It’s official; Ron Hextall is the Philadelphia Flyers’ newest general manager.
He replaces Paul Holmgren, who was the team’s GM from 2006 until today; following former-GM Bob Clarke’s resignation as GM in October of 2006. Holmgren as general manager took the team from cellar-dweller status to a playoff team and contender. A year after Paul began as Clarke’s successor, he took the team from the worst team in the league statistically in 2006-07 to not only a playoff team but the conference finals in 2008. Two years later, he took the team to the Cup Finals vs. Chicago, before bowing in six games; the club’s first Finals appearance in 13 years.
In six out of the seven full seasons as GM, Holmgren took the team to the postseason; the lone season in which they missed the playoffs under his guidance came two years ago in the lockout-shortened season. Under Holmgren, Philadelphia won one division championship (2010-11), one conference championship, and he took the team to two conference finals.
Hextall expressed his enthusiasm, passion, and readiness to be an NHL GM someday, when his playing days concluded 15 years ago, as well as his appreciation for the people he worked for and under since then.
“When I was done playing 15 years ago, my next goal was to become a general manager,” Hextall said. “I’ve been very fortunate to work under Bobby Clarke, Paul Holmgren, and Dean Lombardi out in Los Angeles – three very good people but also three very astute people who I took a lot of lessons from the last 15 years.
Perhaps it was a blessing, as many other teams — including Washington — were luring in, and talking to, Hextall about the potential of him becoming their franchise’s next general manager. But instead of that, he’ll stay in house and remain as GM of the Flyers; this time as general manager, replacing Paul Holmgren in that capacity, effectively removing the assistant-GM tag.
The Capitals had fired their long-time GM George McPhee (as well as head coach Adam Oates) 11 days ago, and thus a vacancy there was created. Vancouver, at the moment, is the only other NHL team with a general manager vacancy, as the Canucks relieved long-time GM Mike Gillis of his duties two and a half weeks prior to the Capitals’ firing of McPhee.
Certainly, Washington’s pursuit of Hextall hastened his promotion within the Flyers, as Philadelphia couldn’t bear to see him go elsewhere.
Now, as GM, Hextall will not only be in charge of the team’s day-to-day operations from a roster standpoint, among other things, but he’ll be reunited as well with his former-teammate in head coach Craig Berube. They were both apart of the team’s Cup run in 1987.
Hextall rejoined the team last July as assistant GM; a move Holmgren convinced Hextall to do, out of love for his original team, and to be closer to his family as well. July 15th of last year he became the team’s assistant GM and director of hockey operations.
At the time, last summer, Hextall’s family wanted to move back to the East Coast, and for both sides the “”timing seemed right.” His contract with the Kings expired following the 2012-13 season, and he jumped on board here as soon as the chance presented itself.
“I’ve got a special feeling about this organization and I am absolutely honored and thrilled to be sitting here,” Hextall said. “I’ll do the best job I can, and I’ll work hard to reach the ultimate goal of bringing the Stanley Cup back to Philadelphia.”
Hextall was an assistant GM and vice president with the Los Angeles Kings for seven seasons from 2006-2013. During his tenure with LA, he earned the Stanley Cup ring he coveted for so long as a member of the Flyers in his playing days after the Kings won their first Cup a year prior in 2012 vs. New Jersey. Under Los Angeles, he served under Kings’ GM Dean Lombardi, who was apart of the Flyers’ organization, at the same time Hextall was, as a Western-Conference scout from 2003-2006. Lombardi then became president and GM of the Kings, and brought along Hextall; as Bob Clarke did with the two of them, as Holmgren did with Hextall.
Hextall maintained from the get-go here that he plans on building from the bottom, mainly through the draft and the team’s minor league systems, instead of mainly through trades and free-agent acquisitions like his predecessor Holmgren did; all too wildly at that. Holmgren made eye-popping trades, and large free-agent signings, even though some of his moves in hindsight were successful/smart.
“It’s a huge priority,” Hextall said. “The one thing that hasn’t changed in my mind about building a team is build through the middle. Your goaltender. Your defense and your centermen. You have to be strong there or you can’t win.”
