Hextall returns as Flyers' possible 'GM in waiting'


Hextall returns as Flyers' possible 'GM in waiting'

Flyers president Peter Luukko promised the summer would be “crazy.”
His general manager, Paul Holmgren, said the same thing.
And it has been just that -- crazy.
First, the buyouts of Danny Briere and Ilya Bryzgalov. Then, the unexpected signing of Vinny Lecavalier, followed by Ray Emery deciding to leave Chicago to return here.
And now this -- Ron Hextall’s surprising return to the Flyers as assistant general manager and director of hockey operations (see story).
Suddenly, the Flyers’ managerial future is just beyond Holmgren’s corner office at the Skate Zone in Voorhees.
“A new set of eyes,” was how one person described it.
Indeed, Hexy’s 49-year-old eyes and unabashed opinions will again be heard, mostly within the confines of the organization -- not the general public.
Hextall’s predecessor, Chris Pryor, moves down from director of hockey operations to director of scouting; assistant coach John Paddock moves up to director of player personnel; Dave Brown becomes head scout.
Same people, new titles and new responsibilities.
Still, the bottom line is, as one NHL executive with a Stanley Cup to his name said, Hexy is now the “GM in waiting” for Holmgren’s job.
This isn’t, as fans perceive it, "Homer’s out and Hexy is in."
What it is, is Hextall being solidly in the No. 2 chair ready to assume Holmgren’s post. If the Flyers’ offseason moves don’t pan out after not making the playoffs, and club chairman Ed Snider decides that’s it, Hextall can immediately be slotted in as Holmgren’s successor without needing a search party.
That said, Holmgren’s moves have been pretty good this summer. There’s no reason why, on paper, they won’t work out.
Which means Hextall bides his time until he gets the tap on the shoulder.
Hextall was the No. 3 man in the Bob Clarke era. He left here when Holmgren succeeded Clarke. He was No. 2 behind GM Dean Lombardi in Los Angeles.
So why be No. 2 again? Hextall said his “gut” told him to do it.
Think about it. Hextall wouldn’t have left L.A. to be No. 2 again unless he knew his next promotion is closer to becoming a reality in Philly than Los Angeles.
More importantly, the Flyers are getting a fresh look at their entire scouting/drafting operation, which outside of the first round, has been sub-par for a long time now.
Hextall revitalized the Kings' hockey ops and gets a chance to do the same here. Not including this June’s past NHL draft, here's a breakdown of the Flyers' draft struggles:
• Last 13 prior drafts, going back to 2000, the Flyers have had 12 first-round picks. Ten of those picks have played or are playing in the NHL, of which only two -- Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier -- are currently Flyers
• Since 1995, the Flyers’ best second-round player who made it to the NHL has been Andreas Nodl, now playing for the Carolina Hurricanes
• Looking at the Flyers’ picks from the third round through the seventh, over the prior 13 drafts, they have just four drafted players who are active and playing regular minutes on some NHL roster, and just one player on their own roster -- Zac Rinaldo
• The Flyers are the only NHL team over that same span of time without a single active drafted/developed defenseman playing regular minutes for them -- not someone else -- every night
This is where Hextall gets to make his mark and help turn the Flyers’ future fortunes around behind the scenes. He cut his teeth in the scouting department after he retired in 1999.
His no-nonsense approach, coupled with an aggressive demeanor, also means he won’t tolerate continued failures by the organization to produce more NHL players.
Holmgren is impressed with Hextall's "knowledge of building teams from the ground up, which basically is what they did in L.A. when he went there,” Holmgren said.
“They were a team that wasn’t in real playoff shape and they build their team into Stanley Cup players. I think the things he learned in L.A. and was a part of in L.A. can be helpful to us moving forward.”
Hextall said a “gut feeling” told him this was the right job, the right place and the right time.
Lombardi will tell you he was a big part of the Kings’ organizational rise from the time he arrived in 2006 until now, which included winning the Stanley Cup in 2012.
Hextall was asked whether coming back here placed him a step closer to being a general manager.
“Every general manager at some point is going to step down, whether it’s Paul Holmgren or Dean Lombardi, or any of the 28 guys in the league and none of us know when or where that happens,” Hextall said.
“It’s just my gut. I’m going with my gut and will look back in two or three or five years and figure out whether it’s the right decision or not, but I feel strongly about it now. It was not an easy decision.”
Holmgren approached Hextall at the draft knowing the ex-Flyer goalie's contract with the Kings was expiring. Holmgren and Lombardi are close friends, former Flyers associates and board members with USA Hockey.
Lombardi obviously gave Hextall his blessing to move on.
“I’m certain that he’s got lot of different ideas, more different ideas than when he left here a number of years ago,” Holmgren said of Hextall.
“It’s a real big deal for the Flyers' organization.”

