I just thought this was a cool picture. (Image c/o Frank Fimmano)
As a young goalie, Ron Hextall won the Vezina and Conn Smythe trophies. He helped to push the Edmonton Oilers, arguably one of the best dynasties in NHL history, to brink of elimination in the 1987 Stanley Cup Finals. He was the first goalie to score a goal and his style of play was an inspiration to future Hall of Famer, Martin Brodeur.
When he traded his chest protector for a suit and tie, he learned how to build a proper championship team in Los Angeles. Then, he was brought back home to Philadelphia where it all started. Yet, as the general manager of the perennially competitive Flyers, Ron Hextall is not in an enviable position.
The team at his control has some amazing top-end talent in Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. Steve Mason has reinvented himself and gotten his goaltending career back on track. The Flyers also have incredibly solid defensive prospects (although they all seem to have been hampered by rough injuries this season). So far so good, right?
The problem is the disconnect between the two. Giroux and Voracek are in their prime. Mason is roughly there too. Those defensive prospects, on the other hand, will not see NHL ice time until the dynamic duo of G and Cek are projected to decline.
In between the current stars and the stars of tomorrow is a vast wasteland of horrible contracts, veterans well past their prime, underperforming players and some guy who gets ice time because he has heart.
We can all point the finger at Hextall for the lopsided R.J. Umberger/Scott Hartnell swap — even if Hartnell blatantly accused Craig Berube of playing a role in the matter — but, for the most part, Hextall inherited this mess and one cannot help but ask what he could possibly do about it.
So, does he pull a Simon Gagne for Matt Walker trade just to get Vinny Lecavalier off the books? Doubt it. Will he buyout guys like Lecavalier and Umberger just because fans are sick of them? Ludicrous. Should he trade Matt Read at his lowest value or fire Berube just to make a statement? Wait for Mike Babcock, dammit!
For the most part, he may just have to wait it out. If there is one thing that teams like the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks have taught us, it is that building a winning team takes time, no matter how uncomfortable and unfamiliar that feels here in Philadelphia.
If he feels that the team in its current state cannot compete, what Hextall has now is assets. At the trade deadline, teams will be eager to get their hands on guys like Braydon Coburn and Steve Mason in exchange for draft picks or viable prospects. There are other guys that could land the team massive returns and clear up plenty of salary cap space in the process. Even the likes of Luke Schenn could find a new home for a decent return (albeit not a James van Riemsdyk caliber return). Those are tough decisions to make, especially in a city where the thought of consciously making your team worse — unless you are the Sixers — is a mortal sin.
Sometimes, the toughest decisions are the ones that need to be made, though. Flyers fans have sat through season after season of stopgap solutions. Enough is enough. It is time to cut the cord and build the championship team this city has been waiting generations to see and if that means trading your favorite player for a prospect who may take a year or two to progress, then so be it.