In just a little more than four months, Flyers GM Ron Hextall has gone from your average, ordinary general manager to a magician at work.
He traded 40-year-old veteran Kimmo Timonen, who had not played all season and had two months left in his playing career, for Chicago’s second-round pick. He turned Braydon Coburn into a first-round pick, a third-round pick and Radko Gudas in a trade with Tampa Bay. He traded Nick Grossmann to Arizona for Sam Gagner while making Chris Pronger’s contract disappear. And then, he did the impossible, acquiring a third-round pick for Zac Rinaldo.
In the meantime, Hextall also retained forwards Chris VandeVelde and Ryan White by signing them to contract extensions. He extended a qualifying offer to Michael Del Zotto. He used the Flyers first-round pick to snag a stud defenseman in Ivan Provorov. He took the first-round pick from Tampa and the second-round pick from Chicago and moved up to draft Travis Konecny. And he opened free agency by signing Michal Neuvirth.
Yesterday at noon marked the opening of the NHL free agency period. In total, 70 players inked free agent deals on day one. Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Arizona and Nashville were among some of the busier teams. Only one team, Pittsburgh, did not sign a free agent but may have made the biggest splash of day one.
Over the course of the Philadelphia Flyers' franchise history, most of the best defensemen the team has ever had have been players acquired from outside the organization: Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Mark Howe leads the list, followed by the likes of Eric Desjardins, Kimmo Timonen and for all-too-brief periods of time Bob "the Count" Dailey and Chris Pronger before the two suffered respective career-ending injuries.
All of these players enjoyed varying measures of success in their careers before they came to Philadelphia. In terms of the top homegrown defensemen -- players drafted and developed from within the organization -- the list starts with five-time NHL All-Star Jimmy Watson and includes the likes of Tom Bladon and Behn Wilson. Chris Therien would qualify as the top candidate over the last two decades.
However, a funny thing has happened in the Philadelphia Flyers' farm system over the last three years: A franchise that has often struggled to draft and develop their own NHL-level defensemen has made a concerted effort to stock up on defense prospects in the last four NHL Drafts.
While it may still take a few years to pay dividends at the NHL level, the Flyers have steadily increased the odds that at least a couple of the current prospects in the pipeline will someday blossom into above-average NHL defensemen.