Hextall: Flyers must be in better physical shape

ap-ron-hextall.jpg

Hextall: Flyers must be in better physical shape

This is the final segment of a four-part Q&A with Ron Hextall, who just completed his first summer offseason in Philadelphia as the Flyers’ general manager.

Who in your mind has improved the most in the East and in your division?

Hextall: Oh, boy. Boy, that’s a good question.

Looks to me like the Rangers and Penguins took steps backwards.

Hextall: People maybe look at Tampa in the East and say they improved. I always say, if you don’t improve from within, you can only make so many steps. ... You can’t sign free agents X and Y and say, ‘Oh, we’ve gotten so much better.’ Maybe you look at Minnesota two years ago and say they were the exception with [Zach] Parise and [Ryan] Suter. You say, ‘Well, they should be a lot better.’ It didn’t work out quite like some people thought it would. For the most part, you can’t go out and sign a free agent or two and say you took this huge step. Because of chemistry and everything else that goes into it. If you don’t get better from within, your chances of moving too far ahead are slim. That’s where we focused this summer. Getting better from within. Not just on the ice, but some of our staff and minor league team. Little things we can improve in here like the analytical part or coaching part. There’s things we can get better. It’s not just the product on the ice which is a byproduct of all the little things that you improve on, whether it’s medical devices or training programs. Our team was very diligent about training [this summer]. Our team last year? I don’t think was in great shape. I really don’t, for whatever reason. We better be in better shape this year. 1 and 7 [start]? We can’t do that again. We got to be ready to go on opening night. We gotta fricking go! That type of thing far outweighs signing a decent free agent.

What did you learn from your father [Bryan Jr.] and grandfather [Bryan Sr.] in hockey?

Hextall: It’s funny. ... Probably the biggest thing coming out of being a son of an NHL player and grandson was you’re pretty much born into hockey. When that happens, you go one of two ways. You either love it or you hate it. And I loved it. I’d go to practice with my dad when I was 4-5-6 ... watch practice, skate before practice and skate after practice. Be in the locker room after practice. The whole lifestyle thing. People ask me why I was a goalie. I have absolutely no idea. ... The biggest thing I learned was the lifestyle and passion I had. My dad was a hard worker and honest player. He was an honest man. … I think I’m the luckiest kid ever. I still have fond memories of practices in Pittsburgh and Atlanta and Detroit and Minnesota. I remember Pat Quinn and Butch Deadmarsh in Atlanta fighting during practice and then coming out after practice and they were talking. And I couldn’t figure it out. They were on the ice teammates and they fought. Then after practice they are in the street clothes talking outside the locker room. I questioned my dad on the way home. Why were they talking? They just fought. They were both bleeding. Just the whole passion for the game. I’m rambling on a bit. The lifestyle and work habits is the short answer.

So what was your father’s answer to that question?

Hextall: He just said it was a confrontation. They got mad at each other. They fought, but they are still teammates. I couldn’t figure out what was going on, but I guess I should have because my brother and I fought like crazy, but would be best buddies 10 minutes later. I probably should have understood it. ... I got it figured out now.

Did you ever settle it with [Chris] Chelios since he lives in [Malibu] and you had seven years out there?

Hextall: No, but I took a lot of heat for talking to him one night in the press box. You guys all made a big deal of it. I don’t know what people wanted. Did they want Cheli and I to stand up in the press box and go at it? I don’t know. I respect him. He played hard. He would have been a great Flyer. I would have loved to play behind him.

What part of Ron Hextall the player has carried over to Ron Hextall the GM?

Hextall: [Laughing]. Thankfully, probably not much of it.

You were quick-tempered as a player.

Hextall: Well, yeah and I was reactive, but you have to be. It’s a fast game and things happen and you had to be. But in my position now, it’s whoa. You've got to be really methodical and think things through and don’t jump too quick. Funny, but when you think about it, it’s almost totally opposite of what I did as a player. And I think a coach has to be more like a player. A manager can’t be like a player. You've got to look for today and look for tomorrow and you've gotta look for the next four or five years. And you've gotta be patient. There are going to be times where we will go through a rough time and you’ll be wanting to do something. Sometimes you've just gotta hold the fort.

Last question … why was John Paddock (defensive coach) cut loose? He held a variety of jobs here over the years.

Hextall: My beliefs are having a big enough staff, but not too big a staff. I really felt like we needed a defenseman [to coach the defense]. A defenseman who played the position and could teach our defense on the ice during the game and video sessions. I have a lot of respect for John. We’re from the same province [Manitoba]. I’ve known him a long time. He is a fricking good human being. If you ask me the hardest thing I’ve done since taking over, that was it. I thought about that and fretted over that for a period of time and in the end, it made sense. I didn’t want to have an extra coach. ... Gord Murphy is a real teacher and former teammate. A real smart player and kinda calm, methodical, well thought-out guy. He is going to be really good for our defense. That’s not saying anything bad about John, but he was a forward and Lappy [Ian Laperriere] was a forward and Chief [Craig Berube] was a forward and [Joey] Mullen was a forward. ... Forward, forward, forward. That was a hard decision and a really tough thing to do because he was a good man and I had a lot of respect for him.

