Hextall’s New Flyers: Looking Behind and Ahead

By Jim Kelly – The Stanley Cup playoffs have (finally) finished up and the LA Kings were able to hoist the trophy after an exciting five game series with the NY Rangers. The Flyers made an early exit from the playoffs after a heartbreaking seven game series with the Rangers in the first round. However, the season is not necessarily the failure that it seems. In fact, the Flyers 2013-14 season was one of consistent improvement. The entire Flyers organization showed its fans a drive and willingness to fight that had not really been seen since the epic ’09-10 playoff run. With that being said, it is a good time to take a look at a few major issues that the Flyers ran into last season and expect to run into next season.

The Philadelphia Flyers organization looks wildly different than it did just twelve months ago, with many changes having being made during the regular season. The first of those major changes was the firing of head coach Peter Laviolette after the entirely fair and reasonable three game stint that he was given to prove himself. After losing all three in crushing fashion, the Flyers hopes for a successful season seemed dashed before they even had a chance to take flight. But with the hiring of replacement head coach Craig Berube, the Flyers were able to turn the ship around with the dominance and leadership of one man: Claude Giroux.

The Flyers were only able to become successful once Giroux ended his scoring drought in early November, and he was absolutely on fire the rest of the way. He even finds himself currently in contention for the MVP award alongside Sidney Crosby and Ryan Getzlaf. The Flyers only became successful once Giroux ended his scoring drought in early November, and their play as a whole seemed focused almost entirely on him.

But this is not to say that other future stars did not shine this season. Wayne Simmonds, the only good thing that happened out of the trade that sent Jeff Carter and Mike Richards to LA to win some titles, had an absolutely incredible year. Placed on the dangerous second line with the young Brayden Schenn and the veteran guru Vincent Lecavalier, Simmonds was able to breakout and hit career-highs in goals, assists, and points. At just 25 years of age, Simmonds is someone that the Flyers will look to in the future to be a complimentary player for Giroux.

Another Flyer with a breakout season was Steve “Stone Cold” Mason. Although suffering an end of the season injury, Mason at times looked as though nothing could get past him. The 26-year-old Canadian has given hopes of a decent goalie for the Flyers who haven’t seen a superstar in net in awhile. (Not counting the ‘humaangoose big’ abilities of the international man of mystery, Ilya Bryzgalov.) Things are looking bright for the Flyers next year in net, and they look to find the balance of youthful energy and veteran experience that is so important in hockey in their skaters.

Another major move made by the Flyers this year was the hiring of Ron Hextall as general manager. This brings a familiar face to the front office. Hextall succeeded not only on the ice with the Flyers from 1986-92 and then from 1994-99 as the net minder, but also of the ice as the assistant GM of the 2012 (and now, 2014) Stanley Cup champion LA Kings.

Hextall’s the third straight Flyers GM who formerly played for the team, but things feel different with Hextall. He brings a new energy to the team and a strong desire to draft well, an ability that has been heavily lacking of late. Sean Couturier and Zac Rinaldo have been the only relevant players selected by the Flyers in drafts dating back to 2008, and Hextall intends to address that issue. The two most recent draft classes look promising, with 2012 3rd-round selection Shayne Gostibehere winning an NCAA Championship with Union College this season, and Scott Laughton and Samuel Morin (2012 and 2013 1st-round selections, respectively) developing very nicely. Hextall’s desire to place emphasis on the draft and to build tough physical talent with an ability to score has caused the excitement for this year’s NHL Draft (which will take place at the Wells Fargo Center in late June) to build among the Flyers faithful.

The Flyers had a season in which they could not consistently win, but they still did not consistently lose. It was a season from which they can build and improve as Giroux, Simmonds and Mason hope to get some assistance from Gostibehere, Laughton, and Morin. In the 2014-15 season, the Flyers should realistically expect to make the playoffs, but something will need to change and some improvements will need to occur in order for them to push further into the playoffs than they have in recent years.

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