Hextall: Flyers must be in better physical shape


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.

Don't expect Brandon Manning to lose his role when Radko Gudas returns

Don't expect Brandon Manning to lose his role when Radko Gudas returns

MONTREAL — It figures to be the hardest decision that Flyers coach Dave Hakstol has to make, but if Radko Gudas is to enter the lineup Tuesday against Buffalo, someone has to come out.
And what happens with the Flyers tonight in Montreal could impact that.
A year ago, in the blink of an eye, people would suggest Brandon Manning as the obvious pick to exit the lineup.
Yet since the preseason, the guy they call “Man Dog” — sometimes Hakstol refers to him as “Mad Dog” — has been the Flyers' best two-way defenseman. And he’s done it despite suffering a left shoulder injury in training camp.
Hakstol has so much faith in Manning that he switched up rookie Ivan Provorov so the 26-year-old Manning could settle the 19-year-old down. Given the ages here, that’s saying something.
Manning admits he felt honored being asked to be a mentor.
“As a young player, I’ve been in the same situation,” he said. “Obviously, last year being my rookie season, it was different.
“But just being a little older, having a lot of experience in the American League, I just wanted to make him comfortable out there. Make it as easy as possible for him.”
Through five games, Manning has a goal and four points and is a team-high plus-5. While the Flyers may have missed Gudas' physical edge, there’s no way Manning will be the odd man out “if” Hakstol makes a lineup change against the Sabres.
Even if he does make a move, Manning is supremely confident he’s earned his keep. He has been defensively sound without the puck, challenging entries at the blue line, handling his man down low and generating offense when he has a chance.
The Flyers gave him a two-year, $1.95 million contract in July to avoid an arbitration hearing.
“My attitude after I got the new contract was I wanted to present myself as a top-six D-man,” Manning said. “A lot of people are saying, ‘He’s a seven or eight,’ but I don’t listen to that stuff.
“Coming into the season, I saw myself as a top-six guy, I felt good in the playoffs ... just continue to get better and grow.”
Hakstol says he’s seen significant growth in Manning’s game.
“Steady improvement,” Hakstol said. “Last year was the first time he was able to get into a stretch of games. He knows he is in the lineup and what his role is.
“You got to be careful about reading into the last couple months of last season because sometimes that doesn’t carry over. But we see continued, confident, reliable, two-way play out of Mad Dog. He continued that again the other night [against Carolina].”
Hakstol said he liked the result of moving Mark Streit back with his old partner, Nick Schultz, and giving Manning a rookie to school a bit.

“They were a solid pair,” he said.
The Flyers' lineup tonight against Les Canadiens is unchanged from Carolina.
Manning says he has seen the biggest improvement in his play when compared to two years ago. Playing consistently in the lineup since last season has allowed his game to evolve a bit.
Manning came here in the fall of 2010 as an undrafted free agent and had already played more than three seasons in the Western Hockey League, where he began his pro career. By 2011, he was with the Phantoms. There were Flyer call-ups here and there but nothing of substance until last season, when he played 56 games in the NHL, largely because of injuries across Hakstol’s blue line. He and Gudas were a strong pairing from early-February to season’s end.
“The finish last year gave me a lot of confidence,” Manning said. “This year, more ice time, a little 4-on-4, playing on the penalty kill allows you to become more involved in the game.
“I’ve taken that on and tried to build off it. If you look at my career from junior, I’ve gotten better every single year.”
As for the nickname, it was one of the few lasting treasures left behind by Harry Zolnierczyk during the Peter Laviolette era. Except some people still call him Mad Dog, which is why Manning wears an undergarment that says “Man Dog.”
“Last year, Hak and Lappy started called me Mad Dog and then sometimes it’s Man Dog,” Manning. “I think he should know. It’s on my shirt.”
Hakstol is aware.
“He has a nickname and I have mine [for him],” Hakstol laughed.
Dale Weise’s three-game suspension won’t end until after the Buffalo game. He still has declined to talk about it.
His previous suspension was in 2013, when he was in Vancouver and had an illegal hit on Taylor Hall during an exhibition game.
Weise admits he badly wanted to play tonight against his former club.
“I look forward to playing here but we play here [again] in two weeks,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t come here twice a year.
“If it had been the end of the year, I would have been a little upset. It’s nice to come back in two weeks.”
F: Schenn-Giroux-Simmonds
D: MacDonald-Gostisbehere
G: Mason

Flyers-Canadiens 5 things: Long week starts with a bang

Flyers-Canadiens 5 things: Long week starts with a bang

Flyers at Canadiens
7:30 p.m. on CSN, Pregame Live at 6:30

The Flyers’ mettle will be tested this week with a stretch of five games in seven days.

