The generally held view of Ron Hextall, appointed Wednesday as the Philadelphia Flyers’ new general manager, focuses mostly on the early days of his playing career.
Who can forget Hextall swinging his stick at the Edmonton Oilers’ Kent Nilsson during the 1987 Stanley Cup playoffs, which earned him an eight-game suspension? Or the way he chased after and pummelled the Montreal Canadiens’ Chris Chelios two years later, which earned him a 12-game suspension?
Hextall had three years in which he recorded 100 or more penalty minutes, which was unusual only because of the position for 13 NHL seasons – goal. The 113 penalty minutes he recorded in 1988-89 is still a single-season NHL record for netminders.
But a newer and more current view of Hextall was on display at the press conference where he was unveiled as Philadelphia’s new GM, replacing Paul Holmgren, who was kicked upstairs to the office of president.
This was cerebral Ron Hextall, soft-spoken Ron Hextall, thoughtful Ron Hextall. After 15 years of apprenticing for a job that he says he aspired to as soon as his playing career ended, the Flyers handed the reins over to Hextall, in the hopes that he can get them back in the winner’s circle for the first time since 1975.
Hextall rejoined the Flyers last summer from the Los Angeles, where he got his name on the Stanley Cup in 2012 as the assistant to Kings general manager Dean Lombardi. The move – lateral in terms of his responsibilities – was made so that he could return home to the Flyers’ organization, where he played 11 out of his 13 NHL seasons. Owner Ed Snider is big on that. Others may go outside the organization for fresh blood. Philadelphia generally recruits from within the black-and-orange world of the official Flyer family.
“I’ve got a special feeling about this organization,” said Hextall, who came across as a thoroughly modern NHL executive as he outlined his operational theories.
If he hadn’t been pegged to run the Flyers’ hockey operations department, you might have thought he’d just been promoted to head the English department at the University of Pennsylvania.
Hextall made it clear that he would do things his own way and his own way involved a more patient approach to drafting and developing players. Holmgren, his predecessor, was known for big and bold moves – trading away Jeff Carter and Mike Richards after signing to what amounted to lifetime contracts; gambling on a 35-year-old Chris Pronger by surrendering the equivalent of four No. 1 draft choices to acquire his rights.
During Holmgren’s era, the Flyers also had a hard time settling on a starting goaltender, but one of the biggest blunders – signing Ilya Bryzgalov as a free agent – was generally thought to be driven by ownership. Eventually, the Flyers bought out Bryzgalov’s contract; acquired Steve Mason off the Columbus Blue Jackets scrap heap and got solid work from him this year, more or less stabilizing that position. Multiple forays into the expensive unrestricted free agent market produced a mixed bag of results.
The overall perception of the Flyers’ organization is that while they have some talent coming through the ranks, they need to get faster to keep up with the pace of play in today’s NHL.
“Homer [Paul Holmgren] and I have talked a lot about draft picks and how we have to keep our draft picks – and make them count,” Hextall said. “The other part of it is development.
“It’s important in a cap world to develop players from within. Homegrown players who have the Flyers’ tattoo on their shoulders, it’s important.”