open

They can’t win away from the Wells Fargo Center. They’ve seen a nine-point cushion in the wild-card standings vanish and when they resume play on Saturday, they’ll be out of the playoff picture.

The Flyers are who we thought they were. A fringe playoff team lacking in too many areas to be considered a serious contender, despite the overachievement of last season.

When the Flyers entered their bye week, they sat one point ahead of Carolina for the final wild-card spot and two points ahead of Florida and Ottawa. They are 3-8-3 in 14 games since their 10-game winning streak was snapped and were blown out in back-to-back games in Boston and Washington by a combined score of 11-3.

Yet, they’re still on the brink of the postseason — for now. Perhaps it’s time for a trade from the front office to send a shockwave through the locker room? Not so fast.

“If we can make our team better, we will,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said last week at Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey. “But we’re staying on course.

“I don’t care if we win every game the rest of the year or lose every game, we’re staying on course. We set out on a course two and a half years ago — we’re not deviating from what we planned. I’m not going to make a trade to send a message.”

It’s easy to get carried away in win streaks and unexpected playoff appearances, especially in Philadelphia, where the four major sports teams are rebuilding. It’s even easier to scream for a team to go for it when it shows a glimpse into its full potential.

That is what makes sports fun. It’s what makes for good sports debate programs and entertaining talking heads. But it’s not how organizations should run their operations.

It’s certainly not how Hextall runs his regime with the Flyers. Hextall has a clear vision, and time and time again has shown no signs of expediting his plan for immediate help. He has made it a purpose to build through the draft. We have to remember that and realize that the Flyers’ front office is playing the long game here, not the short game.

“Right now, we’re gonna stick with what we’ve got here and move forward,” Hextall said Sunday in Washington. “But on a day-to-day basis, I always look at how we can make our club better, and if there’s something that we think makes our club better, we’ll do it.

“The worst thing you can do is overreact when things aren’t going right and that’s not gonna happen. But if we can find a way to make ourselves better, we will.”

Let’s take a step back and make some sense of the Flyers’ current state. They are seventh in the Eastern Conference with 50 points as of Tuesday morning. They are 8-12-3 on the road, with nine straight defeats away from South Philadelphia. They are a top-10 scoring team, with 127 goals, but have allowed a league-high 144 goals against.

Steve Mason’s confidence is completely shook. Michal Neuvirth hasn’t been much better, if at all. Claude Giroux hasn’t scored a goal in 11 games and has just one marker in his last 17 games. (To be fair, he does have seven assists in his last eight games.)

Shayne Gostisbehere has been a healthy scratch twice this season, with his latest coming last Saturday in Boston. He’s struggled with his gap defense, among other areas, and is enduring growing pains in his second NHL season — as expected.

While the Flyers’ defense has scored 102 points, second most in the NHL, it struggles with gaps, turnovers and has too many breakdowns. Ivan Provorov, 20, has been the lone bright spot among the group of eight defensemen.

Head coach Dave Hakstol has juggled his lines and defensive pairs in attempts to find something that works. Some of the moves have worked, others have not. Questioning some of Hakstol’s lineup decisions is fair, but there’s no question his systems work.

There is only so much Hakstol can do with what he has to work with. Part of the blame can be placed on Hextall because this team, as currently constructed, is not there yet. It is, however, unfair to put every decision Hakstol makes under a microscope.

“Hak has tried a lot of things,” Hextall said. “In the end, it’s a group and we win together, we lose together. We have to react as a group better when something doesn’t go our way. That’s bottom line. … Line changes, different D combinations, flipping Mase, Neuvy. Everything that’s there, Hak has tried. In the end it comes down to our whole group just being better and not reacting the way we do when something negative happens.”

One of the reasons Hextall opted to hire Hakstol, who came directly from college with no prior NHL coaching experience, is development. Growth takes time, and there is rhyme or reason behind each Hakstol benching, whether we see it or not.

The Flyers’ play the last few weeks has been dumbfounding because a lot of the same mistakes that plagued the team in the beginning of the season — lax team defensive coverage, bad decisions with the puck, letting opponents enter the zone too easily, among others — are reappearing, and that’s a fair criticism of the current coaching staff.

But, when we put things in perspective, there are positives. Provorov has proven he’s the real deal, and he just turned 20 last Friday. Travis Konecny is here, and while he’s been the victim of a Hakstol benching, he’s shown glimpses of what’s to come. Jakub Voracek (41 points) has bounced back, Wayne Simmonds is an All-Star and has added penalty kill to his résumé. Brayden Schenn leads the NHL in power-play goals with 11, though his 5-on-5 scoring could improve. And there’s a lot of upside in the farm system, with the potential of seeing an influx of kids joining the Flyers as early as next season. 

“The window is actually starting to open, the way I see it,” Hextall said last week. “The kids we have on our team. The kids we have coming. There’s things happening here that are good. We’re going to get better here. We’re not going to get worse.”

And Hextall is right — the window is just opening and will only open wider. Patience remains key here, and don’t just trust the process with the Flyers. Enjoy the course.