Hextall takes over as Flyers GM

Posted: May 09, 2014

ABOUT AN hour prior to every Flyers home game this season, long before players even took the ice for warmups, a highlight video played featuring all of Ron Hextall's bloodiest adventures.

There was his end-to-end brawl with Toronto's Felix Potvin 1997; the time Washington's Rob Pearson thought it would be smart to stop and say something to Hextall at the Cap Center in 1995; his two-handed slash of Edmonton's Kent Nilsson in the 1987 Stanley Cup finals; and of course, his revenge against Montreal's Chris Chelios during the 1989 playoffs.

Composed and buttoned-up, Hextall did not seem like the same person yesterday, sitting on a podium next to Paul Holmgren and Ed Snider.

"I watch YouTube, too, and I look at that guy [in the videos] and I think, 'Man, he must be crazy,' " Hextall said. "I'm not a different person, I'm the same person. But I think as your role evolves, you start to realize - you step back into a different role and you've got to adjust."

Hextall, who turned 50 last Saturday, was promoted to his so-called "dream job" yesterday as just the seventh general manager in the 47-year history of the Flyers.

Holmgren said he originally discussed the idea with Snider and Hextall to slide into the vacant team president role, paving the way for Hextall to take over, something he noted was his idea. However, according to multiple team sources, the decision to make the switch now, as opposed to the future, was hastened by inquiries from other franchises to make Hextall their next GM.

Holmgren, 58, refused to comment about interest from other teams. Washington and Vancouver are just two of the teams with vacancies to fill. The interest just reaffirmed Holmgren's gut feeling that Hextall was ready for the job.

"You listen to Ron talk today, and you don't have to sit here that long to realize what a sharp guy he is," Holmgren said, "how he carries himself and how he cares about the organization. He was talking about [having the Flyer logo tattooed on our draft picks' shoulders] . . . I think he's got one on his ass.

"Today's the right day to do it and Ron is the right man to do it."

Hiring a president to work with the general manager is the new structure fashion of the NHL. The identical move was made Monday in Carolina, with Jim Rutherford climbing to president as Hall of Fame player Ron Francis was promoted to GM. The same setup exists in Calgary with Brian Burke and Toronto with Brendan Shanahan.

Holmgren then was the Flyers' general manager for seven full seasons, compiling a record of 286-192-62, for a .587 points percentage. His team missed the playoffs (2013) as often as it reached the Stanley Cup finals (2010). The Flyers also went to the Eastern Conference finals in 2008.

Like Holmgren, Hextall spent the bulk of his playing career with the Flyers. Like Holmgren, he was a hard-nosed player and a fan favorite. Like Holmgren in Hartford, Hextall spent time in an executive position with another franchise, in Los Angeles.

Unlike Holmgren, Hextall plans to bring an entirely new philosophy to the Flyers - to build a team with a long-term plan and draft picks. Previously, the Flyers have been left somewhat rudderless by cobbling together aging, expensive talent to fill holes, leaving them in a salary-cap bind.

Hextall learned to shape a team this way working with Dean Lombardi in Los Angeles, building the Kings from a bottom-feeder in 2006 to Stanley Cup champions in 2012. He believes he has a leg up on the Kings' original situation already with a young nucleus of forwards and most of his future draft picks intact.

There was a moment last fall when Holmgren and Hextall were at a Phantoms game and Hextall asked the honest question: "How many draft picks do we have playing tonight?" Holmgren could only count four. The opponent had 12.

"I think that's what everybody admires about the Flyers, that they're always trying to get better. We're going to continue to do that," Hextall said. "In saying that, I like young players. I like draft picks. It's not a vision of mine to trade young players for older players.

"Philadelphia is not sitting there waiting for No. 1 picks year after year for 5 years. That's the easy way to go and there's no guarantees of winning a Cup then. We've got to keep our draft picks and draft well. Not only do you have to keep them, you've got to make them count. It's important in a cap world to develop from within."

After serving under Lombardi, one of the most responsible salary-cap managers, Hextall would appear to be more fiscally conservative - though that probably goes hand-in-hand with his theory of developing from the draft. Holmgren doled out $822.85 million in guaranteed contracts - including quite a few rich deals (Ilya Bryzgalov, Danny Briere, Chris Pronger, etc.) that were not played to completion.

