By: Wes Herrmann (@Wes_Herrm)
There’s so many things that Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall has done well in his first three years on the job that it’s easy to forget some of his slip-ups. He’s rid the Flyers of terrible contracts, made trades to add players that can make an impact at a low price and most importantly, done an extremely strong job in the drafting category.
Where Hextall’s made his mistakes lately, though, has been in free agency and contracts. In March, he extended goalie Michal Neuvirth, amidst one of his worst statistical seasons, to a two-year deal with a 65 percent increase and did mostly the same with checking forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who is now a Vegas Golden Knight.
Going even farther back, last summer’s free agency was not kind to Hextall. On July 1, the beginning of free agency, the 53-year-old GM signed Dale Weise to a four-year deal worth $2.35 million annually. He then inked Boyd Gordon to a one-year deal. Neither worked out.
Gordon played 13 games with the Flyers before a demotion to the Phantoms, while Weise was a healthy scratch often. The former Canadien ended up coming on at the end of the year, though, scoring 10 points in the final 14 games. Despite that, Weise is overpaid and not a necessity on the Flyers roster any longer.
The good news is that none of these deals have limited the Flyers much financially, even if the on-ice results have been disappointing. But, Hextall now has a chance to redeem himself in free agency this summer.
In years past, Hextall has never entered the open market with the intention of filling a huge need.
When he signed Weise it was to add depth and when Michael Del Zotto was brought to Philly in 2014 it was in August after it became clear Kimmo Timonen couldn’t play due to blood clot issues. This summer is different.
The Flyers clearly need — at the bare minimum — a 1B goalie to share the net with Neuvirth.
While Hextall could still solve that issue with a trade, he hasn’t gone that rout yet. Teams have been allowed to talk to pending unrestricted free agents for the last couple days. Hextall wouldn’t be doing his job if he hasn’t reached out to at least a few over this period.
But it’s not only about finding the right guy for Hextall. It’s also about getting a good price. Luckily for him, that seems to be in his favor.
The goalie market is very small this summer. Besides Philly, Vancouver and Winnipeg are the only teams in the market for a netminder that can earn a starting role.
The Jets are rumored to be interested in Steve Mason, which narrows the playing field even more. Of course, one could argue Hextall’s already missed his man by letting Mason test the free agent waters, and presumably, leave Philadelphia.
#NHLJets touched base with the camp of G Steve Mason during the free agent courting period. Multiple teams interested in his services though
— Ken Wiebe (@WiebeSunSports) June 27, 2017
But finding the right goalie is exactly what Hextall will be judged on this summer. Mason doesn’t appear to be that to Hextall and Flyers fans will have to be confident in who he chooses instead.
A goalie is the Flyers biggest need, but Hextall may also look at other areas to improve. He could look to add a veteran winger such as Justin Williams if Jordan Weal walks or even a veteran defenseman to help the youngsters grow slowly over the course of next season.
Last summer, Hextall felt the team needed a depth winger and a fourth-line center. He wasn’t wrong in that assessment, but he was wrong in his assessment of personnel.
Him and the Flyers scraped by with little damage, though. This summer may not have the same results if the wrong goalie is inked to a contract.
On the flip side, Hextall’s past woes in contracts can be easily forgotten if he inks the right goalie, forward and/or defenseman to a contract this summer.