NHL Free Agency: Time for Hextall, Flyers to open the check book

Wayne Simmonds Flyers

It’s time for Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall to make a bold move or two this summer.

Heck, maybe even add in a blockbuster trade.

Whatever he chooses to do, fans can only hope for no more Dale Weiss-like signings or deals that bring back Jori Lehtera or R.J. Umberger, which accomplish nothing to improve the current roster.

Beginning on Sunday, when teams can sign free agents, Hextall needs to enter the frenzy and get impact players who will help the Flyers not only return to the playoffs but advance a round.

Hextall, who has payroll flexibility (about $21 million) for the first time in his four-year tenure, said at last week’s draft that he wants to go free agent shopping but refuses to get locked into a long-term contract that will prohibit acquiring players when the team is a serious Stanley Cup contender.

The general manager is also open to a trade, but reiterated he will not mortgage the team’s future by shipping out a top-line prospect, like Morgan Frost or Travis Sanheim, for a player who will spend one or two years in Philadelphia.

All of that is fine. There are still plenty of options who fit that financial or asset requirement and provide a significant boost of talent to the club.

Therefore, Hextall needs to avoid picking up a fourth-line forward and bottom defensemen, as he’s done in the past. The Flyers appear ripe to accelerate their rebuild.

This season, they finished in third place in the Metropolitan Division and with 10 more points than their previous campaign.

Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek posted career-best numbers, Sean Couturier blossomed into the runner-up for the Selke Trophy, handed out to the best defensive forward, Ivan Provorov proved he’s a No. 1 defenseman, Travis Konecny took a giant step forward in his development, and other youngsters exhibited promise.

There are still holes – in goal – but with a few shrewd moves from the front office, the Flyers can elevate themselves to sleepers to win the division. They only finished seven points behind the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals and two points off of Pittsburgh.

And they don’t have to ruin their cap-friendly payroll or deplete their farm system to accomplish it. Hextall has said a top-four defenseman and third-line center are on his wish list.

Centers Paul Statsny, a two-time all-star, and Tyler Bozak and defensemen Calvin de Haan and Ian Cole are each ideal candidates. Statsny and Bozak are 32 years old and provide an immediate upgrade down the middle, while de Haan (27) and Cole (29) could slide right on the second pairing. Other solid alternatives exist as well.

The wild card, however, is forward Wayne Simmonds, who is entering the final year of his deal.

Hextall said he wants to sign the 30-goal scorer to an extension, but if the two sides can’t find mutual ground expect the Flyers to trade him. There were rumors they entertained an offer, involving Simmonds, with Calgary at the draft.

Whether it’s an extension, a trade, or key free agent signings, it’s time for Hextall to be bold this summer.