What GM Ron Hextall Must Focus on for Philadelphia Flyers' 2014 Offseason

Brad KurtzbergContributor IJune 2, 2014

New GM Ron Hextall faces challenges in his first year at the helm.
New GM Ron Hextall faces challenges in his first year at the helm.Matt Slocum/Associated Press

As the NHL heads toward the start of free agency and what promises to be a very busy offseason, Ron Hextall faces several challenges in his first year as general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Flyers turned around the 2013-14 season after a rough start that featured a coaching change just three games into the new campaign and a 1-7-0 start. They finished with a 42-30-10 record, good for 94 points and a third-place finish in the Metropolitan Division.

In the playoffs, the Flyers took the New York Rangers to seven games in the opening round before losing. The Rangers are now facing the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Final.

Still, the Flyers need to make some changes this summer if they hope to improve on last year's finish. They face two challenges: improving the talent level on the ice while still managing to stay under the salary cap.

The Flyers currently have 17 players under contract for next season at slightly more than $65 million, according to CapGeek.com. That leaves them precious little room to re-sign any of their own unrestricted free agents (UFAs) or restricted free agents (RFAs), let alone to add some new talent. Among those players the Flyers may seek to re-sign are Kimmo Timonen, Ray Emery, Brayden Schenn, Jason Akeson, Adam Hall and Tye McGinn.

The most logical way to clear up cap space is to trade away one or more players who do not fit in the team's long-term plans.

Vincent Lecavaliar didn't fit in well with Craig Berube's system.
Vincent Lecavaliar didn't fit in well with Craig Berube's system.Matt Slocum/Associated Press/Associated Press

The Flyers have too many natural centers on their roster, so moving one or more of them makes sense. Trading the rights to Schenn or even dealing Vincent Lecavalier would certainly free up some cap space. Schenn is young enough to have value and bring back a decent return, while Lecavalier has not fit in well under coach Craig Berube's more defensive-oriented system. The biggest problem Hextall may have in trading Lecavalier is finding someone willing to take on his inflated salary.

Once cap room has been cleared, Hextall has to go out and find ways to improve the Flyers roster.

Their most obvious need remains defense. It is still unclear whether or not Timonen will retire or return for one more season. Erik Gustafsson has already signed a deal to play in the KHL next season.

Andrew MacDonald adds a little depth to the Flyers' defense.
Andrew MacDonald adds a little depth to the Flyers' defense.Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

That leaves the Flyers with five NHL defensemen on their roster: Mark Streit, Andrew MacDonald, Braydon Coburn, Nicklas Grossmann and Luke Schenn. This group needs a skilled puck-moving defenseman, some additional speed in the lineup and a physical defenseman who can be a shutdown defender in his own zone.

Up front, the Flyers need to add some depth scoring, especially on the wing.

In addition, if Emery does not return, the Flyers need to add a backup goaltender.

Prospects may take some of these available roster spots, but to improve, the Flyers will almost certainly have to add at least one experienced defenseman and one veteran forward.

The first step is almost certainly some kind of trade. Philadelphia fans will soon learn what changes Hextall's promotion to general manager brings to the organization. He will have to undo some of the salary-cap damage former GM Paul Holmgren got the Flyers into with his questionable contracts.

It should be an interesting summer for the Flyers. New faces are coming or else the team will likely be standing still, and that's never a good thing in the competitive world of the NHL. The key is that the new roster has to be an improvement over the old one.