Technically, the Philadelphia Flyers’ and the NHL’s midpoint came about two weeks ago. But the All-Star break happened this past weekend and there wasn’t a lot of news regarding the Flyers. So because of that, I’ll look at the best and worst respective moves general manager Ron Hextall and coach Dave Hakstol made since the end of the 2016-17 season and into the 2017-18 year.
Best Move: Moving Giroux to Wing
Runner-Ups: Pairing Gostisbehere and Provorov, Forming then breaking up top line
Because of all the vitriol Hakstol receives from the Philadelphia fan base, a lot of his good moves are often forgotten about or overshadowed. But the decision to move Claude Giroux to left wing is a great move.
Even if you attribute the captain’s lackluster 2016-17 to the abdominal surgery he had over the 2016 summer, Giroux was on a downward slope. His advanced stats and regular stats showed that. But his play at even strength was the main concern.
At wing, the 30 year old doesn’t have to worry about the middle of the ice — the hardest area. Giroux no longer has to play down low in the offensive zone or drive the net as much. This season, he’s been able to make plays from the peripheries of the offensive zone.
Instead, Sean Couturier can excel in those areas, especially on defense, with a top-line playmaker on his wing. From top to bottom, this was a brilliant move from Hakstol.
Worst Move: Not playing Sanheim
Runner-Ups: Lehtera regularly in lineup, Nashville Predator Challenge in October
I absolutely believe Travis Sanheim needed to work on some defensive and even offensive cues in his game. I also believe he was an NHL defenseman that could figure out those things while playing with the Flyers.
Hakstol agreed with the first part, but felt differently on the second. After 34 games in Philly, Hakstol decided he liked what Brandon Manning could bring to the lineup more than the offensive Sanheim.
From December 28 to January 22, Sanheim played just once when Shayne Gostisbehere fell ill. Hextall had hoped that an injury or bad performance would work the rookie back into the lineup, but 5-1 drubbings to the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers during that span couldn’t change Hakstol’s mind.
On Jan. 22, Hextall had no better option than to return Sanheim to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and when the Manitoba native arrived in Lehigh Valley, he admitted he had lost a lot of his confidence during his stint with the Flyers.
I’m not convinced that Hakstol struggles as much as people say at developing youngsters, especially with the seasons Shayne Gostisbehere and Travis Konecny are having, but these are the signs that worry me.
Sanheim shouldn’t have lost confidence during his time in Philly. Although he had some bad luck, he was playing an effective game — and surely, one better than Manning. I think Sanheim will turn out just fine in the future, but he could be helping the Flyers now.
Best Move: Shayne Gostisbehere Re-Signing
Runner-Ups: Brian Elliott Signed, Jordan Weal Re-Signing
Because a general manager doesn’t have a ton of day-to-day activities that show up in the news, we have to dip into the summer to pick out Hextall’s best moves. From there, it’s easy to pick out some impactful ones.
The biggest, though, has to be the new contract he signed Gostisbehere to. For a top-pairing blueliner with one of the best offensive minds in the league, Hextall was able to get Gostisbehere signed to a contract worth $4.5 million annually for six years.
For comparison’s sake that’s cheaper than offensive rearguards like Matt Niskanen, Keith Yandle and Kevin Shattenkirk. He’ll also make less than Andrew MacDonald for at least the next three years.
In a couple years, Hextall will have to pay Ivan Provorov. If the Russian defenseman continues his quick ascent, he could be looking at a contract north of $6 million. Gostisbehere’s deal makes that very easy to accomplish.
Worst Move: Demoting Sam Morin
Runner-Ups: Not firing Hakstol during 10-game losing streak, Promoting Tyrell Goulbourne over others
Do I really think the decision to demote Morin really effected a whole lot? No, but it’s hard to pick a bad trade/signing in only six months by a general manager and Hextall played it safe over the summer. This also wasn’t a move solely on Hextall. Hakstol played a part in it also.
As for Morin, I thought he had a stronger preseason than Sanheim, but when decision-time came, Sanheim was the one in Philadelphia. Hextall cited positional details he wanted Morin to work on, but it’s also likely that Sanheim’s offensive game fitted a hold a better.
But three months later, Sanheim’s back in the AHL and Brandon Manning is playing regular minutes in the top six. If the Flyers wanted a more defensive defenseman, Morin would be the better option right now.
Or, even better, Philly could have shipped out or waived Manning, and had a rotating trio of rookies in Sanheim, Morin and Robert Hagg. Some will say that’s not the best way to treat rookies, but there’s not much that can be worse than what Sanheim went through.
What makes the Morin decision more confounding is the organization’s passion for Hagg. The Swedish blueliner is a shutdown one like Morin, but struggles with moving the puck and has some defensive lapses.
Yet, Hagg has never been a healthy scratch and has played with Provorov and Gostisbehere. Morin would have brought a similar skill set, but for whatever reason was deemed not ready.
Unfortunately, injuries have ravished Morin’s season and it’s unlikely we’ll see him in the orange and black this year.