In June of 2011, Holmgren shipped then-team-captain Mike Richards to Los Angeles in return for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, and a second-round draft pick. On the same day, he shipped Richards’ best friend, sniper Jeff Carter to Columbus for Jakub Voracek, a first-round draft pick (which was used a day later to select Sean Couturier), and a third-rounder as well.
The two moves at the time seemed ridiculous, although the interior motive by Holmgren to trade them was due to excessive partying (along with their former teammate Joffrey Lupul) and to reduce cap room to make way for Bryzgalov, but in hindsight they’ve become excellent moves. Jakuk Voracek was voted team MVP two seasons ago, and has been an excellent player as of recent; most notably for his strong passing ability. Wayne Simmonds has been a good player, who also provides physicality, as he showcases his ability mainly through the power play (he was ranked third in PPG this past season), Sean Couturier has been one of the best — if not the best — defensive forwards the past few seasons, and Brayden Schenn showed improvements this year as he went on to score 20 goals.
Homer also inked Ilya Bryzgalov, the eccentric former-Coyotes’ goalie, to a crazy nine-year, $51 million dollar deal — with hopes of finally acquiring a goalie of Hextall’s ability — on the same day as the Carter/Richards’ deals (June 23). Veteran, superstar defenseman Chris Pronger was also acquired during Holmgren’s tenure, in 2009, and former number-two overall pick (2007) James Van Riemsdyk was shipped off as well in 2012 for Brayden Schenn’s brother Luke; with hopes of shoring up the team’s blue line. Pronger’s defensive presence on the ice and his overall presence in the locker room was immense, as he was one of the centerpieces of the team during its 2010 Cup Run.
Another move, deemed even more controversial than the Carter/Richards’ moves, was the trade of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to Columbus for three future draft picks. The trade was due to Holmgren and the team’s upper management’s impatience when it come to waiting for Bobrovsky to develop, instead opting for the win-it-now method that ended up costing them. Bobrovsky a year later during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season with Columbus won the NHL’s Vezina Trophy Award for best goalie. The silver lining, for Holmgren’s case and the Flyers’ future, is that Homer acquired (and essentially flip-flopped goalies with the Blue Jackets) former-Calder-Trophy-Award-winning goalie Steve Mason from Columbus last August. Mason went on to have a brilliant season as the team’s starter in net, despite the loss of Bobrovsky two years prior.
As for Hextall, he’s been waiting in the wings, for multiple clubs, for awhile now to be a general manager; a position he saw himself in, and coveted, since his playing days ended a decade and a half ago. When Philadelphia brought him back on board last summer, he made it be known that he still wanted to be a GM someday, given the chance to.
“If that were to work out at some point when Homer’s had enough, that’s great,” he said, referring to Holmgren by nickname. “It could happen at 29 other places, too.”
Key words: 29 other places too.
This is precisely why he got the job so soon, today, instead of, say, a year or two from now. The Capitals and a few other NHL franchises had vacancies at GM or general managers that were leaving and were showing strong interest in him to fulfill their vacancies and/or needs in the front office, and thus Hextall had a good chance to be apart of any one of those teams come the next couple of weeks had Philadelphia not promoted him. It was a rushed decision, but a very intelligent one at that — and the right one — nonetheless considering Hextall’s resume; both as a player and executive, coming up through the ranks in both capacities.
Now he will start to work on/towards the upcoming NHL Draft, which will be held in Philadelphia a little over a month from now on June 27th, through the 28th. The Flyers hold the 17th overall pick in this year’s draft, and seven overall picks in the draft as of today. They also hold a conditional pick, that’s waiting in the balance from Boston, that came via the Andrej Meszaros deal on March 5th.
Philadelphia will receive Boston’s second-round draft pick this year if the Bruins beat Montreal and make it the Conference Finals and Meszaros plays in two-thirds of the Bruins’ playoffs games, or if Meszaros re-signs with Boston this off-season prior to the draft. If neither occurs, the Flyers will then receive Boston’s 2014 third-round draft pick instead.
He’s keen on defense, as evident by his introductory press conference today (see his comments above), and building an overall team top to bottom, filling holes, and he’s not intending to fill one hole as he and the team lose one or more holes in the process on the roster elsewhere.
