Ron Hextall just fine with uneventful free agency for Flyers

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Ron Hextall just fine with uneventful free agency for Flyers

Sometimes, not having a lot of salary cap money to spend can be a blessing.

It makes you less likely to do something extravagant or emotional, which the Flyers have been prone to doing every July when free agency arrives.

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall had about $4.1 million in spare change after signing goalie Michal Neuvirth on the first day of free agency (see story).

It wasn’t enough to make them major players in the pursuit of such names as Michael Frolik, Phil Kessel or Matt Beleskey.

And that’s just fine with Hextall.

“We didn’t have the flexibility to go after a big guy,” Hextall said. “Quite frankly, I hope most years are like this year when you’re looking for one piece or two pieces.

“I don’t like going into free agency needing three or four bodies and you kind of end up blowing your brains out there. We feel like we got a real good fit for our team and we like our team here.”

Hextall needed a backup goalie to replace Ray Emery. He found one in Neuvirth. The mid-level winger he spoke about at the NHL draft has now become Sam Gagner (see story).

Because he was unable to again rid himself of Vinny Lecavalier’s $4.5 million cap hit or lose salary with either Luke Schenn ($3.6 million) or Andrew MacDonald ($5 million) on his overcrowded blue line, Hextall tried to join a poker game without the entry fee.

Are the Flyers done in free agency?

Well, barring something involving Lecavalier or his defense, yes. Nothing really significant can happen the remainder of the summer without losing millions off the cap.

“We can’t go out and spend a whole bunch of money or we’re back in the situation we’re in now,” Hextall said. “We don’t want to be over the cap. We’re not gonna sign someone to put us over. We’re going to be patient here.”

He admits he would like to trim his budget on defense.

“Ideally, we’d like to clear a little bit of space there, but we’ll see,” he said. “We’re under the cap, albeit slightly, when we plug [Michael] Del Zotto in, you want some space to call players up, too.

“We’re close, we’d like to clear a little bit more, but you’ve got to have a partner there. We’ll see as we move along here.”

They need to re-sign Rob Zepp or some other depth goalie for the Phantoms. That should happen by the weekend.

Other than depth moves with the Phantoms, they appear done.

“We’ll listen to see what is out there and see if it makes sense,” Hextall said. “I am not gonna hold my breath because I’m not sure anything is going to make sense given where we’re at [on cap]. If you do the numbers, we don’t have a lot of space here.”

The $4.1 million cap money left doesn’t include the $1.3 million qualifying offer to Del Zotto. His final salary will more than double that if they agree on a multi-year contract, further lessening his cap dollars.

Hextall said it would “be crazy” to add an expensive player right now. He intends to be more fiscally conservative than his predecessor, Paul Holmgren.

Truth is, the Flyers won’t be able to solve all their issues in one offseason. This is going to take a few years.

It’s a process.

“I’m comfortable where we are as a team,” Hextall said. “Comfortable with the additions and Vandy (Chris VandeVelde) coming back and [Ryan] White coming back and upgrading our skill with Gagner and defense with [Evgeni] Medvedev and now upgrading goaltending with Neuvirth.

“For us to sign someone to a big contract this year would be crazy, but next summer might even be more crazy because we might have to move one of our good young players just to get under. So I’m not sure that something’s going to work out.”

Fiscal sanity. On the Flyers.

Whodathunk?

Flyers-Wild 10 observations: Sean Couturier shows flash, Matt Read answers call & more

Flyers-Wild 10 observations: Sean Couturier shows flash, Matt Read answers call & more

You know Dave Hakstol has reached crisis measures when he takes a skill player in Travis Konecny and throws him onto the fourth line while promoting Matt Read to the top line.

This was risk-taking at its craziest to generate some enthusiasm and life into a Flyers squad that didn't show much of a pulse a few nights earlier in Winnipeg.

Guess what?

It worked during a 3-1 victory on Thursday, the Flyers' fifth straight win over the Wild going back a few years (see Instant Replay).

Their playoff hopes still flicker.

As much as the fan base hated the lineup moves, consider this: general manager Ron Hextall was very explicit this week in saying that the roster Hakstol has right now is what it is. Hextall is not going to promote any young Phantoms into a bad situation when they are headed for what could be a decent playoff run in the AHL.

