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July 07, 2015

Taking stock of the Flyers' offseason

Ron Hextall has been a busy man over the last few weeks

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See Ron Hextall flashing those pearly whites in the picture above? That is exactly what many Flyers fans are doing after the moves their general manager made over the past couple of weeks. To make a Philadelphia sports comparison, Hextall went Hinkie in the sheer number of transactions he pulled off. Here are the greatest hits:

•    Selected highly touted defenseman Ivan Provorov with 7th pick in the NHL Draft, a prospect who reportedly has two-way ability and the potential to become the all-important No. 1 defenseman. Soon after, they signed him to an entry-level contract quicker than they normally do such things, leading to speculation he could play with the big club as soon as this season.

•    Used the first-round pick they received in exchange for Braydon Coburn to trade up and get Travis Konecny, a smallish but speedy forward who was generally projected to go well before the 24th selection in the draft.

•    Went goalie-heavy in the later rounds of the NHL Draft, particularly with Sweden’s Felix Sandstrom and Slovakia’s Matej Tomek.

•    Took advantage of the Arizona Coyotes’ salary cap situation to unload the contracts of a poor possession defenseman (Nicklas Grossmann) and a guy that doles out suspensions now (Chris Pronger). In return, the Flyers took back Sam Gagner and decided not to buy out the last year of his contract, which at the very least bolsters their forward depth.

•    Somehow traded a guy whose greatest skill is taking bad penalties (Zac Rinaldo) for a third-round pick to the Boston Bruins, whose recent moves have literally everyone scratching their heads.

•    Re-signed fourth liner Chris VandeVelde to play for his college coach on a two-year deal with an AAV $712,500.

•    Made what looks like an obvious upgrade at backup goaltender in free agency, signing Michael Neuvirth to a two-year, $3.25 million deal, and finally, he hired a new goalie coach just for kicks.

That’s a lot of stuff! To put it in context, take a look at this quote from back in April:

"Our goal next year is to make the playoffs," Hextall said. "I’ve said this, I’ll say it now, and say it again: If we can do something with our personnel to be better in October, we will do it without question, assuming it’s not sacrificing our future.  We’re not going to trade young players. We’re not going to trade pick as a rule. But if we can do something [via] free agent, trade, [or] something along those lines, we will absolutely do it."

On paper, you could make the argument that the Flyers are a better team this season. Still, what has been impressive about Hextall is that regardless of how competitive the Flyers are this season, the organization has a healthier long-term outlook, both in the farm system (or “prospect pipeline,” as some call it) and on the books. The Flyers still need to figure out a couple of things such as Michael Del Zotto’s restricted free agency and how to get ride of Vinny Lecavalier, but Hextall has already orchestrated a productive offseason.

Speaking of the prospects, I’m off to Voorhees to watch most of the ones that you’ve heard of at the Flyers’ Development Camp. The goal will be to get there at least twice this week.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann