Ron Hextall could be in line for GM job in Columbus

ASSOCIATED PRESS Harry Zolnierczyk is stopped by Jets goaltender Al Montoya on a breakaway during the first period.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Harry Zolnierczyk is stopped by Jets goaltender Al Montoya on a breakaway during the first period.
Posted: February 14, 2013

WINNIPEG - After learning the front-office ropes under Bob Clarke and now Dean Lombardi, one of Manitoba's own might finally get a crack at running an NHL franchise.

As first reported by RDS Canada's Renaud Lavoie, former Flyers goaltender Ron Hextall is on a short list of candidates to replace Scott Howson as the general manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Howson was fired on Tuesday night after a head-scratching 5-plus-year run in Ohio.

Hextall, 48, finally had his name engraved on the Stanley Cup last summer for the first time as vice president and assistant general manager of the Los Angeles Kings. The Cup eluded him in two finals appearances in net with the Flyers in 1987 and 1997.

Hextall is the Flyers' all-time leader in wins and games-played among goaltenders. He joined the Flyers' front office as a pro scout in 1999 upon his retirement.

The Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame member and third-generation NHL player was promoted by the Flyers to director of professional player personnel in 2002. With Clarke appearing to settle in for the long haul and Paul Holmgren the heir apparent for the Flyers' top job, Hextall moved to Los Angeles with former Flyers scout Lombardi.

With the Kings, Hextall aided in all facets of day-to-day operations and managed the Kings' farm team in Manchester, N.H.

Columbus president John Davidson, who will hire Howson's replacement, is a former goaltender and once raved about Hextall thriving as an on-ice villain and called him a "great character."

Paddock homecoming

Flyers assistant coach John Paddock made a homecoming of sorts on Tuesday, returning to Winnipeg, where he spent parts of four seasons as the Jets' head coach. Paddock is native of a Brandon, Manitoba, the same hometown as Hextall's. He coached the Jets from 1991 through 33 games of the lockout-shortened season in 1994-95.

Hockey is the big ticket in Winnipeg, a 4-hour drive north from Grand Forks, N.D., where the Jets play in the smallest (15,004) and loudest building in the NHL. Paddock maintains a lake house 3 hours away and hosted his three sisters at the game Tuesday.

"I'm glad, as a Manitoba-born person, that there's an NHL team here," Paddock said. "They've taken it with open arms, provided support, and it's a thriving NHL market. It's thriving for a lot of reasons."

Cost certainty with the collective bargaining association, a Canadian dollar on par with the American dollar, and a renewed vigor after losing the Jets to Phoenix ensured that the NHL won't be leaving again anytime soon.

Zomeone different

With Sean Couturier back in Philadelphia with the flu, the Flyers summoned speedster Harry Zolnierczyk from Adirondack to make his season debut Tuesday night. He flew from Albany, N.Y., to Minneapolis before finally joining the team in Winnipeg.

Zolnierczyk, 25, replaced Tom Sestito in lineup. He appeared in 37 games last season.

Zolnierczyk skated with Zac Rinaldo and Max Talbot on Tuesday. Using his speed, he sprung for a first-period breakaway, but was stoned by Jets goalie Al Montoya.

"You've got to take advantage of these opportunities," Zolnierczyk said. "I know what I need to do to fit in, to bring each night, to help this team and be successful in terms of bringing the energy and the speed and the grit."

Realignment news

Fans in Winnipeg have been eager for word on the NHL's realignment plans for next season. The Jets have been stuck in the Southeast Division with Florida, Tampa Bay, Carolina and Washington for the last two seasons since moving to Manitoba.'s Pierre LeBrun reported Tuesday that a new deal could be in place for owners to approve by Feb. 25. Last year, the NHL's Board of Governors approved a plan, but the NHLPA flexed its muscled and shot it down. The players' concerns were unbalanced playoff scenarios (four teams from each division, yet two divisions have seven teams and the others have eight) and possibly onerous travel schedules.

Detroit, Nashville and Columbus would all like to move to the East. It's likely that Columbus and Winnipeg could swap conferences.

Last year, the NHL had the Flyers in the same division as the Penguins, Rangers, Devils, Islanders, Capitals and Hurricanes. LeBrun reported "a couple" teams have been switched around under the latest proposal.

On Twitter: @DNFlyers


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