|Cole Bardreau (left) and Tyrell Goulbourne (right) battle during a drill at Flyers Development Camp. Photo: Nina Weiss|
"Quite frankly, the last few years there is nothing that I'm proud of," Hextall told media gathered at the Flyers' annual development camp. "We need to be better."
That's why when the NHL's free agency period opened last Friday on July 1st, Hextall's biggest moves weren't going after big-name, high-priced NHL talents much to the chagrin of the fanbase - instead acquiring elite-level AHL players to further solidify organizational depth and help form a solid team for the minor league affiliate an hour up the road.
The Flyers signed center Andy Miele, 6th in the AHL in scoring last season, as well as defensemen T.J. Brennan, the AHL's two-time defenseman of the year, and Will O'Neill - third among all AHL blue liners in scoring last season behind Brennan and one other defenseman.
Those three additions - all top available AHL-level free agents - as well as forwards Greg Carey and Mark Zengerle (AHL deal) appear to put the Phantoms in position to be a serious contender in the AHL's Atlantic Division this fall.
"Part of the perfect world of development is developing players in a winning atmosphere," Hextall explained, adding, "We're trying to get better, but there's that balance between developing players and allowing your young players to have top roles and being a great team."
"So there's kind of a balance - we can add a couple high end players and not hurt the kids. In some ways it helps them playing with better players, but you have to be careful not to push the kids too far down the depth chart to where they're getting low, not important minutes. We feel like we have good depth down there this year and feel like we should have a good team. It is important to win games down there. Losing is not acceptable."
If Hextall's action in free agency, and his continued words that his AHL affiliate is on the hot seat are any indication, a fun season of Lehigh Valley Phantoms hockey will be approaching in the coming months - hopefully one with the Flyers' AHL club's first playoff action in seven years.