Flyers, Ron Hextall need to make major changes to compete

The Flyers will need to reexamine their approach this offseason. Credit: Getty Images
The Flyers will need to reexamine their approach this offseason. Credit: Getty Images

The Flyers are like the emperor in the classic children’s story. The “new clothes’’ he’d had made for himself were only imaginary, but no one dared tell him he really had nothing on.

Only when he was out in public parading around naked did a little boy finally put an end to the charade and tell him the truth.

Well, that little boy or someone else needs to tell Ed Snider, new GM Ron Hextall & Co. the Flyers aren’t nearly as good as they think they are and to ever seriously challenge for a Stanley Cup they’ve got to make some changes. Not just tweaks, as the owner suggests, but real changes.

The first one came with Wednesday’s decision to kick former GM Paul Holmgren upstairs to the Presidency with Hextall taking over as G.M. That may be a start, yet it’s hard to shake the feeling the organization still believes — last week’s first round playoff elimination by the Rangers aside — they’re right on the verge of ending that 39-year Cup drought.

The core is in place, they’re convinced. They just need to add a couple of pieces to it. It’s precisely that mindset which has them in this bind in the first place.

That’s not to say there aren’t some talented players here, including one of the game’s best, Claude Giroux. Leading goal scorer Wayne Simmonds and explosive Jake Voracek are headliners on the attack. And the goaltender, Steve Mason, is definitely a keeper, the kind who can win a game on his own and maybe take a better team far deep in the playoffs.

But once you get past them there’s nobody on this team they couldn’t live without. Sure, 20-goal scorers Matt Read and Brayden Schenn have skills —as does Brayden’s big brother, defenseman Luke. But they’re more complimentary pieces than stars. Sean Couturier may be a fine defensive forward and penalty killer, but his limited offensive production has become a concern.

If moving one or more of them, along with a defensive prospect and/or draft choice could land them the one commodity they truly need  —a puck moving, game-changing defenseman — then it’s time to pull the trigger.

No, those guys don’t grow on trees. The Flyers actually had one of them for awhile and got to the Finals, then Chris Pronger got hurt. They tried desperately two years ago to bring one in, but free agent Ryan Suter chose Minnesota and Nashville matched their outrageous 14-year $110 million offer to Shea Weber.

The Predators have yet to make the playoffs since and just fired their coach, replacing him with none other than Peter Laviolette. There’s a chance they may reluctantly be willing to part ways with the 28-year-old Weber, who’s still owed a bundle, though Lavy may insist on keeping him. If he’s available he won’t come cheap—player wise—but the Flyers may have to ante up.

Without having a Weber or someone reasonably like him the defense has become a deadly combination: old and slow. The Rangers skated circles around Kimmo Timonen, Nicklas Grossmann (until he was injured in Game 4) Mark Streit, Braydon Coburn and freshly re-signed newcomer Andrew MacDonald.

With highly regarded kids like Frozen Four standout Shayne Gostisbehere and top picks Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg waiting in the wings, the Flyers need to find a spot for them. Only problem is they’re currently paying their defense a whopping $21.85 million, not including the 39-year-old Timonen, who’s weighing retirement. Pronger ($4.9 million) is also technically still on the books.

They’re also paying aging veterans Vinny Lecavalier (34) and Scott Hartnell (32) a combined $9.25 each of the next four seasons and need a much better return on their investment. Both scored 20 goals but disappeared in stretches, particularly during the playoffs

It’s up to Craig Berube to figure out where they best fit, so that doesn’t happen again. While he’s at it, Berube needs to take a good look at his players.

He’ll see that as hard working and resilient as they are, that can only take them so far. The Flyers rely too much on getting those so-called dirty goals, resulting from deflections and rebounds. It would be nice if they had a few snipers to take some of the load off Giroux and Simmonds.

That means a trade or hitting the free agent market, where they’ll likely have to overpay. Left wings Thomas Vanek, Matt Moulson, Milan Michalek and Mason Raymond — all 30 or younger — lead the pack. Unless they want to sign another golden oldie the best of the rest include Paul Stastny, Ryan Callahan and Radim Vrbata.

Otherwise, they’ll have to stick with a program that seldom is disastrous but most likely won’t bring them the ultimate result. There’s no guarantee that making dramatic changes like these will work. But it seems clear that keeping the core together and trying to build around it isn’t the answer, either.

In other words, like the emperor, it’s time for the Flyers to really get some new clothes.



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