Paul Holmgren was having breakfast celebrating his birthday with his grandchildren in Minnesota last December when his cell phone rang.
It was Peter Luukko, informing him he had resigned as president of Comcast-Spectacor and as Flyers president.
A month later, Holmgren met with club chairman Ed Snider to discuss moving assistant general manager Ron Hextall into his spot as general manager. Snider took it a step further, saying Holmgren should fill the vacancy at president.
That set the wheels in motion for Wednesday’s announcement that the 50-year-old Hextall, the last Flyer goaltender of longevity, would succeed Holmgren, 58, who now fills some of Luukko’s role on the business side.
Snider broadly hinted of both moves last Friday on breakup day. Holmgren wouldn’t bite. He said the reason was because last week “was not the time” to discuss such.
Wednesday, however, was.
“I like the challenge of the other side of the game -- it really intrigues me,” Holmgren said. “When I first talked to Ron about it, Peter was still here. ... Back in July, when Hexy came back, I didn’t envision this happening this quickly. He’s good and that pushed me ahead in my thinking.”
In his new role, Holmgren will now interact with Snider, Comcast-Spectacor CEO/president Dave Scott, and Shawn Tilger, the COO of the Flyers and senior vice president of business operations.
The business side of club president is unfamiliar territory for Holmgren.
Hextall will be responsible for the roster and acquiring and trading players.
“All hockey decisions are Hexy’s,” Holmgren said several times.
Holmgren’s move to business operations is another in a number of high-level moves and hirings since Luukko’s departure.
“I want to find out,” Holmgren said of what’s ahead. “When you are the general manager, you worry about the salary cap. You don’t really know what is going on on this (the business) side of the plate.
“What’s going on with ticket sales? What’s the marketing department doing? I want to get my hands dirty. I wondered about it. Maybe there is a way we can intertwine [all this]. Maybe I’m full of crap, I don’t know.”
This move had been speculated about almost since Hextall rejoined the Flyers last summer. Last Friday, CSNPhilly.com reported both moves seemed inevitable.
What made it so obvious was that there were a number of GM openings -- two recently in Vancouver and Washington -- where Hextall’s name wasn’t even mentioned.
Why? Because the entire NHL knew Hextall would succeed Holmgren, if not this summer, then June 2015 when the former’s contract as GM was due to expire.
“He’s ready now,” Holmgren said of Hextall. “He’s been more than ready for a few years. He’s put his time in.”
Holmgren said that’s one piece of advice he gave Hextall. There’s never enough time to get a broad perspective on the entire organizational setup. Something has to suffer. Holmgren passionately enjoyed scouting young talent.
“Without a doubt, I am going to do that from time to time,” he said, admitting the day-to-day job as GM often omitted any chance to seeing amateurs, something he carved his teeth on in the Flyers organization beginning in November 1995.
“As a GM, and Ron is about to find this out, all the things in the back of your mind you want to do, you can’t because something always comes up. You lose sight of things on the business side, your prospects, draft picks that become available ...
“There were a lot of challenges on the job. It never got to the point where I went home saying I hate this job. I loved the job. I just changed jobs.”
Holmgren said he wanted to “roll his sleeves up and get dirty” right now.
“I'm sure I'm not going to be making big decisions on the business side, but with my hockey background -- maybe through sitting with Shawn, Mr. Snider and Dave Scott -- maybe there is something they don't know about the hockey side that could turn a light on, on the business side, or vice versa.
“It's the business of hockey. Let's face it, it’s a business and we've all got to get better at it.”
Holmgren was asked for a self-evaluation of his eight years as general manager. The Flyers had two appearances in the Eastern Conference finals and one appearance in the Stanley Cup Final -- 2010 when they lost the Cup to Chicago.
“I’m not going to get into that,” Holmgren replied. “We didn’t win. At the end of the day that is all it’s about. ... Unfulfilled.”