Flyers Skate Update: Travis Konecny's climb reaches 1st line

Flyers Skate Update: Travis Konecny's climb reaches 1st line

A month ago, Travis Konecny was entering training camp with no job in hand. 
The plausibility of being sent back to the junior level for another year of development against fellow teenagers was real.
Tonight, he’s a top-line player with NHL All-Stars Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.
Talk about a growth spurt.
When the Flyers host the Arizona Coyotes at the Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m./CSN), the 19-year-old winger and Voracek will join the Flyers’ captain on the team’s No. 1 line for a brand-new look to the 2016-17 season.
“They know all the drills, things like that, they’re definitely experienced,” Konecny said Thursday after morning skate at the Wells Fargo Center. “I’m sitting here a little unsure what to do sometimes. It kind of helps me pick things up and they show me what to do.”
Konecny hasn’t needed too much guidance out of the chute. Among NHL rookies, he’s tied for the lead in assists with five. Last time out, he netted his first career goal to help spur the Flyers’ comeback from three goals down Tuesday night to beat the Sabres, 4-3, in a shootout. Konecny’s marker came in the third period, when Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol, with his team trailing 3-0, first debuted the youngster alongside Voracek and Giroux in search of a jolt.
He clearly liked what he watched.
“We needed a spark so that’s why we were trying something a little bit different, a little bit new,” Hakstol said. “I liked that group.”
From the start, Hakstol has shown he’ll be fluid and experimental with his lineups, game by game. When things work, they are likely tried again. Konecny has produced, along with Sean Couturier and Voracek, on the Flyers’ previous second line. The trio has combined for seven goals, 11 assists and 18 points.
Despite the jump, Konecny’s approach stays the same.
“The first thing I thought of this morning when I saw I was on the line was don’t overthink it, don’t change what you’re doing,” he said. “Obviously I was put there because of the way I’ve been playing with my speed and things like that — it’s not to fill a skill role or something like that, it’s just to play hard. I’m not going to change anything in my game, I’m just going to try and help them and create space for them to make their moves.”
Couturier will center Matt Read and Wayne Simmonds on the second line.
Brayden Schenn will stay on the third line.
“Brayden’s five-on-five game is continuing to get back to where we all want it to be,” Hakstol said. “Just keep building with his game.
“You look at it as moving a guy up or a guy down — just trying to find the right fit.
“It’s about finding good combinations and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Captain’s own critic
Giroux leads the NHL with eight assists but is far from pleased.
He’s goalless through seven games and is not fond of his minus-5 rating.
“When you’re on the ice, you obviously want to be a plus player,” Giroux said. “Right now, that’s obviously not the case and one of the main reasons I’m not happy with my play right now.”
Giroux has experienced goal droughts before. He started the 2013-14 campaign without a goal through 15 games, but finished with arguably the second-best season of his career (see story)
He remembers.
“It’s in the back of my mind,” Giroux said. “I was actually wondering when you guys were going to bring it up.”
For Giroux, though, it goes beyond statistics.
“I think the way I played defensively, it could be better,” he said. “Offensively, be a little more creative. Just need to relax a little bit more out there. When guys are relaxed, they’re more creative and enjoy the game a little bit more. I need to go back to having fun.”
He’s looking forward to the fun with his old buddy Voracek.
“It’s a zoo out there with him,” Giroux said with a laugh. “Jake’s playing well right now, he’s holding onto the puck, he’s beating guys one-on-one. You play with a guy like that, usually it’s going to help your game.”
What about the newbie?
“Explosive player, he creates plays and he competes,” Giroux said of Konecny. “He’s hard on himself and I like watching him play, so playing with him, it’s pretty fun, too.”
Weise staying true
Dale Weise returns from a three-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Ducks defenseman Korbinian Holzer last week.
Weise, a hard-working, checking-oriented forward, will continue to play his game.
“I’ve been suspended before,” he said. “Hopefully this is my last one but you never know. This doesn’t really change the way I play. You’ve got to go out there and be physical and finish checks — that’s just part of the game.”
Leier returned to Phantoms
Forward Taylor Leier on Thursday was loaned back to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley after being recalled to the Flyers for one game in which he was a healthy scratch.
Projected lineup
F: Travis Konecny-Claude Giroux-Jakub Voracek

Matt Read-Sean Couturier-Wayne Simmonds

Brayden Schenn-Nick Cousins-Dale Weise

Chris VandeVelde-Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-Roman Lyubimov

D: Andrew MacDonald-Shayne Gostisbehere

Ivan Provorov-Brandon Manning
Mark Streit-Radko Gudas

G: Steve Mason

Michal Neuvirth

Injured: Forwards Scott Laughton (knee) and Michael Raffl (abdominal pull), and defenseman Michael Del Zotto (knee). 
All three skated Thursday morning and are progressing without set timetables for returns.

