Ron Hextall: The hero the Flyers deserve, but not the one it needs

A silent guardian. A watchful protector. An orange and black knight.

Ron Hextall came back to the Flyers organization with a plan: build from the bottom up, and thrive down the road. He was focused on building a dynasty for years to come. He had his vision in mind, and was ready to carry it out with the team that made him a household name, the Philadelphia Flyers.

Hextall’s earlier years showed promise. Stocking up draft picks and ridding the Flyers of atrocious contracts. Hextall was a man with a plan, and his plan seemed to be working.He was trading bad contracts for draft picks, taking any chance he could get to make sure the Flyers were set up for the future. Players who were on a downward trend, who didn’t fit the grand scheme he had in mind.

Things were trending up, and fast. The Flyers landed draft pick after draft pick, filling up the cupboards with high end prospects and kids who had the potential to make an impact at the NHL level. Hextall was still ridding the Flyers of past mistakes made by former GM Paul Holmgren. Hextall was becoming a legend, this time as a general manager.

Things started to sour, however. The so-called “process” was taking too long for fans. The team wasn’t making any noise in the playoffs, and the head coach wasn’t “the guy” for the job according to many. Hextall stayed the course, however, and that may have proven to be his downfall.

Some fans rejoiced, others were furious. However, one things stands true throughout this entire ordeal.

Philadelphia deserved Ron Hextall, but he wasn’t the man they needed right now.

Let’s take a look at why Hextall was a bittersweet case of being the right guy at the wrong time.

 

Draft Prowess

Ron Hextall was magnificent when it came to drafting talent. He had a knack for not only optimizing the picks he had, but getting more, optimizing them, and even snagging a few undrafted free agents who are panning out pretty well for the club.

Ron Hextall’s first draft for the Flyers was the 2014 entry draft. In that draft, he had six picks. With those six picks, he chose Travis Sanheim (1st), Nic Aube-Kubel (2nd), Mark Friedman (3rd), Oskar Lindblom (5th), Radel Fazleev (6th), and Jesper Pettersson (7th). Sanheim and Lindblom are lineup regulars with the Flyers this season. Aube-Kubel has seen some ice time with the Fly guys this season as well, and Mark Friedman is about as ready as any defensive prospect the Flyers have in their system to make the jump.

In 2015, Hextall continued his success of drafting solid prospects by taking Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny in the first round. Goaltenders Felix Sandstrom and Matej Tomek followed Provy and TK, while Mikhail Vorobyev was chosen in the 4th round.

2016 looked even more promising with the 2nd round pick of Carter Hart overshadowing every other pick made by Hextall and the gang. German Rubtsov was finally rounding the corner for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms this season before falling to an injury that will keep him sidelined for the rest of the year. Wade Allison, Carson Twarynski, and Linus Hogberg all came to the Flyers that year as well, and Ron Hextall was well on his way to creating one of the best farm systems in all of the NHL.

In 2017, Hextall struck gold when he was awarded the 2nd overall pick in the draft. With New Jersey taking Nico Hischier as the first pick, the Flyers had star center Nolan Patrick fall into their laps at number 2. They followed that pick up with Morgan Frost at the tail end of the first round, and he has done nothing but tear up juniors since. Isaac Ratcliffe, Kirill Ustimenko, Matthew Strome, Maksim Sushko, and Noah Cates all came later in the draft as well, and the Flyers had one of the better drafts of any team that year.

Last year, the Flyers landed a couple more quality prospects to add to their system. Sniper Joel Farabee was taken with their first of two first round picks, and Jay O’Brien, drawing comparisons to Jeremy Roenick, was taken with their second. The Flyers added defensemen Adam Ginning and Wyatt Wylie, with Wylie playing extremely well with the Everett Silvertips currently.

With it being too soon to tell if some of the more recent draft picks will be successful, we can only gauge Hextall’s success on what they’ve achieved to this point, and most prospects are playing very well at their respective levels, not to mention players like Travis Sanheim, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Oskar Lindblom, and Nolan Patrick becoming key core players for the Flyers to this point.

 

Cap Purgatory and the Journey Out

It’s no secret, Ron Hextall inherited a team that was in dire straits when it came to it’s cap situation. For years, Paul Holmgren shipped off prospect after prospect, draft pick after draft pick, for aging veterans who could help the team win now. Not only did it deplete the farm system that Hextall has now restocked into one of the best in the league, it also opened up the gates for those veterans to re-sign with the club for more expensive deals.

Take Andrew MacDonald for instance. One of Holmgren’s last moves as GM of the Flyers was to extend MacDonald for 6 years/30 million dollars. MacDonald spent a year of his new contract down in the AHL, and has been a healthy scratch every so often, drawing most of the ire directed at the blue line.

Hextall took a team, that according to Spotrac.com, was over $2,000,000 in the hole for the 2013-14 season, and turned them into a young, hungry team with about $25,000,000-$27,000,000 to spend this past offseason.

Hextall didn’t do this all overnight. Every year he would bite the bullet on one or two albatross contracts. Early on, it was Evgeni Medvedev and his $3,000,000 cap hit, along with Nicklas Grossmann’s $3.25 million cap hit. More recently, it’s Jori Lehtera and his $4.7 million cap hit and still Andrew MacDonald with his $5,000,000 cap hit.

Players that Hextall ridded his club of along the way include RJ Umberger (4.5mil), Nick Schultz (2.25mil), Michael Del Zotto (4mil), Matt Read (4mil), even Brayden Schenn (5.125mil). Obviously getting Jori Lehtera’s contract in return for Brayden Schenn wasn’t ideal, but it got Ron Hextall that extra draft pick that landed them Morgan Frost in the 2017 NHL Draft, and Joel Farabee in this years draft.

Also, who can forget the fact that Ron got the Flyers a third round pick for ZAC RINALDO!?

Hextall inherited a financial mess when he took over as general manager of the Flyers. For years, Holmgren and his “win now” mentality served as the proverbial shovel that kept digging the Flyers deeper and deeper into “Cap Hell.” Veteran signings and trading away draft picks cost the Flyers dearly when all was said and done, and still no Stanley Cup to show for it.

Not only did Ron Hextall take the Flyers from being in one of the worst financial positions in the league to one of the best, but he did so while piling up draft picks and stocking prospects down on the farm, and quality prospects as well.

Ron Hextall’s rebuild may have been short-lived in his sense, but the effects will be felt for years to come. When Joel Farabee snipes a goal in a tight spot, thank Ron Hextall. When German Rubtsov shuts down another team’s star forward a la Sean Couturier and Evgeni Malkin, thank Ron Hextall. When Carter Hart finally shows the world why he is the most talked about goaltending process, and in a good way, make sure you thank Ronald Jeffrey Hextall.

Philadelphia deserved Ron Hextall. The Flyers needed a man to come in after years of depleting draft picks and piss-poor cap conditions, and essentially hit the reset button. Ron Hextall did just that, but at a time where every Metropolitan team was getting better with every passing year. During Ron Hextall’s tenure, fans saw Pittsburgh take home two Stanley Cups, and Washington take home one as well. Philadelphia may deserve the man, but he’s not what the city needed right now.

Philadelphia, the Flyers, and the fans need a general manager who can take the immense amount of talent that Ron Hextall accumulated, and provide an on ice product that matches what’s on paper. Don’t misunderstand, Ron Hextall did his part, he just didn’t get to see it through the entire way. Someone else is going to pick up where he left off, and hopefully, for the fans’ sake, get this team the Cup that it so deserves.

 

AP Photo/Matt Slocum

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