Grading Hextall: Offseason moves and non-moves

Updated: September 11, 2018 at 2:09 pm by Wes Herrmann

Another long NHL offseason is finally over. The Philadelphia Flyers’ training camp opens this week and preseason play this weekend.

With the new season, comes a new year of Grading Dave Hakstol and Ron Hextall. To get things started, here’s a look back at Hextall’s offseason.

Draft Overview

I won’t pretend to be a draft or prospect expert, but even I know the Flyers’ draft picks were lacking on the exciting side.

Joel Farabee was the player I realistically liked the most at 14 since Philly lacks system depth on the left wing and could always use more shooters. Although I didn’t know who Jay O’Brien was before the draft, taking a player with high-reward potential with a second first-round pick is a plan I agree with.

But after that, Hextall took an uncharacteristic “safe” pick in defensive-defenseman Adam Ginning in the second round.

The Swede obviously has his positives — as an 18 year old, he already has 40 SHL games under his belt and his floor is probably an NHL regular — and that works well for the Flyers. They figure to have enough blueliners that can fill the top four and a defensively reliable one behind them isn’t a bad thing.

But with a second-round pick, fans will want more of an impact. Ginning’s floor is high but his ceiling is low. It also didn’t help that Philly didn’t have another pick until the fourth round.

From there, Hextall selected two defensemen, two forwards and his trademark goalie selection.

The defensive depth was depleting in the prospect pool, so Hextall did a good job refilling that position. Plus, the team has to figure it will lose a strong blueliner in the Seattle expansion draft. Having replacements in the fold will make the eventual loss easier.

I also really like the Markus Westfalt selection in the seventh round. If the Swede works on his speed, he looks like he has the tools for an NHL career.

However, besides the first two picks, there wasn’t a ton of exciting picks made by Hextall. Maybe it’s simply because Flyers fans have been spoiled by the GM in the draft, but 2018 won’t be remembered as fondly as some of the others.

Letting UFAs and Mrazek Walk

Hextall’s nearly annual tradition of letting each unrestricted free agent walk continued this summer with the GM letting Valtteri Filppula, Matt Read, Brandon Manning and Johnny Oduya enter the market. He also didn’t offer restricted free agent Petr Mrazek a qualifying offer, making him a UFA.

Obviously, each decision get a stamp of approval.

Filppula was an aging center that undeservedly played in the top nine. Manning was a solid sixth defenseman in the top four, while Oduya, Read and Mrazek were spare parts.

Each were easy decisions by Hextall, but he still deserves credit for not being blinded by a couple players that he always seemed to admire in Filppula and Manning.

James van Riemsdyk Signing

Hextall only made two signings in free agency. One being Christian Folin, who should only operate as a seventh defenseman. The other was much bigger, though.

On the first day of free agency, Hextall officially brought back van Riemsdyk, who was traded six years ago in an ill-advised deal for defenseman Luke Schenn. Since that point, JvR has scored 156 goals for the Toronto Maple Leafs, including a career-high 36 last season.

Although a winger wasn’t at the top of the Flyers’ needs, there’s no denying that the van Riemsdyk addition is going to have a huge impact in Philadelphia.

Assuming the Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Travis Konecny trio sticks together on the first line, the second line will consist of van Riemsdyk, Nolan Patrick and Jake Voracek. Most wouldn’t bat an eye at two of those players on a team’s first line.

JvR gives the Flyers one of the most lethal top six’s in the league and a shooter that’s been missing for years. Plus, the team’s power play was already a high-octane one and van Riemsdyk will only give it more options.

As for the contract, five years at a $7 million cap hit is a little high. The Flyers have three forwards making over $7 million a year now in Giroux, Voracek and JvR. That can raise some concerns considering forwards Patrick and Konecny, plus franchise blueliner Ivan Provorov, will need new contracts in the coming years.

But when equally important players like Couturier and Shayne Gostisbehere make less than $5 million a year, you can afford to pay a premium for a premier forward on the open market.

The term is also manageable at just five years. van Riemsdyk should still be a decent player at that point and the cap will likely be even higher.

Filling Third-Line Center In-House

As for one of the needs that was above a scoring winger, a third-line center can probably be counted above it. In fact, it’s been a minor issue for some years.

Couturier played in that spot for a while, but so did Vincent Lecavalier, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, a first-half Patrick last season and Filppula. But the search goes on.

There were reports Hextall pursued Paul Stastny before van Riemsdyk in free agency, but likely wasn’t going to offer a third year, which the former Jet received from the Vegas Golden Knights — along with $19.5 million.

Had Stastny signed for two seasons, even at a number a tad higher than the $6.5 million AAV he got from the Knights, I would have been okay with it. The 32 year old may not be the offensive weapon he once was (don’t let his numbers with the Jets fool you), he’s reliable defensively and puts up strong possession stats.

The third year, though, wasn’t doable for the Flyers. The organization has too many centers in the pipeline and it would have been unfortunate to delay them for a then-35 year old. In three years, van Riemsdyk will be making a more positive impact than Stastny theoretically would in Philly.

But Stastny wasn’t the only third-line center on the market. There was also Tyler Bozak, Riley Nash and Derek Ryan.

Frankly, I’m fine with Hextall shying away from each of them. Bozak will be paid $5.5 million per year by the St. Louis Blues, a heavy overpayment, and Nash and Ryan were borderline top-nine pivots.

So the Flyers will go in-house again, likely to Jordan Weal or Scott Laughton. Both deserve some optimism, but if they don’t work out at least there’s some help coming.

Holding Onto Simmonds

With training camp starting this weekend and Hextall still saying they’d “like to keep him”, it’s probably fair to assume that Simmonds will at least start the year with the Flyers.

I could have run through a different players that weren’t moved — Gudas, Weal — but Simmonds is a different case than anyone in the Philadelphia organization. He’s got just a year left on his deal, should be in line for a big raise at the age of 31 next summer and there were trade rumors involving the former King at the draft.

Despite all that, Hextall stood pat and Simmonds will be back for his eighth season in the orange and black. But there’s good arguments on both side for moving him or not.

A power forward typically declines much earlier than other players and Simmonds had a bad year last season already, though that could be chalked up to a myriad of injuries. The Flyers aso have a host of prospects coming through the ranks, which should make Simmonds expendable. Losing him for nothing this summer will hurt.

For the fans already on the side of re-signing the right-winger, holding onto him is obvious, but even if the Flyers don’t re-sign Simmonds, there’s merits to keeping him.

The prospects aren’t ready yet and Philly is just pulling out of its re-tooling stage. Simmonds is a leader and moving him while Provorov, Konecny and Patrick are still young may hurt this season.

Personally, I’m not convinced Simmonds would return that much either. Jeff Skinner, a winger with the same contract status as Simmonds, was dealt to the Buffalo Sabres for Cliff Pu, a second round, third round and sixth-round picks. That’s not a package that would make much of a difference in the Flyers’ system.

The counter argument is that Simmonds is a rare player, but Skinner, who is 26 years old and has scored over 30 goals three times in his career, isn’t a typical NHLer at all.

Should the Flyers keep Simmonds for the rest of the season and make the playoffs, all while Simmonds helps the team continues to guide the young players, I think that’s a better payoff than a trade for B-level prospects at this point.

Offseason Grade: B+

The draft maybe could have gone better, but that’s not even really reviewable until a couple years from now. The JvR signing was a big move, but looking for a third-line center in-house and keeping Simmonds are educated guesses at success, not guarantees.

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