Hextall’s Failure: A forward group in its prime, a blue line in its infancy
As more and more information arises to the surface regarding Hextall’s firing, it was a bit surprising that there seemed to be some discourse and disunity between the management group of the Flyers. Yet, when you look at the Flyers roster construction, it sort of makes sense. Here’s why:
The Flyers Forward Core is in its Prime or Regressing
Outside of a handful of forwards (see Patrick, Konecny, and Lindblom), the Flyers’ forward group is in their prime. The likes of Giroux, Voracek, and J.V.R. are in their primes. In fact, even after a career year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Giroux continue in a regression. NHL players are seeing their offensive prime years happen at a younger age, particularly as teams continue to fill their bottom six with younger, skilled players. With all of Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, and J.V.R. likely past their best offensive seasons and also likely to decline in the years to come, the Flyers’ best offensive potential is now, not in the near future.
The Flyers do boast a handful of young forwards like Konecny and Patrick, and Morgan Frost is currently tearing up the OHL. However, all three of these players are considered to have 2nd line upside at best, meaning they are unlikely to truly take on the torch passed down to them by these older forwards. These players will provide decent depth overall, now, and in the future. They will not, however, replace the potential declining offense of Giroux, Voracek, J.V.R., and Simmonds.
The Flyers D is Young and Not Quite Approaching its Prime
In contrast to the Flyers’ forwards, their D is extremely young. Gostisbehere is likely approaching his prime years, but the likes of Provorov and Sanheim are not close. Sanheim is just now entering the Flyers lineup as a regular and has a long ways to go in his development. Provorov seems to have taken a bit of a step back, but regardless, was not quite at a spot that could be considered “prime” as of yet.
Defensemen tend to hit their prime at a bit of an older age, though that number is also dropping as teams look to use more offensive minded defensemen at a younger age (like Henri Jokiharju in Chicago and Dennis Cholowski in Detroit). Overall, the Flyers key defensive players are not at their prime and are all under 25. Ultimately, their development is still a work in progress and does not match up with the readiness of the team’s forwards.
So What’s the Result?
The difference in developmental stages is likely leading to some of the Flyers issues as a whole. With young, learning defensemen and an aging forward core, the Flyers are a bit unbalanced, and this has obviously shown this season. This might be what the Flyers’ upper management was referring to when Paul Holmgren made note that Hextall and the upper brass had philosophical differences. Hextall seemed reluctant to make any trades to add veterans to his roster and seemed sold on continuing a slow developmental process.
Overall, the differences in primes honestly puts the Flyers at a crossroads. Should they look to add some veteran top-4 defensemen or should they trade some or all of their aging forwards to continue a rebuilding process? These are the questions the new Flyers GM is going to have to answer. It would seem that Flyers ownership and upper brass want the Flyers to be competitive now. This would likely mean making changes and potentially trading younger prospects or players for more established ones. Time will tell if this is the right move to make.