NHL Playoffs: Rangers ride Zuccarello to 3-1 win in series-clinching Game 6

NHL Playoffs: Rangers ride Zuccarello to 3-1 win in series-clinching Game 6

NEW YORK -- Mats Zuccarello scored twice in the second period and the New York Rangers beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 in Game 6 on Saturday night to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Derek Stepan also scored and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 27 shots to help New York get past the first round for the fifth time in six years. The Rangers won three straight after falling behind 2-1 to beat Montreal for the ninth time in 16 postseason series.

The Rangers will face the winner of the Ottawa-Boston series, which the Senators lead 3-2.

Alexei Emelin scored for Montreal and Carey Price finished with 20 saves. The Canadiens, winners of the Atlantic Division after missing the playoffs last year, were bounced from the postseason by the Rangers for the second time in four years. In 2014, it was in the conference finals (see full recap).

Paajarvi's OT goal gives Blues 4-3 win to oust Wild in 5
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Magnus Paajarvi scored at the 9:42 mark in overtime, giving the St. Louis Blues a 4-3 victory over Minnesota on Saturday in Game 5 of their playoff series, eliminating the Wild.

The Blues advanced to play Nashville in the second round.

Jake Allen made 34 saves for the Blues, who led 2-0 and 3-1 before a furious rally by the Wild to try to keep their season alive forced the extra frame.

Paajarvi's first career playoff goal gave Blues coach Mike Yeo the satisfaction of beating the team that fired him a little over a year ago.

Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker scored to bring the Wild back from their second two-goal hole, a deficit that held past the midpoint of the third period (see full recap).

Flyers excited for full-season upgrade of Valtteri Filppula

Flyers excited for full-season upgrade of Valtteri Filppula

As the Flyers packed up for the offseason much earlier than they had hoped, the focus started shifting to the outlook for 2017-18.

There was some optimism provided by Valtteri Filppula.

It wasn't anything he said. Instead, it was what he did in 20 games.

Make that a full sample size and the Flyers are excited about the possibilities.

Filppula, a well-rounded, 33-year-old center, was acquired at the March 1 trade deadline in the Mark Streit deal. He added five goals and three assists in his 20 games.

"I felt like later in the year, we had more bullets in our gun," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said last week as the team held exit interviews and cleanout day. "(Jordan) Weal comes in and does a good job. Filppula comes in and really gives us stability. Really upgraded our top nine. So when you're talking 5-on-5 play, just to depend on five or six guys, all of a sudden you have nine guys you can count on."

The Flyers were 27th in the NHL with 128 goals at 5-on-5 -- a significant factor in their postseason absence.

But Filppula should bring more than simply a 5-on-5 boost.

The Flyers desperately needed depth at the center position to relieve some pressure from Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier. Filppula, who came from the Lightning and played seven seasons with the Red Wings -- winning a Stanley Cup in 2008 -- is a sound matchup center and plays on the penalty kill, too.

"I think with Fil coming in this year, it really helped our depth," Giroux said. "He brings a lot to the team. He kills penalties, power plays, very good defensively and he's a smart player. When you bring a guy in like that, you kind of get excited a little bit."

From Filppula's first game on March 2 to the end of the regular season, the Flyers scored 56 goals, 12th most in the NHL over that span and 2.80 per game -- both improvements from their ranking of 21th on the full season and 2.59 per game.

"Now that we feel like we have nine guys that are legit top-nine forwards," Hextall said, "we've got good balance."

Couturier saw immediate benefits when the Flyers acquired Filppula. Couturier started playing with Dale Weise and Brayden Schenn, which turned out to be the team's best line combination to finish the regular season.

"I think it just brought some depth to our lineup," Couturier said of Filppula acquisition. "I had the chance to play after that with Schenn and Weiser and we just found chemistry right away and things went really well."

It provided head coach Dave Hakstol greater flexibility.

"The addition of Val Filppula to our group up front made our group of forwards better," Hakstol said. "Not just his presence, which I think he's an outstanding hockey player, a good hockey player and a real good veteran, but it just allowed some of the others to come together. I think there's real substance there."

The Flyers hope it shows with a full season of Filppula.

"I think when Filppula came in, the balance that seemed to come with him entering our lineup helped us both with and without the puck," Hakstol said. "Will that cohesion help us generate more offensively on an 82-game basis, not just a short-term basis? I think the answers to those things are yes."