Philadelphia Flyers' Biggest Takeaways from the Start of 2014 Free Agency

Garrett BakerSenior Analyst IJuly 6, 2014

Philadelphia Flyers' Biggest Takeaways from the Start of 2014 Free Agency

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    The Philadelphia Flyers opened up the 2014 free-agency season with whatever the opposite of a bang is, and fans should be happy about that.

    Former general manager Paul Holmgren left the Flyers without much space to work with in regards to the salary cap. His replacement, Ron Hextall, really has his work cut out for him.

    If there's one thing that's clear from the past few weeks, it's that Hextall is moving the Flyers forward while looking to the future.

    Here are the biggest takeaways from the start of 2014 NHL free agency.

Holmgren Really Screwed Up

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    By now, this is pretty much an obvious and redundant point to make, but it still needs to be done. Holmgren's mess cannot be overstated.

    He simply left the team in terrible shape for Hextall, and it's going to take a while to fix everything.

    I've written about this whole predicament recently, highlighting four particularly awful contracts. Scott Hartnell is out of town, but R.J. Umberger's deal isn't that much better.

    On top of the other three mentioned in that article, guys like Nicklas Grossmann and Luke Schenn are getting overpaid as well. Hopefully Hextall can move at least one of those defensemen, as well as Vincent Lecavalier, but it won't be easy.

Less Is More

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    July 1 came and went. For the first time in what seems like a long time, nothing happened. The Flyers didn't make any headlines. No deals were struck. No articles were written about yet another splash from Philadelphia.

    The unexpected happened, in that nothing happened at all. A major part of that has to do with the previous slide, but it also shows that Hextall is being conservative here while building. Flyers fans should be thankful for that. 

    Hextall re-signed goalie Ray Emery (via NHL.com), but that's about it. And although it's a relatively minor deal, he also got great value for Tye McGinn in the form of a third-round pick. But still, pretty much no Flyers news, which seems to be exactly what the new boss wanted.

Defense Needs to Be Bolstered

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    The Flyers re-signed Kimmo Timonen to a nice one-year, $2 million deal that gives them some needed offensive output from the blue line.

    They also grabbed Nick Schultz (via NHL.com), a depth player at this point in his career, but a pretty good one at that. The former second-round pick is still only 31 years old and is a relatively solid, physical presence who costs them next to nothing and will fill in when he is needed.

    But the main takeaway is that there is still work to do here. They desperately need some more firepower from their defense. Grossmann, Schenn and MacDonald are simply not getting it done. 

    With the lack of signings and trades, perhaps Hextall is signaling that young prospects like Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg and Samuel Morin will be getting some serious shots in camp. Gostisbehere is the most likely to make the squad, having signed his professional contract this winter.

Long-Term Thinking

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    This is the underlying theme to all of it, evidenced by Hextall's quiet July 1 and lack of any big splashes in regards to free agency.

    It was initially proven in his first major move as GM, when he traded Scott Hartnell for R.J. Umberger and a fourth-round pick. Umberger's contract is almost identical to Hartnell's, but it expires two years earlier. He also no longer has a NMC (no-movement clause).

    It was also evident by the Flyers' first-round selection in the draft—Travis Sanheim is a project with a lot of upside.

    The bottom line is that Hextall knows he has a lot of young talent, but he is also strapped by some big contracts to some veterans. He's looking down the road, and ultimately that's for the best.