Philadelphia Flyers

Hextall: Flyers must be in better physical shape

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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 Notes: Rangers ink Mika Zibanejad to 5-year extension

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USA Today Images

NHL Notes: Rangers ink Mika Zibanejad to 5-year extension

NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers have signed center Mika Zibanejad to a $26.75 million, five-year deal.

Zibanejad will count $5.35 million against the salary cap through 2021-22 as the Rangers count on him to take on a bigger role following the trade of Derek Stepan. General manager Jeff Gorton announced the contract Tuesday morning, before the team and Zibanejad were set to go to arbitration.

The 24-year-old Swede had 14 goals and 23 assists for 37 points in 56 games last season, his first with New York. The Rangers acquired Zibanejad from the Ottawa Senators for Derick Brassard a year ago.

Zibanejad has 188 points in 337 NHL games with the Senators and Rangers since Ottawa drafted him sixth overall in 2011 (see full story).

Olympics: Team Canada names Burke GM for 2018 Games
Sean Burke will be the general manager and Willie Desjardins the head coach for Canada at the first Olympics without NHL players since 1994.

Hockey Canada named its management and coaching staffs for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics on Tuesday. St. Louis Blues assistant general manager Martin Brodeur will work under Burke on the management side, while Desjardins will be assisted by Dave King, Scott Walker and Craig Woodcroft.

Canada has been grooming Burke for this responsibility for some time as he served as assistant GM for the 2017 world championships, GM for the 2016 Spengler Cup and Deutschland Cup and director of player development for the 2016 worlds. Desjardins coached Canada's 2010 world junior team and assisted in 2009.

USA Hockey has not yet named its GM or coach (see full story).

Sabres: Goalie Lehner re-signed to 1-year deal
BUFFALO, N.Y.  -- The Buffalo Sabres have re-signed goaltender Robin Lehner to a $4 million, one-year contract.

The team announced the deal Tuesday. Lehner was a restricted free agent.

The 26-year-old Swede showed he could stay healthy last season, setting career highs with 59 games played, 23 wins and two shutouts. He ranked third in the NHL with 1,758 saves and finished with a .920 save percentage and 2.68 goals-against average.

Bothered by injuries and concussion problems, Lehner had never before played more than 36 games in his NHL career. The Sabres took a chance on Lehner when they traded a first-round pick to the Ottawa Senators for him at the 2015 draft.

Lehner will again be a restricted free agent next summer when this contract expires.

Devils: 3 restricted free agents re-signed
NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils have re-signed restricted free agent defenseman Mirco Mueller, forward Joseph Blandisi and goaltender Scott Wedgewood.

Mueller got a two-year deal worth an average of $850,000 a season, Blandisi a two-year, two-way deal worth an average of $680,000 in the NHL, and Wedgewood a one-year, two-way deal worth $650,000 in the NHL. General manager Ray Shero announced the contracts Tuesday.

Re-signing Mueller for two years was the most significant move after New Jersey acquired the 22-year-old from San Jose before the Vegas expansion draft. The Swiss defender has just six points in 54 NHL games with the Sharks, but still is considered a good prospect after being a first-round pick in 2013.

Mueller will make $775,000 next season and $925,000 in 2018-19.

There's a new game in town: The Philadelphia Rebels

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John Boruk/CSNPhilly.com

There's a new game in town: The Philadelphia Rebels

The opportunity to watch a Briere play again in Philadelphia will be an exciting reality for hockey fans this season.

No, Danny Briere isn’t coming out of retirement as the former Flyers forward has committed to handling the day-to-day operations of the organization’s newest ECHL team.  

However, Briere will be keeping close tabs on his younger son, Carson, who’s currently on the Philadelphia Rebels' 30-man roster and is setting his sights on making the team’s final cuts during training camp.

“It’s great,” Briere said Monday. “Growing up here for most of my life, I love Philly. It’s fun getting to play in the same city that [my dad] did. Whenever I think of him playing, I always think of that playoff run [in 2010] for the Flyers.”

After spending the past two seasons at IceWorks in Aston, Pennsylvania, the NAHL’s (North American Hockey League) Rebels are moving their operation to the Penn Ice Rink at the Class of 1923 Arena, where they made the formal announcement on Monday. It will be the organization’s third different home rink in the past four seasons after relocating from the Rio Grande Valley in 2015.

“It was a no-brainer,” team owner Marko Dundovich said. “When the opportunity presented itself, it was very easy. I think it will give the boys a better opportunity to play, get them seen and I think it’s going to continue to grow here, and our business and organization will do much better here.”

The Rebels and junior hockey simply didn’t attract a broad appeal in the Philadelphia suburbs like ownership had hoped, and as a result, attendance lagged as the team typically averaged around 125 fans a game.

“It was the first time we tried Junior A hockey here,” Dundovich said. “If we had a 300-, 400- or 500-person fan base, we would have been OK in Aston, but I think it was tough to sell a junior hockey ticket in Aston. It’s a difficult sell in a small town.”   

Conversely, hockey fans in Philadelphia haven’t had much of an alternative to the Flyers since the Phantoms left the city in 2009 for Glens Falls, New York. Rebels forward Aaron Maguyon, who stays with former Flyers captain Keith Primeau throughout the season, feels the team cannot only fill the 2,500-seat ice rink, but the players will greatly benefit from the college vibe.  

“I think it prepares us for the future and playing college hockey, for sure, so in that way, it’s like a sneak peek for what’s to come," Maguyon said. "I think it helps pull guys closer together. We have restaurants we can go to or just activities we can do in the city."

According to the league website, the NAHL set a new single-season NCAA record with 280-plus commitments, and the Rebels had 12 commit to Divison I programs. Head coach Joe Coombs has built a tier-II junior hockey powerhouse over the past two years. Last season, the Rebels finished with the NAHL’s best regular-season record, advancing to the championship game of the Robertson Cup in Duluth, Minnesota, where they came up short in a 2-0 loss to the Lone Star Brahmas. 

“This is business,” Coombs said. “Let’s bring the game to the people. Over the last two years, we struggled with our attendance. I didn’t even know this place was here — UPenn hockey rink — and we couldn’t think of a better venue right here in University City to try and market our brand of hockey and bring our game to the people.”  

And who knows? You might just see a few former Flyers in the seats, as well.