Therefore, as my former colleague Bill Lyon would say, here are 10 things I think, I think …

1. The Flyers began the game as they have so often this season with yet another turnover and scoring chance against them. Rinse and repeat. The Flyers had three turnovers in less than five minutes to start the game.

2. Minutes later, Steve Mason coughed up a bad rebound off his stick and Zach Parise burned him with a gimme goal for a 1-0 lead. Mason had issues in this one with rebounds that were looking like grenades, but he settled down with a strong final two periods with 24 saves. This was Mason's 100th win as a Flyer (see game story).

3. You had to see it to believe it. Sean Couturier with a nice backhand shot through Devan Dubnyk's five-hole to make it a 1-1 game near the end of the opening period (see feature highlight). I haven't seen that kind of offensive move from Couturier in quite some time. Question is, why can't he do that nightly instead of semiannually? That's the offensive spark you know Couturier is capable of providing.

4. The Wild were very aggressive in this one as they were trying to clinch a playoff spot, so the Flyers had to match that intensity. The Flyers more than matched it. This was far, far better than what Hakstol's team brought to the ice in Winnipeg. Not even close, as the Flyers dominated.

5. Matt Read had a quick stick -- no other way to explain it -- on his goal in the second period off a series of Wild turnovers that came about because of a play set up by Jakub Voracek. That goal seemingly stunned Dubnyk. It was Read's second goal in the last two games. He was all over the ice in this one. Many nights this season, Read was invisible. Not this game.

6. The Flyers had some genuine scoring chances in this game. You had to wonder where this desire to skate, create and score was all through the month of February and into March. The Flyers had strong forecheck pressure and a rebound-attack mentality the entire second period. If that had happened with regularity down the stretch, this team would be sitting in the wild card right now.

7. While the shake-up of the lines obviously benefited Read, it did little for Konecny and actually set him back. He was invisible. No shots. No hits. Invisible with little ice time. Really can't figure this move out but obviously Hakstol is upset with him for some reason.

8. Minnesota went all in at the NHL trade deadline to get Martin Hanzal and Ryan White, forking over four draft picks, including a first-rounder. The Wild were leading the Central Division before losing six straight (and eight of nine) that allowed Chicago to regain the top spot in the division. The Wild don't look like the same confident, surging team it was a month ago in the Western Conference.

9. Minnesota had a strong push in the final five minutes and the Flyers had some initial difficulty answering that until the final minute when Wayne Simmonds picked up his 300th point as a Flyer on Voracek's empty-net goal to seal the deal. A nice way to finish off a complete effort by everyone involved.

10. The Flyers picked up two points on Boston, which lost to Tampa Bay, and are six behind the Bruins in the wild card. They still remain a l-o-n-g shot to make the playoffs, given the sheer number of teams ahead of them that they need to climb over.

Best of NHL: Nikita Kucherov hat trick lifts Lightning over Bruins

Best of NHL: Nikita Kucherov hat trick lifts Lightning over Bruins

BOSTON -- Nikita Kucherov had his third career hat trick to lead Tampa Bay to a 6-3 victory over the Boston Bruins on Thursday night, snapping the Lightning's three-game losing streak.

Jonathan Drouin had a goal and two assists, Brayden Point had a goal and an assist and Anton Stralman also scored to help the Lightning pull three points behind the Bruins for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

Peter Budaj finished with 28 saves for the Lightning to earn his 29th win of the season. Ondrej Palat had three assists, and Jake Dotchin and Victor Hedman added two each.

Riley Nashy had a goal and an assist for Boston, and David Pastrnak and Zdeno Chara also scored. Tuukka Rask stopped 23 shots as Boston, which won seven of the first eight games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, has now lost four straight and six of 11 (see full recap).

Oshie beats Bobrovsky to give Caps SO win
WASHINGTON -- T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington's 35th shot of the game. Orlov's goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead (see full recap).

Senators take down Penguins in shootout
OTTAWA, Ontario -- Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan scored in the shootout to lift the Ottawa Senators to a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night.

Mike Hoffman scored in regulation for the Senators and Mike Condon finished with 34 saves, including two incredible point-blank stops in overtime to keep the game going.

Nick Bonino had the goal in regulation for the Penguins and Matt Murray stopped 29 shots.

After being outplayed for much of the first two periods, the Senators were much better in the third and tied the score 1-1 on the power play at 9:43 as Hoffman beat Murray over the shoulder with a wrist shot just 14 seconds after Matt Cullen was penalized for holding (see full recap).