The Blame Game: Hextall

Yikes! That Blues-Flyers “game” was hard to watch.

Any who, thank you for reading The Blame Game where I question who is at fault for the Flyers performing at a less than ideal level. In part one, I try to understand why Coach Dave Hakstol insists on scratching actual hockey players in place of Dale Weise. But after watching whatever we want to call that against the Blues, we clearly have to criticize Hakstol more in the future (assuming he is still employed upon your reading of this).

In part two we’ll question what’s the deal with, GM Ron Hextall.

Again, we are in year 3 of a 5 year plan. To understand how much blame Hextall deserves, we first must review what he has accomplished/done so far. His first task (which he has performed at a Herculean degree thus far) was to unshackle this team from the Kafa-esque salary cap situation that Paul Holmgren left us with. Just in case you forgot, Hextall has found a way to get the untradeable contracts of Vincent Lecavilier, Chris Pronger, Scott Hartnell, and R.J. Umberger off the books. All the while jettisoning the likes of Niklas Grossmann, and Luke Schenn – all of whom had outstayed their welcome. (However, the Fantastic Mr. Hextall has yet to find a way to part ways the most untradeable contract, Andrew MacDonald but pobody’s nerfect).

In addition to bestowing the people of Philadelphia with cap space for the first time since there was a cap, Hextall has done a great job locking up the core of this team long-term. I don’t think that anyone can legitimately complain about the deals given to Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds. Where we begin to see cracks in Hextall’s armor, are the (re)signing of Brayden Schenn and Dale Weise (but this is a discussion to be continued around June 1st).

Then of course, there is the facet of General Managing that Hextall has unequivocally excelled at, the draft. The pre-salary cap Flyers GM’s didn’t need to be good at drafting as they could just buy their way out missteps in the amateur selection. Hextall on the other hand has rebuilt and setup the Flyers defense and goaltending for the next ten years.

But where we begin to really wonder about Hextall’s culpability is why the man that was able to trade Zac Rinaldo for a third round pick, can’t craft a move to help this team right now?

The short answer is that trades are impossible right now because all of the other GM’s are waiting for the deadline. The medium answer is that everyone is holding their cards until the expansion draft. And the long answer is that parity killed the trade deadline and all of the bubble playoff team GM’s would rather eek into, or just miss the playoffs with the rosters they have opposed to the alternative of selling off as many expendable assets as possible (Streit, MDZ, Schultz, and any of the bottom 6) thusly announcing to the league that this season was a failure (which it is). Now this super logical, ‘trade the spare parts alternative’ may have been tenable if Mr. Snider were still around. But the sad, harsh, truth is that Flyers are now a corporate entity and must produce as much revenue as possible within a fiscal year, i.e., season. Missing the playoffs, let alone announcing that you’re going to miss the playoffs with a sell off really hurts the old R.O.I.

So, Hextall’s hands are tied on the trade front for whatever reason you choose to believe. In terms of assigning blame for not being able to pull the trigger on a deal, I’ll accept plausible deniability in that there may not be a deal out there in which the trigger can be pulled.

But then there is this very astute hypothesis posited by, Dan Silver:

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Ron Hextall is Dave Hakstol’s boss, and seeing is that both of these guys play everything very close to the vest, we don’t really understand what this working relationship is like. I don’t get the sense that Hextall is the kind of GM that likes to micromanage his coach. But at the same time, I do get the sense that Hextall is the kind of boss that expects his employees to deliver.

The most vexing question would then be, is Hextall signing off on the player usage and scratching of Shayne Gostisbehere and Travis Konecny regualary despite the Flyers VERY clear inability to generate offense without them? Would Hextall sign off on such bovine excrement?

One would have to assume that the answer is that Hextall is in approval of Hakstol’s moves because A) I can’t see a sophomore coach having the bravado/power to continually make such roster moves without the full support and confidence from his GM; and B) Hextall has been unwavering in his stance that his young prospects “have to earn” their ice time. Don’t forget, this is the man who was vehemently against calling up Gostisbehere in the first place. It took Mark Streit’s wiener falling off to force his hand.

So, is Hextall more at fault than Hakstol for how bad the Flyers currently are? I’m really not sure. I started out with wanting to draw the conclusion that coaching is far and away the problem here, but I don’t buy Hakstol having complete control over this squad without Big Ron’s thumbs up or thumbs down.

Even though the entire purpose of this series is to assign blame, I’m going to reserve my judgement on Hextall and will give him benefit of the doubt that he sees what we see. He knows Chris VandeVelde is a chump and I have to believe that he believes that MacDonald isn’t a top pairing defenseman. But I so very much want to believe that Hextall’s acuity in appraising of the asset of time is much greater than ours, and that he believes that Hakstol and the Flyers will come out the other side of this season as much stronger product.

Hopefully.

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