Flyers GM Ron Hextall Says There's Plenty of Blame to Go Around

Peter Laviolette took the Flyers to the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2012 with a Flyers roster that incurred 275 man games lost due to injury.

That's a significant number of injuries the Flyers overcame to go two rounds into the postseason.

This season, under Dave Hakstol, the Flyers were relatively healthy -- 197 man games lost. Key personnel were healthy in the stretch run too.

Yet the Flyers didn't make the playoffs.

"First and foremost, we're disappointed," general manager Ron Hextall said this week. "We had a good hockey team, certainly a good enough hockey team to make the playoffs, and we didn't make the playoffs.

"So, there's a part of me that, there's some failure there. Now, to be successful, sometimes you have to fail. We're going to learn a lot from this year."

Who get's the lion's share of blame for the failure?

"Every one of us," Hextall replied. "It starts with me and trickles down. We all have culpability here. We all need to be better. So, in saying that, there's other teams that probably feel the same way. On paper, they had a good enough team to make the playoffs."

Hextall said it was his fault for burdening the club with eight defensemen, causing problems on the back end and limiting how many forwards Hakstol could carry.

"It's not a good situation for anybody," Hextall said. "There were times where we only had seven because of injury but that's a tough situation for the coaches, tough situation for the defensemen, and quite frankly for the team. I look back at what I could have done different, that's one of the things."

Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz have already acknowledged their contracts won't be renewed. That leaves the Flyers with five defensemen returning. (Shayne Gostisbehere, a restricted free agent, will obviously be re-signed.)

The Flyers have room for two younger players -- Sam Morin and likely Robert Hagg, depending upon how things unfold in training camp.

"Just looking at it on paper right now, I don't know the two kids or the one kid that's going to be in our lineup next year, but they're going to dictate that," Hextall said. "But I like the pieces we have surrounding them."

He lauded the play of both Morin and Hagg in their small sample of games here.

Don't look for the Flyers to be active in free agency this summer, outside of seeking a short-term rental in goal for one to three years or a trade in that area. It's obvious Steve Mason won't be back and Hextall doesn't feel any of his goalie prospects are NHL backup ready just yet.

"I don't want to say whether we will or won't be active in free agency because I don't know the answer right now," he said. "As we've always done, if we can get better July 1 and it ties into what we're doing and doesn't inhibit us in other areas, we'll look at everything."

While the Flyers could use a sniper on the wing -- that's been an issue for years -- Hextall said his goal remain to fill holes from within the organization with prospects.

Hextall said the acquisition of Valterri Filppula upgraded his top nine forwards and had an immediate impact on balancing out the lines and making it harder to teams to match up against the Flyers on the road.

Look for Swedish prospect Oskar Lindblom to make the team out of training camp.

"Oskar, he's had a great year," Hextall said. "He's come a long way since his draft year. World juniors and the Swedish Elite League is a very good league and he's done a good job ... I hope he's here in September fighting for a spot along with a number of other guys."

Chris VandeVelde won't be re-signed. That opens an immediate spot for Lindblom.

Jordan Weal will be re-signed. He's shown versatility, innate skill and competitiveness whenever he was placed in the lineup.

One thing that has to change next season is Hakstol needs to be more receptive to allowing his younger, skilled player to be more creative and play that way without worry of being benched. Hextall said Hakstol's concern was "turnovers."

"Hak is a smart guy," Hextall said. "He knows what's going on. I think if you look late in the year we started playing really well. The one thing any coach, I don't care, and I've been around a lot of them, they hate turnovers.

"Turnovers are a huge thing in a hockey game. Your players are all going north and all of a sudden there's a turnover and you're not set up defensively. That's when lot of goals are scored, quick breaks, 3-on-2s."

Nearly the entire roster -- at one point this season it was the entire roster -- was "minus," an indication of how turnovers wrecked the Flyers, especially during 5-on-5 play where they were ranked in the bottom third of the league in goal differential.

"It's risk-reward," Hextall said. "There are times when players have to recognize the risk versus reward. If it's a 40 percent chance you're going to make a play for a scoring chance and 60 percent chance it's going to go back the other way, it's probably not a real good risk to take. If its 90-10, a good risk to take.

"We want our players to be creative. We want [Travis] Konecny, [Claude] Giroux, [Jakub] Voracek, we want them to make plays. We want them to set up scoring chances.

"We want them to score goals. What we don't want them to do is turn pucks over, come back our way and end up minus-20, minus-25. It has to stop."

Voracek was minus-24; Giroux minus-15; Konecny minus-2; Wayne Simmonds minus-18 and Shayne Gostisbehere minus-21.

Hextall also cautioned that from where the Flyers pick in the NHL Draft (13th this year), they're severely challenged to get a Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews-type of player.

"Do we have a McDavid? No," Hextall said. "But do we have some good players coming? Absolutely."

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