Flyers GM denies ‘rebuild’ label, expects a playoff berth in 2017-18

Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall speaks with members of the media during a news conference. (Matt Rourke/AP)

After a dominant half-decade run that saw the Philadelphia Flyers earn five straight playoff berths – including a conference final appearance and go-round in the Stanley Cup Final – the orange and black head into 2017-18 having missed the post-season in three of the past five years.

They Flyers flirted with a shot at returning last season, missing out on a playoff spot by seven points, but earned a pretty plum silver lining for the subpar finish in highly-touted prospect Nolan Patrick, added with the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.

Set to debut their new, young marquee talent with the hope of climbing back up the standings, the Flyers seem ready for the tides to turn.

Just don’t call it a ‘rebuild.’

“You’re not rebuilding when you’re competitive,” general manager Ron Hextall told The Philadelphia Inquirer on Friday. “A rebuild, to me, is when you go to the bottom and you pick high, high, high – and essentially, you’re not trying that hard to win. That’s not in our DNA. We want to win. We want to win as many games as possible.

“We’re not going to go to the bottom of the league and pick first overall for four or five years. That’s no way to build culture. Our vision was to stay competitive, and build, and get younger — and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

While the Flyers have been shifting more towards their youth and away from veteran talent, Hextall said they’ve never sacrificed winning in the present in order to improve their chances long-term.

“We also feel we did what was right — trying to win, trying to make the playoffs,” Hextall said. “A part of me says that was just. If you try to finish at the bottom and trade everyone at the deadline, that bothers me. How do you think the players feel? How would you like to be a player going into an 82-game season knowing the team is rebuilding so basically has no expectations to win. Think about that. That’s not in our DNA.”

It’s undoubtedly a fine line for the Broad Street Bullies. While Philadelphia has ranked among the bottom three clubs in their division in four of the past five seasons, they’ve also faced the unavoidable disadvantage of suiting up in a grouping that happens to feature a few of the game’s most dominant clubs, particularly in Pittsburgh, Washington, and Columbus.

Looking for a full reset to get back in the mix may have been enticing amid that climate, but Hextall said the price for making that choice was too much for Philadelphia to pay.

“We can build without being uncompetitive,” Hextall said. “If you lose your culture, I’ll tell you what, it takes you a long time to get it back. People don’t understand the importance of culture. It is absolutely critical. It’s critical that your players know you expect to win.”

And that is precisely what the club’s brass expects in 2017-18, despite the fact that their division seems to have become even more competitive since last season.

“Do we expect to make the playoffs? Of course we expect to make the playoffs,” Hextall said. “We were close enough last year that you can circle a few games where you say, ‘If we would have won these games, we’re in the playoffs.’ I’m comfortable saying we expect to make the playoffs because our team, on paper, is good enough to make the playoffs.

“That’s not an unfair expectation. But, again, it’s all about what happens on the ice.”