This is the second of a four-part Q&A with Ron Hextall, who just completed his first summer offseason in Philadelphia as Flyers general manager.
From what you said in July about your defensive prospects, which of the big three -- Sam Morin, Robert Hagg, Shayne Gostisbehere -- leads the pack coming into training camp?
Hextall: That’s a hard question to answer. Two of those guys are really young guys. Ghost [Gostisbehere] is a little bit older than them. I don’t really know and I don’t set any expectations for them in terms of coming into camp. They will dictate who’s ahead, and to some degree where they play. We’ll let it play out. We like them all.
How much of the Flyers' “win now” philosophy shapes your thinking about using veteran players and allowing your prospects more time to develop? A lot of clubs push their kids right away to grow on the job.
Hextall: We’re not going to stop on “win now.” We want to win every game. But we’re not going to sacrifice our future. And part of our future is developing kids at the right speed. So if Player X is going to be better in a year by going down and playing in Lehigh Valley, then they are going to go. If a young player makes our team better, then he is a pretty, damn good player. So that’s the player who is probably going to start with the Flyers. You got Player X who is a veteran and Player Y, who is a kid, and they are equal and we feel this kid can be better long term going to Lehigh Valley, then he is going to go. Again, I’ve said this. These young players will have to beat veterans out of their jobs. They are not going to be handed anything. The biggest part here is we want to do what is right for the kids for their development which in the end, is right for the Flyers. It’s as simple as that.
Do you feel any outside pressure to get one of these kids on the ice now? If you listen to sports talk radio or the fans all through the end of last season, they talked about getting one of these defensive prospects up here. Gostisbehere put on a show here [during the Frozen Four].
Hextall: Yeah, one game. He did it at the right place, the right time. He rose to the occasion. I will give him all that. But I saw him a lot more than that one game. A lot more.
So then …
Hextall: Wait, I’m not done with that question. So do I feel pressure? No. I feel pressure to make good decisions that are right for the long term good of this organization.
What did you learn from Dean Lombardi in L.A. besides a little Italian?
Hextall: Yeah, that [Italian] was tough. The biggest thing in L.A. that I learned was hiring people. It sounds like a minimal thing, but it’s not. Hiring people and putting the right people in place and not for convenience and doing what you gotta do to get the right staff. In Philly here, we’ve been so successful, you sorta maintain or replace one guy, but never blow anything up.
That’s the biggest thing out there. We blew everything up from the coaches, to the trainers, to the team to the minor league team. We redid the whole infrastructure. That is the biggest thing I take out of it. One of the hardest parts of my job is hiring the right people. Hiring the right people, essentially, in the end, it’s the product on the ice. The amateur scouts, the pro scouts, everyone else. What ends up on the ice all filters through them. Development people, strength and conditioning coach, medical trainer, equipment trainer. Everyone has a piece in the product that shows up at 7 p.m. at Wells Fargo Center … Dean is an analytical guy. I’ve always been an analytical guy. So in a lot of ways, we thought alike. He’s methodical about things. He’s a smart guy ... He asks a ton of questions. He’s got a legal background. He’s asks a lot of questions to a lot of people.
Did he change your way of “Flyer” thinking?
Hextall: No, my way of thinking hasn’t changed even though you would never know it from the way I played. I have always been a patient guy, a visionary guy. I don’t have a great memory, but all my focus goes to a vision of what’s ahead, rather than history. Don’t get me wrong. I know you have to learn from history because you can learn a lot. But that is how I am wired. In my mind, I pencil my team out in two or three years and look for the progress that we’re going to make in the next 2-3 years. It’s a vision. That’s all it is. Work has got to go in between now and then. That didn’t change. I’ve always been an analytical guy. Maybe I think too much sometimes. I think a lot, sometimes in the middle of the night.
Yeah, you just hired someone for analytics.
Hextall: Ian Anderson
That’s it. Ian Anderson. From Jethro Tull. [laughs]
Hextall: He’s a sharp guy.