Gm Arrives, Gm Departs Farwell Gets His Chance With Flyers

Posted: June 07, 1990

Russ Farwell, a young, innovative executive with an impressive record in junior hockey, stepped into the big leagues yesterday, taking over as general manager of the Flyers at one of the most critical times in the club's history.

Farwell, the first GM to jump directly from junior hockey to the NHL in 23 years, replaced Bob Clarke, who was fired by team president Jay Snider on April 16.

Snider said yesterday that Farwell had agreed to a multiyear contract, the terms of which were not disclosed.

"I can't say I was surprised (to be hired)," Farwell said. "I've been planning to step into the National (Hockey) League at some point. This just looked like a very good opportunity for me."

Snider, who in April chose five candidates for the GM job, then subjected them to a rigorous and unusually prolonged selection process, said that he settled on Farwell as the man best suited to guide a team that must enter a tough transition period.

"During the process (of interviewing candidates), one thing continually jumped out at me, that Russ Farwell knows what it takes to build a winning hockey club," Snider said.

Snider also said that Farwell's lack of NHL experience had no bearing on his hiring.

"We look for good sharp hockey minds," Snider said. "That was the case here. It simply came down to believing that Russ Farwell was the best man for this job, now and for the long run."

Farwell, 34, has worked for the last two seasons as general manager of the Western Hockey League's Seattle Thunderbirds. Characterized by friends and peers as a deliberate, thorough and even-handed manager and an expert evaluator of talent, Farwell was named the Canadian Hockey League's 1990 executive of the year.

He will have to use all those skills because he now runs a team that faces imposing challenges.

Next weekend's NHL amateur draft, for which Farwell will have just 10 days to prepare, is perhaps the most important in the Flyers' history. The draft is considered one of the deepest in years, and the Flyers have seven of the first 47 picks, including the fourth overall.

Farwell must also make decisions on the role of the team's aging veterans. He must decide the future of coach Paul Holmgren and his staff, and he must resolve sticky contract talks with several players, including goaltender Ron Hextall, whose temperamental ways and desire for a new contract have angered


Farwell also must forge an identity of his own. He succeeds a GM, Clarke, who spent 21 years with the Flyers and was called the "ultimate Flyer" by

Snider when he was fired.

One of the more tantalizing uncertainties to be worked out during the first few months of Farwell's tenure will be his relationship with Snider.

Snider, who has made it clear that he considers himself an integral part of the team's decision-making group, said that his role as a "hands-on" president would not change with the new GM. When Clarke was fired, Snider said that he and Clarke had many philosophical differences.

"I think I'll work closely with Russ like I did with Bob," Snider said yesterday during a news conference at the Four Seasons Hotel. "In each case, each man is his own man, is hired to do a big job and has the full amount of authority necessary to do it."

Farwell said he expected no problems with that arrangement.

"I'm coming in with the idea of being the general manager and running the hockey operation, very definitely," Farwell said. "I've talked to Jay. I think we're very much in sync philosophically. I think we'll work together very well."

Farwell's biggest task will be making the team and its fans forget that last season the Flyers set a club record for home losses and failed to make the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in 18 years.

Farwell rejected the notion that a massive overhaul was needed to solve the Flyers' problems.

"I don't think sweeping a great number of guys out would be my plan right now, nor will it be once I find out what is there," Farwell said. "I think there is a pretty good group."

Farwell said that he intended to take over immediately and that his first priority would be to become familiar with the team's drafting strategy. However, he said he would probably build on the groundwork already laid by the team's scouting staff.

As for Holmgren, Farwell seemed to be leaning toward keeping the third-year coach. He said he met with Holmgren yesterday morning, found the coach very agreeable, and would probably decide his fate after the draft. He said that he is undecided as to how many assistants or whom he might hire and that he has yet to speak with assistant GM John Paddock about his future.

Paddock has said that he intends to pursue a coaching career but that he would listen to what Farwell had to say about a front-office job with the Flyers.

As for the player contracts that must be worked out, Farwell said that he and Snider have discussed them only briefly but that he considered them a priority. He said that he hoped to avoid a problem with Hextall this fall

because he wants to a avoid a "disruptive situation."

Hextall held out for six weeks, including training camp, last year in a contract dispute.

Farwell said his strengths as a GM were evaluating talent and getting the most out of his players. His management style consists mostly of persuading others to try his way of thinking, he said.

"Because of the way I've climbed through the game, I've had to be prepared to convince people and sell my ideas," he said. "Probably in the long run, that leaves everybody more committed to what they're doing."

Farwell said that he tries to avoid offering players incentive clauses in their contracts but that he would be open-minded about signing players from the Soviet Union. The Flyers have generally avoided incentive clauses in the past, and Snider has frowned on signing Soviet players who have not actually defected.

Though he said he has been studying the Flyers for the last two weeks, Farwell said he was not ready to express an overall opinion of the team. He said he planned to attack the team's problems immediately after the draft.

Before becoming the general manager in Seattle, Farwell spent six season as GM of the WHL's Medicine Hat Tigers. During that time, he directed the team to back-to-back Memorial Cup championships - junior hockey's equivalent of the Stanley Cup title - and a league record of 281-135-16. He is the fifth GM in the Flyers' history.

The appointment of Farwell left the Flyers in the hands two young executives who must eventually determine where one's job ends and the other's begins. Perhaps the first clue as to how those boundaries will be drawn came late yesterday when Howard Eskin of radio station WIP-AM asked Snider his opinion of several possible Flyers moves.

Snider offered some opinions, but was careful to repeat, "That's up to Russ."

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