NHL.com's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.
The latest edition features Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall:
BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall seemed to understand why the question was asked considering the relatively low expectations for the Flyers coming into the season. But his slight shoulder shrug and three-word answer said everything anyone needed to know about his confidence in them.
Why are the Flyers in the playoff race?
"We're good enough," Hextall said matter-of-factly.
They certainly have been recently, and that's why their game Tuesday at home against the Detroit Red Wings (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, FS-D, CSN-PH) can have a big impact on the Stanley Cup Playoff race in the Eastern Conference.
The Flyers, led by rookie coach Dave Hakstol, are three points behind the Red Wings with two games in hand in the race for the second wild card into the playoffs from the East. They have one game in hand on the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have a four-point lead on them for the first wild card.
Philadelphia is 8-2-2 in its past 12 games and 17-8-5 since losing all three games on its California road trip from Dec. 27-Jan. 2. The Flyers are 5-1-1 since second-leading scorer Jakub Voracek (48 points in 60 games) sustained a lower-body injury.
Voracek has skated the past two days; Hextall said he's day-to-day but won't play Tuesday.
Hextall talked more about the Flyers being in the playoff race as well as the present and future of the Philadelphia defense in a Q&A with NHL.com conducted at the conclusion of Day One of the NHL GM meetings Monday at the Boca Beach Club.
Here are Five Questions with … Ron Hextall:
The expectations, at least from the outside, were that the Flyers would have a topsy-turvy year and wouldn't necessarily be in the playoff mix. The team may still fall short, but what has this team done to be as fairly consistent as it has been of late?
"I think they've pulled together. I think when you bring a new coach in, there is a transition period, and we saw that at the start even though we were 4-2-1 after seven [games]. We were playing OK, and then we went for a little dip there. I think everybody understands the expectations now and that our coach is demanding. He's fair, but he's demanding. They've done a good job pulling together as a group."
Does it surprise you at all that your team is in this race and does it change your vision or philosophy of this team?
"No, not at all. It hasn't changed the vision or philosophy. The biggest thing is there are a number of teams, maybe six or seven teams, that can finish in or out of the playoffs, and we're one of those teams. I felt the same at the start of the year, and to this point, our guys have done a good job. But we've got to keep pushing. Our expectations going in were we felt we had a chance of making the playoffs and frankly we expected to. Now in saying that, we've got a lot of work to do. You look at the other teams, and we've got a tough road to hoe."
You have a number of young defensemen on the rise, including Travis Sanheim, Samuel Morin and Ivan Provorov. What is the expectation for how quickly you can develop these players to get them into your NHL mix?
"I don't like putting expectations down on young players because unfair expectations creates failure, and that's not the way we're going to approach it. We've got some good kids coming and truly they have to develop at their own rate. And they're going to dictate. People always ask me, 'Are they going to be in the lineup next year or the year after?' The kids are going to dictate that. We'll try to be as flexible as we can, but the kids are going to dictate when they come in. Essentially their growth is partly them and partly the coaches, and it's a process, so we can't go in expecting too much. Where are they at? We're not going to rush our young players. On the other hand, we're not afraid to have them in the lineup. So again, they'll dictate in September and October."
Shayne Gostisbehere has dictated a lot this season. What is it about his development that has impressed you or surprised you?
"It's funny because Shayne came in last year, played [two] games because we had a need, and he clearly wasn't ready for this level. He then hurts his ACL when he went back down [to the American Hockey League]. He comes to training camp this season and hadn't played in almost a year, so his training camp was so-so. He went to the minors, started off a little bit slow, and started to come up just before we had the need to call him up. He came up and quite frankly he was on a game-to-game basis. But the kid, he's grabbed the ball. He's done a great job. He brought an element that a lot of teams are looking for, certainly we were, with his puck-moving and big shot and making something out of nothing and being really good along the blue line with the puck. His progress has been good and he's been a big part of our team."
Has he improved enough defensively this season to make you feel confident in him on the defensive end, especially in these big games now?
"Yes, he's improved. I think the consistency of it needs to continue to get better, but I think his understanding of it is better. He's had the puck probably his whole life, and when you have the puck your whole life, you don't really have to play as much [defense]. Now it's a different game. Guys are bigger, stronger, faster and they're going to have the puck. But there are times when we've seen that improvement."