It doesn’t look that way now, but history will be kind to Ron Hextall…
Some will cheer to watch changes coming, but I will not. In firing Hextall, the Flyers lost an excellent and patient leader. While most people will discuss his shortcomings and why he was let go, Hextall managed to tilt the scales of the Flyers depth within the organization during only a few seasons under his leadership. Unfortunately, it appears that the organization and Comcast Spectacor have grown weary of waiting and decided it was time to put someone else in charge of the Philadelphia Flyers. Subsequently Chris Pryor and Flyers’ assistant GM Gord Murphy are also out and it looks like most of the Hextall favorite staffers will be finding their way out the door.
It’s an odd move because most of the attention had been focused on firing the coaching staff to compensate for the team’s shortcomings. However, it appears like Hextall was too loyal for his own good and he now finds himself on the outside looking in on the franchise he helped populate. Over the next several years a plethora of young, high-end prospects such as Morgan Frost, Issac Ratcliffe, Joel Farabee, Jay O’Brien, Wade Allison, Carter Hart, Phil Myers, and others not mentioned here will trickle onto the team and eventually push the team forward with an over abundance of talent. As the season’s move forward most casual Flyers fans will not understand the groundwork that Hextall laid for all of that to happen, but they will benefit from it.
Like a strict father, Hextall showed the leadership and patience that this franchise has not displayed since before Eric Lindros was a Flyer. When Paul Holmgren left his post to Ron Hextall in 2014, he left it depleted of talent, assets, and caps space. There were no NHL level prospects or promising young stars in the organization, the Flyers currently have over 25 NHL caliber prospects that will most likely make their way into the NHL. That’s an entire NHL team worth of prospects, something I have never seen in Philadelphia in all my years watching the team. Hextall also transformed the mess of a cap situation that saw the Flyers moving around one million dollar contracts just to get enough breathing room to ice a healthy lineup.
Having said that, Hextall had to make a move over the summer to improve his defense and goaltending. He chose to continue on his path when he saw the cost of improving everything was too high for the short-term. I would imagine if he could go back and make a big move to save everyone’s job, he would have. It’s a lesson learned to everyone, that hesitation, on and off the ice, can be a killer.
Paul Holmgren had several successful years as an NHL GM, it was unfortunately saddled with a series of desperation moves that set the Flyers back several years. Bringing in incompatible vets like Vincent Lecavalier and Andrew MacDonald, while also never fixing the goaltending issues on any of his squads. What is clear, is that whoever is taking over the Ron ‘Hextalls position as General Manager, he is left in an excellent position to seem like he was the missing piece to put the team over the edge. However, overall it seems like another case where the Flyers weren’t patient enough and even Ron Hextall couldn’t save them from themselves.
The Flyers are now on the search for their next GM and a lot of names will be thrown out there, but it’s far too early for anyone to speculate, but I imagine it will be an experienced GM with playoff success. Chuck Fletcher and Dale Hunter seem to be the most likely candidates to get the nod, but there is still time until a decision is made. My only hope is that the GM not have the same emotional aggression that Paul Holmgren has shown in the past.
Holmgren shouldn’t be completely maligned as he is an excellent strong leader with a strong vision for the game, that is coupled with a bold aggression. However, I worry that he lacks the patience to not make a big move before bringing a new GM in to properly assess the team. With Chris Pryor, who for years has been in charge of scouting, gone it’s scary to think about the players that could be lost due to lack of patience. The Flyers have a long track record of trading away young players for aging vets. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen now because it would be a travesty to set this team back after four years of sacrificing.
The most positive thing I take away from the events in the past 48 hours is that upper management is still willing to make bold moves to win and that they have been listening to the fanbase’s frustration over their success on the Ice. I think they recognize how much respect Hextall garnered and they knew they would take heat for firing a guy that just fixed a lot of their problems, but Holmgren and the Flyers brass wanted to make a move to wake up Flyers fans and the rest of the hockey world and I would say they just did that.
AP Photo/Matt Slocum