Flyers’ Chuck Fletcher Learned From Hextall’s Expansion Experience

Flyers' Chuck Fletcher
24 June 2011: Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher during the 2011 NHL Entry Draft at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Chuck Fletcher and Ron Hextall both experienced an expansion draft with the Philadelphia Flyers. Who did, and is doing it, better?

Chuck Fletcher’s experience with the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft was most vastly different from Ron Hextall’s in 2017. The Philadelphia Flyers’ current front office learned from the arrival of the Vegas Golden Knights. Not allowing themselves to make the same mistakes with the Seattle Kraken, Fletcher is set to recover from the expansion, unlike Hextall.

The damage was all the same; another fourth-liner was taken from the Flyers. Instead of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, the latest expansion casualty was Carsen Twarynski.

Hextall lasted another ~1.3 seasons in Philadelphia following the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft. Following 2017-2018, where the Flyers made the postseason, losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games, Hextall lost his job in late November. Fletcher was aggressive this offseason to put Philadelphia in a position to win. He learned from Hextall’s collapse as the Flyers general manager.

After two seasons and an expansion draft, did Fletcher prove superior to Hextall? Differences in coaching between Alain Vigneault and Dave Hakstol play variables. Two seasons ago, Philadelphia felt hope from Fletcher and Vigneault. Currently, a retooling period was necessary, but at least the Flyers aren’t regressing the way the Pittsburgh Penguins are. An interesting conspiracy theory playing out beautifully is Hextall’s role as a double agent for Philadelphia while serving as the Penguins general manager.

Fletcher, as the Flyers and current NHL general manager, is an upgrade from Hextall.

Expansion Draft Trades

Ahead of the last two NHL Expansion Drafts, the Philadelphia Flyers didn’t make the postseason. Before the arrival of the Vegas Golden Knights, the Flyers finished sixth in the Metropolitan Division. Last season, Philadelphia finished sixth in the Mass Mutual Eastern Division. For the sake of comparing Ron Hextall and Chuck Fletcher, starting at the same position is ideal.

Radko Gudas was one the top defensemen with Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere. Finally, Fletcher found a way to move Gostisbehere off of the books. Hextall’s foundation continues to slowly depart under Fletcher’s regime. Only one of the top five in team scoring is on the current roster from 2016-2017. His name is Claude Giroux.

Hextall only traded Brayden Schenn for Jori Lehtera and a pair of first-round picks, one conditional. Not long after the beginning of 2017-2018, Hextall was canned before Dave Hakstol.

Fletcher didn’t sit on his hands as Hextall did following another NHL Expansion Draft.

When making a trade for another player, Fletcher has mostly been right. He exchanged Jakub Voracek’s contract for Cam Atkinson. Notably, he’s considered the veteran leadership identity when designing the defense.

Flyers Roster Following Expansion

Players like Claude Giroux and Radko Gudas were doing well. Giroux is still leading the team in scoring. Gudas, unlike Ron Hextall, finished the 2018-2019 season with the Philadelphia Flyers before moving on. Dave Hakstol and Hextall were relieved from the Flyers during the season. Now, Philadelphia is Chuck Fletcher’s place to share with Alain Vigneault.

Heading into his first season with the Flyers, Fletcher had the task of turning his team into a playoff participant. Hextall and Hakstol stocked the prospect pool, but they performed with Fletcher and Vigneault. Fletcher finished the job, adding Matt Niskanen, Kevin Hayes, Justin Braun, and Tyler Pitlick. He forged a lineup around Hextall’s youth, and it worked.

Then, the landscape of hockey and the NHL changed. Following unique pandemic hockey rebranding, another expansion draft, and a dramatic shift in the salary cap, Fletcher’s decisions largely dictate the franchise’s future.

Remember when Fletcher only signed Erik Gustafsson and Derrick Pouliot before the 2020-2021 season? He was waiting until after the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft to become aggressive. Keeping true to the long game prevailed.

Due to his patience and philosophy, Fletcher can afford the expense of attracting leaders to play hockey in Philadelphia.

Fletcher Is The Better Flyers GM

Both have philosophies that contrast. Chuck Fletcher has his team in a position to compete following an expansion faster than Ron Hextall. That’s the point that counts. Hextall wants to build his core organically through consistent draft classes. Fletcher and Brent Flahr want that but are more aggressive for sign and trade assets on expiring contracts.

A good group of prospects matters in both philosophies, but Fletcher isn’t keeping all of his eggs in one basket. He found trade value for Nolan Patrick and Philippe Myers in exchange for Ryan Ellis. He made money trades with his players, changing the culture in the locker room along the way.

Right now, Hextall is maddening the Pittsburgh Penguins because they’re not addressing the goaltender tandem. Hextall missed out on many goaltenders because of his state of content.

The Philadelphia Flyers have the interstate bragging rights from last season. Now, Fletcher needs to finish extension discussions with Carter Hart and Travis Sanheim. Once they agree to new deals, Philadelphia sneaks up the preseason power rankings. Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, Hextall is manufacturing his prospect pedestal with Mark Friedman at the base.

Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn/Icon Sportswire