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GREENBERG: The plan remains the plan

Flyers GM Ron Hextall on the state of the team as it heads into All-Star break

by Jay Greenberg @NHLFlyers

The Los Angeles Kings, whom Ron Hextall joined as assistant general manager in 2006-07, finished 27-41-16. And that still was far from the biggest test of management's patience. It's painful to lose and lose and lose, of course, but early in the process of building a lasting contender, losing is to be expected.

It's when two steps forward become one backwards that you begin to wonder whether you really are getting anywhere. In 2009-10, three seasons before the Kings won the first of two Stanley Cups, they had a stretch of 0-7-3; in 2010-11, they suffered a 2-8-1 skid. Even in the first of the championship years, Los Angeles endured a 5-12-4 slump.

"You learn from these things not to make irrational decisions," said Hextall, the Flyers' GM. "You don't want to do something that causes you to look back a month later and say 'What was I thinking?'

After winning 10 straight, then going 2-8-2, the 2016-17 Flyers have now won three in a row, giving up just four goals in them, Almost as suddenly as a lot of guys playing really well, started playing bad, here they are looking good again, the nature of the ultimate team game. For all their ups and downs, the Flyers, holding eighth place in the Eastern Conference going into the All Star break, are what most of the hockey world thought they would be a lower-tier playoff team.

"There are ebbs and flows, we all know that," said Hextall. "We were [slumping] a lot longer than I was comfortable with, so, as a group, we need to get better at dealing with [negatives] within a game. But if we didn't have that 10-game stretch before that, my concern probably would have been higher than it was."

You are never as good as you look when you are hot and probably not as bad as the record screams during a slide. Some guys are playing for jobs next year, sure. But whatever happens the rest of the season, the plan remains the plan.

"We are not in that top group of teams yet," said Hextall. "For 10 games we were pretty good, then for 14 we didn't look so good but it you take somewhere in the middle, that's where we are at.

"We certainly have the ability to make the playoffs, but I am not going to look at a 14-game stretch and make long-term decisions on that. Ninety-nine per cent of the time the answer to your problem is in your room. We're a good enough team that the answer is in ours.

"There is nobody down [at Lehigh Valley] who we feel is going to make us immediately better or we would have called them up. Everybody gets excited about the kids but if you bring them up for five games and then they go backwards, where are you with them?"

Three expiring contracts on the blueline should leave room by September or December of next season for Sam Morin or Robert Hagg or both to provide more defensive presence in front of the goal. Neither is ready right now, so they did not come up during the skid.

In the meantime, defensemen who haven't been playing as well as they did during a 35-18-9 stretch drive a year ago, looked better this week while getting more help from the forwards, plus confidence-building saves in the two wins in New York from Steve Mason.

The foot bone is connected to the leg bone, to the thighbone, and are functions of a central nervous system that had been yielding some nervous hockey, players not trusting themselves enough to successfully trust each other. The Flyers are high in shots taken, low in shots against, but the chances they have given up in sinking to the most goals against in the conference have to be measured visually. Mason couldn't keep covering the awful mistakes made in front of him..  

"We're not happy with where we are at goals-against wise but everybody has skin in the game there, from the goalies to the defense to our forwards.," said Hextall. "The hardest thing is to convince players when you are in a tough streak you have to win 1-0 or 2-1 game. When players get anxious, they try to score.

"Claude Giroux has been pressing, but he is not the only one. If you look back on the 14 games, there weren't a whole lot of guys you can say played well. You can't look at two or three players and say we're disappointed with them and that's why we're in a losing spell."

Some will look at a third-year general manager who didn't make a big splash in the off-season as another reason why the team is scuffling for eighth place, same as a year ago. Like it or lump it; Hextall feels no pressure to change the strategy, the only strategy, he says, that will build toward a prolonged period of contention in the cap era. The Flyers are drafting well towards what their GM wants to be an extended window,

Money has gone into keeping the team's nucleus forwards together. Any free agents will not carry big tickets.  

"We were (cap) restricted and we continue to be restricted not just for this year but next year and years to come," the GM said. "We always have to be cognizant of that. 

"I like where we are at as an organization. I think there is growth in the big team, the minor league team, and prospects around the world. I would like to see more success up here but we didn't have a lot of flexibility (last summer) and we're not going to because we have to keep our own.  

"We're not signing an older player to a six, or seven year deal that will get us in trouble I could care less if I get criticized. We will do what is right for our team three, four, five years from now. "

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