That’s a lot of pucks.

It starts Monday night when the Flyers (2-2-1) visit the hot-starting Montreal Canadiens (4-0-1) at the Bell Centre.

Let’s get you set with five things to know for the matchup:

1. Goals, goals, goals
There should be an abundance of them Monday night.

The Canadiens are scoring an NHL-most 4.00 goals per game while the Flyers, coming off a six-goal outburst, are third at 3.80.

Montreal has been scary good through five games. Not only are the Canadiens lighting the lamp at a league-best clip, but they’re also allowing the fewest goals per game at 1.60 a night. They have hockey’s No. 1 goal differential (plus-11) and No. 8 penalty kill, having thwarted 23 of 25 opponents' power plays (92.0 percent).

The Canadiens' offseason additions of defenseman Shea Weber and backup goalie Al Montoya have paid instant dividends. Weber, acquired in a blockbuster trade that sent P.K. Subban to the Predators, has one goal, four assists and leads all NHL blueliners with a plus-8 rating. Montoya, who filled in early for a flu-stricken Carey Price, is 2-0-1 with a 1.30 goals-against average and .962 save percentage. Price, the 2014-15 Hart Memorial Trophy winner (NHL MVP), looks in form after playing just 12 games last season because of a knee injury.

2. A fresher Ghost
Shayne Gostisbehere went off for three points (one goal, two assists) in the Flyers’ 6-3 win over the Hurricanes on Saturday, his biggest output of the season.

It just so happened to come in a game in which Gostisbehere registered his lowest ice time of the season at 16:45, a significant drop from his previous low of 20:57. Before the defenseman’s three-point game, Gostisbehere played an average of 23:14 over the prior three games while totaling one point and a minus-3 rating.

Is it a coincidence Gostisbehere’s best game yet was in far less ice time? Maybe, but the 23-year-old is playing the Flyers’ most minutes (21:29 per game) after undergoing offseason surgery and finishing the longest year of his hockey life.

Defensemen Mark Streit (22:45), Nick Schultz (19:44) and Brandon Manning (18:41) all played season highs in minutes on Saturday, and there’s no way that was by mistake.

If head coach Dave Hakstol can manage Gostisbehere’s ice time and not rely so heavily on the second-year blueliner, it can only help the Flyers. A more rested Gostisbehere is a better Gostisbehere — and we all know how vital the 2015-16 Calder Trophy runner-up is to the Flyers’ power-play success, as well as defensive coverage.

3. Stop and start
Speaking of defensive coverage, while the Flyers are scoring quite a bit, they’re not stopping anyone. The orange and black are surrendering 3.80 goals per game — tied for fifth-most in the NHL — which is exactly what they score on average.

The Flyers can’t consistently bank on winning goal-fests.

Starting fast will be critical against the Canadiens, who close games as well as anyone. Montreal is outscoring its opposition 17-6 through the second and third periods. The Flyers have just one goal in the first period.

Facing this Habs team, it’ll be problematic if the Flyers fail to get going early.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Matt Read, why not? With five goals, the 30-year-old is astoundingly tied for second in the NHL with Maple Leafs phenom Auston Matthews. Last season, it took Read 29 games to score five goals. The previous season, he needed 56 games. This year, just five. Until he comes back to Earth, Read will be worth watching as much as any other Flyer.

Canadiens: The 22-year-old Alex Galchenyuk racked up career highs last season in goals (30) and points (56). To start this season, the 2012 No. 3 overall pick has a goal and four assists in five games. Young and offensive-minded, Galchenyuk has given the Flyers trouble in the past with 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 11 career games against them.

5. This and that
• Steve Mason has played in the Flyers’ last four games with three starts and one relief appearance. Michal Neuvirth has not played since last Tuesday. He is 6-4-2 with a 2.14 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in 13 lifetime games against Montreal.

• Price is 11-9-0 with a 2.61 GAA and .916 save percentage in 21 career games against the Flyers.

• Jakub Voracek leads the Flyers in points with seven but is third in the NHL in penalty minutes with 24.

• The Canadiens have won three straight games by a combined score of 13-4.

• Defenseman Michael Del Zotto (knee) and forward Scott Laughton (knee) returned to practice on Sunday.