As for next season, Hextall already alluded to the fact he was looking forward to moving pieces "for a better fit," possibly hinting at trading Vinny Lecavalier or other high-priced veterans if there is a way. Only four Flyers from last season's team - Steve Downie, Kimmo Timonen, Ray Emery, Hal Gill - are unrestricted free agents not locked up to multiyear deals.

In many ways, Hextall has always bucked the status quo as a Flyer. In 1989-90, he declared his own 8-year, $4 million deal invalid and held out of training camp, something Snider said yesterday he never forgot. That began his long road out of town, when he was sent to Quebec in 1992 in the Eric Lindros trade.

To get the Flyers back on track, with a long plan and an eye on the Stanley Cup, Hextall will have to continue to think outside the box.

"If you think winning a Stanley Cup is easy, I've got news for you," Hextall said. "Short of winning the Stanley Cup, this organization has done everything. That is the goal. I've spent 15 years learning the business from scouting to a managerial role. I've got a special feeling about this organization. I'm absolutely honored and thrilled to be sitting here. I'll do the best job I can do and I'll work hard to reach the ultimate goal of bringing the Stanley Cup back to Philadelphia."

Slap shots

Ron Hextall did not seem as committed to 39-year-old defenseman Kimmo Timonen returning as Paul Holmgren had: "We'll wait to see where he comes back to us," Hextall said. "We've got the cap issue and everything else, but yeah, we'd like to have Kimmo back" . . . Hextall also said he would consider a goaltender backup upgrade to Steve Mason this summer: "I think Ray [ Emery] did an admirable job for us this year. But like any other position, if you can upgrade, you're going to try to upgrade."

On-ice

STAT WATCH

286-192-62: Flyers’ record in Paul Holmgren’s seven full seasons as general manager, good for a .587 points percentage. They missed the playoffs just once, reached a Stanley Cup finals and two Eastern Conference finals.

$822,850,000.00: Guaranteed dollars signed in contracts by Flyers players under Holmgren. That number only includes contracts negotiated by Holmgren and only for players who made it onto the salary cap for at least 1 day. Deals inherited from Bob Clarke or via trade were not included, such as: R.J. Umberger, Joffrey Lupul, Simon Gagne, Steve Downie, Jason Smith, Antero Nittymaki, Matt Carle, Mike Rathje, Ville  Leino, Andrej Meszaros, Matt Walker, Luke and Brayden Schenn.

3: Contracts bought out by the Flyers under Holmgren’s tenure and written off: Ilya Bryzgalov ($23 million), Danny Briere ($3.33M), Oskars Bartulis ($200K).

2: Coaches fired under Holmgren: John Stevens (Dec. 4, 2009), Peter Laviolette (Oct. 7, 2013).

FRONT OFFICE TIMELINE

June, 2006: Viewed as third in line, Ron Hextall leaves Flyers to join Dean Lombardi in Los Angeles as vice president and assistant general manager of Kings.

Oct. 22, 2006: Bob Clarke steps down as general manager, citing fatigue. Paul Holmgren is promoted from assistant to general manager.

June 11, 2012: Kings win Stanley Cup with Hextall as assistant general manager. It is Hextall’s first time winning the Stanley Cup.

July 15, 2013: Hextall returns to Flyers from Los Angeles as assistant general manager, stunning the hockey community by making lateral move.

Dec. 2, 2013: Peter Luukko abruptly resigns as Comcast-Spectacor chief officer and Flyers team president, leaving a vacancy.

Yesterday: Paul Holmgren is promoted by Ed Snider to Flyers team president. Hextall is promoted to become the seventh general manager in the Flyers’ 47-year history.

FLYERS HIERARCHY

Ed Snider, Comcast-Spectacor chairman

Dave Scott, Comcast-Spectacor COO

Gary Rostick, Comcast-Spectacor CFO

Paul Holmgren, Flyers president

Shawn Tilger, Flyers COO

Bob Clarke, Flyers senior vice president

Ron Hextall, Flyers general manager

Barry Hanrahan, Flyers assistant GM

Craig Berube, Flyers head coach

Chris Pryor, Flyers director of scouting


On Twitter: @DNFlyers

Blog: ph.ly/FrequentFlyers

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