Scratches: Forward Boyd Gordon and defenseman Nick Schultz

Flyers-Coyotes 5 things: Decent chance for first winning streak

Flyers-Coyotes 5 things: Decent chance for first winning streak

Updated: 12:07 p.m.

Flyers vs. Coyotes
7 p.m. on CSN
Pregame Live at 6:30

The Flyers (3-3-1) on Thursday night have an optimal opportunity to win back-to-back games for the first time this season when they host the nosediving Coyotes (1-5-0) at the Wells Fargo Center.

Let’s get you ready for the game with five things to know.

1. Nothin' but a G thang
For any of those worried about Claude Giroux, don’t be.

For one, Giroux may be the only player that would receive more flack for not having scored a goal yet than be applauded for leading the NHL in assists (eight).

Secondly, you may recall 2013-14 when the Flyers’ captain started the season goalless through 15 games, with just seven assists and a minus-11 rating. Giroux finished that season with a career-high-tying 28 goals and the league’s third-most points at 86.

More so than the puck being put in the net, the Flyers needed greater playmaking after last season. Giroux is providing that — as is Jakub Voracek — and, as a result, the goals are coming for the Flyers, at both even strength and on the power play. 

2. Stick with the switches?
Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol made a few changes before the team’s 4-3, come-from-behind win over the Sabres on Tuesday.

Veteran defenseman Nick Schultz was healthy-scratched to make room for blueliner Radko Gudas, returning from a six-game suspension to the start the season. Gudas finished with seven shot attempts and three hits in 18:27.

“Overall, what you want to see is go out and play an efficient game,” Hakstol said. “For the most part, I thought [Gudas] went out and did that.”

Defenseman Andrew MacDonald, who has had bad moments, stayed in the lineup for his versatility.

“He is just a guy that is reliable, who moves the puck well,” Hakstol said, “and we feel he can play in any situation whether it is OT or regulation.”

A greater change came to the team’s top line. Flyers leading goal scorer Matt Read leapfrogged to the first line from the third as Brayden Schenn dropped to Read’s previous spot. Without a point in his first three games, Schenn recorded a goal and an assist as he finds his rhythm returning from a three-game ban.

“The timing and pace of his game [are starting] to get back to where it needs to be,” Hakstol said. 

3. Oh, 'Yotes
Once they beat the visiting Flyers, 4-3, in overtime in their season opener, the Coyotes hit the road for what has turned out to be a nightmarish six-game trip.

Since the victory over the orange and black, Arizona has lost five straight by a combined score of 23-13, a losing skid that started with the team’s No. 1 goalie Mike Smith being knocked out with a lower-body injury. As a result, the Coyotes are permitting an NHL-most 4.33 markers per game and own the league’s worst goal differential at minus-9.

Backup netminder Louis Domingue, who will start against the Flyers, has struggled mightily in place of Smith, going 0-4-0 in four games with a 5.03 goals-against average and .851 save percentage.

Through seven games, the Flyers have just one goal in the first period. They should jump on Arizona, which has yielded eight tallies in the opening stanza, tied for most in hockey.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Center Sean Couturier has been a bit quiet over his last four games with just one assist for one point after scoring three goals in his first three games. He’ll get going again playing alongside new linemates Wayne Simmonds and Read.

Coyotes: Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson is coming off a two-goal output last time out to give him four goals on the season. He plays a ton (26:17 TOI, tied for fourth highest in the NHL) and is a career plus-7 against the Flyers with four goals and an assist.

5. This and that
• Flyers goalie Steve Mason is 5-9-1 with a 2.96 GAA and .899 save percentage in 15 career games against the Coyotes.

• Arizona goalie Domingue has faced the Flyers just once, allowing four goals on 33 shots in a loss last season.

• Konecny has six points (one goal, five assists), tied for third among NHL rookies.

• The Flyers own the league’s fifth-best power play at 26.9 percent.

• The Flyers will welcome back 14 members of their Hall of Fame — along with family of six other members — for Flyers Heritage Night, featuring a pregame ceremony.