The Philadelphia Flyers’ process has turned a corner. Ron Hextall made his first big splash in free agency on Sunday by signing James van Riemsdyk to a five-year, $35 million contract. He couldn’t get the Flyers in on the John Tavares sweepstakes, but he made sure to get a top free agent by getting the next best thing.
Heading into the summer there were many that were skeptical or downright negative about Hextall’s impact on the Flyers. He has preached a methodical process since taking over as general manager four years ago. He said from the start that he would have a multi-year plan in place to get the Flyers where they need to be. His five-year plan is heading into year five and the Flyers are set up to be serious contenders for the next several seasons.
The Flyers had their great core of Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Sean Couturier, and others, a group of young studs in Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Nolan Patrick, and a prospect pipeline filled at every position. They were ready to take that next step.
Hextall has been passive at past junctures where other teams have been aggressive, but that was mostly due to the position the Flyers were in. At past trade deadlines it wouldn’t have been smart to give up long-term assets for a slight increase in one year when the team was a longshot to make noise in the playoffs. So he held onto his assets and even acquired more when possible. The same goes for past offseasons. Hextall has been methodically clearing out old expensive contracts, adding through the draft, and refraining from handing out any big contracts.
That all changed this year.
With the Flyers getting career years from several forwards, breakout seasons from a few young players, and only needing a few more pieces to complete the puzzle, Hextall struck. He was interested in the two top free agents and ended up signing one. James van Riemsdyk is returning to Philadelphia six years after being traded away. He is a much better player at this point in his career, and he is a perfect fit for the Flyers.
Before the trade deadline I wrote a piece on a hypothetical trade for Erik Karlsson. While it didn’t come to fruition, the underlying principle of the article was that Ron Hextall has the Flyers in a position where they can make a big move if he wants to. The same principle can be applied here.
Personally, I think that the contract for van Riemsdyk is pretty fair for both sides. However, arguments can be made that the term (five years) is too long for 29-year old or his cap hit ($7 million) his too high given the comparables and where the Flyers are at. That’s perfectly fine. But it is a risk that the Flyers needed to take, and most importantly afford to take.
The Flyers were able to afford that extra year or that extra $1 million because of the work that Hextall has done over the past four years. He dug the Flyers out of a cap space hole to give them around $20 million to work with this offseason. The point of having cap space is to use it.
They have been building through the draft, which helps immensely when it comes to contracts and cap space. It’s just the way the league works. They’ll need to pay their young stars a bit more in the coming years and then an even bigger raise once they hit unrestricted status, but for now they are getting fantastic value. That allows them to go out and sign a free agent or trade for a player with a larger cap hit if they want.
Hextall seems to be building this team with the bigger picture in mind, while simultaneously improving the team in the short-term. In his first year or two as general manager, Hextall had much more focus on the long-term than the short-term (Scott Hartnell for R.J. Umberger, veterans for draft picks, etc), and it has gradually shifted since. Signing van Riemsdyk marks a turning point in that timeline.
It’s not a complete change of pace, since signing van Riemsdyk doesn’t sacrifice too much in the future, but the focus of the deal is on the short-term. Hextall is showing confidence in his team that they are ready to move past the rebuilding, and the transition year, into a year where the Stanley Cup is the ultimate (and realistic) goal. I’m not saying that the 2018-19 season is Stanley Cup or bust, or anywhere near that, but it’s certainly trending in that direction.
Van Riemsdyk gives the Flyers a second-line scoring winger, a power-play threat, and significantly strengthens their group of forwards. They should now have a great top two lines, with their third line improving as well due to the trickle down effect.
This was the offseason that Hextall had circled on his calendar when he took over as general manager. He set a five-year plan in motion, and it is now year five. He did the dirty work and is now beginning to see the fruits of his labor.
Hextall deserves a ton of credit for the way he has helped turn this franchise around. He has built from the ground up, stuck to his plan, and is starting to see it all come together. Signing van Riemsdyk was a turning point for Hextall and the Flyers.
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