LeClair knows what Hextall is like on the ice, inside the dressing room and as a pivotal member of a successful team.
Knowing that, the 45-year-old LeClair thinks Hextall will be a terrific fit in his new role as general manager of their former club.
“I think he’ll do a great job,” LeClair told ESPN.com in a telephone conversation this week. “He was a great teammate. I have a lot of respect for him. He’s a smart guy who knows what he’d doing.”
In his first summer since replacing Paul Holmgren, who now serves as the team’s president, Hextall did not do much to make waves in free agency.
He inked young defenseman Michael Del Zotto to a modest, low-risk deal. He added depth defenseman Nick Schultz. He re-signed goaltender Ray Emery. And he dealt Tye McGinn for a third-round pick in 2015.
The main reason for the team’s relatively uneventful summer was the salary cap constraints Hextall inherited from his predecessor. According to Capgeek.com, the Flyers are almost $5 million above the salary cap for this coming season (though the Flyers will receive some cap relief for Chris Pronger, who is on long-term injured reserve, per the collective bargaining agreement).
“I think it’s about moving forward,” LeClair said. “It’s not about trying to make a complete overhaul. He’ll assess what he [has] and address what he needs to move forward, and I think he did that.”
Before July 1, Hextall did move long-time Flyer Scott Hartnell to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for R.J. Umberger, however. And LeClair thinks that may turn into a shrewd move for a club that struggled during stretches of this past season before ultimately falling in the first round of the playoffs to the New York Rangers. It may be nothing more than tweaking the chemistry, but the team may benefit from mixing things up.
“He was here for a while. He was a centerpiece of the team. I think it will be a pretty good change,” said LeClair, a three-time 50-goal scorer.
LeClair, who now works for Sports Professional Management Inc. with his former agent Lewis Gross, said the game has changed since he was playing. Players are more skilled, the pace is faster, and he thinks the Flyers have adapted their personnel to accommodate that.
Philly boasts one of the top young players in the game in captain Claude Giroux, as well as the perennially underrated Jakub Voracek and the effective Wayne Simmonds, whose net presence proved to be an asset in a career year for him last season.
Add in some stability in net -- starter Steve Mason was hampered with a concussion for part of the team’s playoff series against New York in April but will be ready for training camp -- and the Flyers still have some strong elements.
Their defensive corps still has some question marks -- particularly with the frightening news that veteran Kimmo Timonen is suffering from a blood clot situation that could put his season in jeopardy -- but they have a strong foundation to build upon.
According to LeClair, they should be a playoff team again this season.
“I think they’ll be a playoff team,” LeClair said. “There’s a big difference between getting a playoff spot and being a contender for the Cup and I still think they’re a little bit away from that, but I think they’re moving in the right direction.”