Analyzing Ron Hextall’s end of year press conference

Updated: April 26, 2018 at 6:49 pm by Wes Herrmann

Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall held his annual end-of-year press conference Thursday morning touching on subjects like unrestricted free agents, buyouts and the coaching staff. How does that affect this summer and will fans be happy?

It’s a mixed bag for the latter.

Manning, Read, Mrazek and Oduya Won’t Be Back

This is the good news for Flyers fans and the least cryptic of Hextall’s main points. He announced early in his press conference that pending unrestricted free agents Brandon Manning, Johnny Oduya and Matt Read won’t be signed to a new contract. Restricted free agent Petr Mrazek is unlikely to receive a qualifying offer making him a UFA.

For Mrazek and Oduya, the writing was on the wall. Oduya played just one game in the orange and black jersey after being claimed on waivers and was passed by Travis Sanheim on the depth chart during his time in Philly. Mrazek was the third goalie once Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth were healthy and both are signed for next season.

Read was unlikely to be re-signed after spending most of the year with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, but did make an impact on the Flyers’ penalty kill and on the fourth line late in the season. Still, he can be replaced in-house.

Manning, though, is the player that has fans most excited. Although a hard worker, the 27 year old is a seventh defenseman that was treated more like a second-pairing one by coach Dave Hakstol throughout the year. He’ll easily be replaced by Sanheim and Robert Hagg.

But Filppula May Be Back

This is where things aren’t so cut and dry with Hextall. Originally, it seemed like the Flyers did want Filppula back by the media’s tweets but the “won’t be a pre-July decision” caveat changes things.

Free agency begins July 1 and assuming Philadelphia does not re-sign Filppula before then it means that the team has looked at the market and considered other options.

It would seem the only way Filppula ends up back in Philly is if the Flyers aren’t able to entice a third or fourth-line center from free agency or acquire one in a trade. If the Flyers did want him back, he’d be signed to an extension already.

Right now, it’s probably not worth worrying over a return for the Finnish forward.

Lehtera Likely Not Bought Out

Like most of the topics Hextall touched on, he kept the possibility of several options open, but made things a little clearer regarding Lehtera:

Personally, I’m fine with not buying out Lehtera. I certainly understand why a good portion of the fans want him gone, but buying him out carries a cap penalty over to 2019-20 when Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny and maybe Wayne Simmonds recquire new contracts.

Saving money now, when the team likely won’t use it, doesn’t seem like the smarter payoff to me. It also helps when Lehtera can be burried in the minors or used as a 13th forward.

Of course, that may not happen since Hakstol played Lehtera often and definitely valued him as a bottom-six forward.

Sticking to Plan, But Also Aware of Holes

Hextall said earlier in his press conference that he planned to stay with the gradual approach that he’s stuck to since taking over as general manager. Meaning he still plans to build through the draft and not spend big money on free agents.

However, he still admitted that there were holes in the lineup, likely implying some issues that he’d like to fix in the summer:

This should add to the reasoning that Filppula won’t return and that Hextall won’t be completely quiet in free agency or trades. The center would be just a bottom-six player and the Flyers could use a top-four blueliner. The goalie situation will be a fluid one depending on what the team does with Neuvirth.

Whether he asseses the needs exactly as that remains to be seen, but when a GM admits there are needs for improvement, it usually means he wants to actually improve them.

Hakstol Not Fired

Not that there should have been any surprise, Hextall confirmed that Hakstol will return next season behind the bench.

Although most Flyers fans wanted Hakstol gone, it was never likely after the team clinched a playoff spot. The fact is that the coach’s time in Philly is viewed more of a success than a failure.

He’s made it to the playoffs two out of three seasons, prospects and rookies have developed under Hakstol and veterans have even returned to form.

The good news for those Flyers fans, though, is that the leash has shortened. Philadelphia will be expected to improve from this past season and if it doesn’t, there may be a firing in the future.

All Assistant Coaches Will Return

This is where Flyers fans should be most upset. Assistant coach Ian Lapperriere has been running the team’s penalty kill since 2013 and every year since, the unit has declined more and more.

Yet, he’ll still be on the Philly bench for the sixth straight season. But Hextall did imply that the roles could change:

Besides the penalty kill duties, it’s been reported before that Laperriere is the laision between the players and Hakstol — at least maybe explaining why he was retained.

If the roles are switched up, keeping Laperriere doesn’t seem so bad, but that’s a big if. And if the Flyers don’t, the team will be going back to the same coach looking for success that hasn’t been there the past five years.

Moving Up in the Draft

Just like with Lehtera’s comments, this quote really covers all ground. Hextall may be willing to trade up, but he’s content with sticking put.

Either way, the Flyers are likely to have two top 19 picks in the draft, as long as the St. Louis Blues don’t win the lottery and fall in the top three (pick from the Brayden Schenn trade), so the possibility to move up doesn’t seem outlandish.

Adding a top prospect could expedite the Flyers’ progression similar to Nolan Patrick this season. There’s plenty of merit, but there also needs to be another team willing to trade down.

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