Ron Hextall is the new general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, making the Pennsylvania rivalry with the Philadelphia Flyers mean more.
An overwhelming amount of youth on the Philadelphia Flyers today correlates with Ron Hextall. His ability to successfully retool this franchise paid off. Unfortunately, he was relieved of his duty during the Dave Hakstol era. To this day, the common belief behind his firing is due to him not moving on from Hakstol. Now, Hextall is the new general manager of the in-state rival Pittsburgh Penguins.
Throughout the last decade, the Penguins have won two Stanley Cup championships. They’ve routinely made postseason appearances. Early on in 2020-2021, they’re struggling. Currently ranked fifth in the Mass Mutual Eastern Division, they own a 5-5-1 record. Their record comes with the lowest points percentage in regulation time (31.8%) and a division record of 1-5-5.
Hextall is a perfect hire for Pittsburgh, who maintain Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Those two superstars are approaching their mid-thirties. The makeup of the Penguins roster is similar to the current Flyers roster. Battling many injuries in the early stages of 2020-2021, Pittsburgh has the talent to be much better than their record shows. Under Hextall’s guidance as general manager, they’ll retool to compete in the NHL’s toughest division.
Hextall’s Flyers fingerprints
Through four offseasons in Philadelphia, Hextall was responsible for drafting thirteen impactful players who contribute today. Thirteen other players are still developing in the Flyers system. His eye for talent has kept Philadelphia within the top-ten farm systems within the NHL. His four draft classes put the Flyers in a position to compete for a Stanley Cup over the next decade. Consider these top talents manifested by Hextall:
Notable Hextall Picks in Philadelphia: Travis Sanheim, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Mark Friedman, Oskar Lindblom, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Carter Hart, Connor Bunnaman, Nolan Patrick, Morgan Frost, Joel Farabee
Notable Hextall Picks in Lehigh Valley: David Kase, Carsen Twarynski, Felix Sandstrom, Ivan Fedotov, Pascal Leberge, Wade Allison, Linus Hogberg, Isaac Ratcliffe, Kirill Ustimenko, Matthew Strome, Maksim Sushko, Olle Lycksell, Jay O’Brien, Adam Ginning, Wyatte Wylie
Two of the noted players with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Kase and Twarynski, earned ice-time with Philadelphia in 2019-2020. A former goaltender himself, Hextall discovered three good selections in Sandstrom, Fedotov, and Ustimenko. Wylie played for Team Orange during the intrasquad scrimmage. Ratcliffe and Allison were eventually “unfit to play,” joining Ustimenko.
Four established Hextall picks currently rank within the top-ten of team scoring. They include Provorov, Konecny, Patrick, and Farabee. Sanheim is a top-four defenseman in on the Flyers’ second pair. Philadelphia finally has a franchise goaltender in Hart, who is 5-2-2 in 2020-2021. All of these pieces are contributing to an, at the moment, playoff-bound team. Aube-Kubel and Lindblom contribute on a deeper level in the locker room through a physical style.
These Flyers have “Hextall” written all over them. The soul of the team is leaking with Hextall’s impression. What sent Philadelphia to the next level was the hire of Alain Vigneault by Chuck Fletcher.
The Retooling Plan Is Similar
Consider Crosby and Malkin, the stars of the Penguins. They’re moving into their mid-thirties, which is the same about Claude Giroux. Both teams have the same amount of players over thirty-years-old. The Flyers have fourteen players on their roster who are under 25, while Pittsburgh has eight. Hextall put Philadelphia ahead of the youth curve, which is why he’ll be implementing the same blueprint at his new franchise.
If Hextall wants career longevity, he should begin to plan for life after Crosby and Malkin. Philadelphia has the depth that will relieve Giroux after he retires. Malkin could hang up the skates before Crosby, but would Sam Lafferty be ready to step forward into a former superstar void? On the taxi squad is Anthony Angello, 24-years-old, who could develop into a talented center.
Both Pittsburgh goaltenders are not lighting the world on fire. Tristan Jarry (85.7%) and Casey DeSmith (88.2%) combine for a 5-5-1 record. The starting goaltender role is one for Jarry (2-4-1) to lose in 2020-2021. Hextall has Maxime Legace and Alex D’Orio developing within the system. Neither one of those goaltenders would offer more at the NHL level than the current Penguins situation.
Before Hart, Hextall relied on Brian Elliott and Michael Neuvirth. Pittsburgh needs to reflect. Is Jarry the goaltender of their future? What about DeSmith? Either way, bet on Hextall to scout and draft goaltending to build the Penguins from the crease and outward.
Defensively, Pittsburgh is not nearly as close to complete as the Flyers are. Four of the rotating six defensemen (Sanheim, Provorov, Friedman, Myers) in Philadelphia are Hextall draft picks or an undrafted free agent. The Penguins could include Marcus Pettersson in their defensive unit plans. There is evidence that Hextall has an eye for defensemen, even if it means gathering picks to trade for a first-round selection. Landing in Pittsburgh is the perfect transition for Hextall’s wheelhouse.
Competing Against Himself
Now, Hextall is competing against his former work. It will test Fletcher and his ability to maintain the deep farm system in Lehigh Valley. When the Penguins are ready to complete under Hextall’s doing, both teams will be different enough to reflect the current general manager. Vigneault is the glue that bonds the youth in Philadelphia. The previous draft selections have bought into him.
Over the next five seasons, the Flyers have a real chance to win a Stanley Cup. They could orchestrate the same sort of postseason success, appearing in the playoffs ten straight years. While Philadelphia is chasing a championship, Pittsburgh will remain the primary rival. Having ties to a beloved former Flyers goaltender only makes the blood boil. Now, Hextall has a new score to settle in the Penguins front office against the city where he crafted a career.
Photo Credit: Alex Mcintyre