As for Holmgren’s new position as team president, he fulfills a hole there that has been vacant ever since former-president Peter Luukko left last December. Holmgren discussed with club chairman Ed Snider a month ago about potentially moving Hextall up to GM, when Snider proposed to Holmgren that Holmgren take up the team’s position of team president. Holmgren’s interests, experience, and strengths led to his interest in his new role.
“I like the challenge of the other side of the game — it really intrigues me,” Holmgren said. “When I first talked to Ron about it, Peter was still here. … Back in July, when Hexy came back, I didn’t envision this happening this quickly. He’s good and that pushed me ahead in my thinking.”
“All hockey decisions are Hexy’s,” Holmgren reiterated.
The business and financial side of the new job is something new to Holmgren, something he will learn and grow with, but his experience, passion, and knowledge — particularly with this organization — will keep him afloat enough I believe, to perform well once he learns the business aspect of it.
“I want to find out,” Holmgren said of what’s ahead. “When you are the general manager, you worry about the salary cap. You don’t really know what is going on on this (the business) side of the plate.
Hextall was drafted 119th overall by Philadelphia in 1982. After being drafted, he spent the next couple of seasons with the Western Hockey League (a Canadian-junior ice-hockey league) as a member of the Brandon Wheat Kings (1981-84) before being promoted to the Flyers’ then-AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears, in 1986. Hextall continued his development with Hershey successfully, as he took the team to the Calder Cup Finals in 1986, before eventually bowing to Adirondack (who are now the Flyers’ AHL representatives, replacing Hershey 18 years ago; at the time they were Detroit’s AHL affiliate).
Ron began his first tenure with the Flyers as goalie from 1986-92, before being traded to Quebec in the gigantic trade between the two teams involving the deal for prospect Eric Lindros. Hextall was traded back to Philadelphia from the rival Islanders little over two years later in September of 1994 for fellow-goalie Tommy Soderstrom. Hextall played five more seasons in the NHL with the Flyers before going on to retire following the 1998-99 season.
With the loss of the late great, former-Vezina-Trophy-winning goalie Pelle Lindberg the previous November due to a car accident, Hextall was promoted to the big club at the start of the ’86-87 season to compete with All-Star Bob Froese. That season, Hextall not only won an impressive 37 games as starter, but took the team to the Cup Finals again vs. Edmonton (they lost in five games with Lindberg in net to Edmonton in the Cup Finals two years prior).
Many fans, analysts, and players (current and former, at the time) at the time predicted an easy victory for Wayne Gretzky’s Oilers, but Hextall and the Flyers took them to a surprising, decisive seventh game, before eventually unfortunately losing Game 7 3-1. Hextall’s efforts didn’t go unnoticed, as he went on to win Conn Smythe Trophy honors (awarded annually to the NHL’s best player in the postseason); a rare occurrence for a player whose team didn’t win the Cup that season. Ron is one of only five NHL players, in 48 years of the award being given out, to win the award despite defeated in the Finals. He also won the Vezina Trophy that season as well, on top of earning NHL All-Rookie and First All-Star Team honors.
Throughout his 13-year NHL career, he was known as an excellent puck handler, and an aggressive goalie; setting many records between the two. Hextall became the first goalie in NHL history to shoot at and successfully score a goal when he did so on December 8th, 1987 vs. Boston in a 5-2 victory. He also became the first goalie to score a postseason goal too, as he did so on April 11th, 1989 in Game 5 of the Patrick Division Semi-Finals vs. Washington; in an 8-5 victory.
In that same 1989 season, he also set another record: most penalty minutes in a single-season for a goalie, with 113.
Hextall’s style in net, as well as puck-handling skills went on to influence many goaltenders of the future; including Martin Brodeur.
Hextall is expected to thrive in his new role, given his experience, knowledge of the game, and soaking in what his predecessors and bosses taught him in LA and in Philly. As for Holmgren? His new role will take some time to get used to it seems, but he may pan out okay from a business side of things considering he dealt with contracts a little bit as GM, and has been with the organization for some time no