Hextall returns as Flyers' possible 'GM in waiting'

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Hextall returns as Flyers' possible 'GM in waiting'

Flyers president Peter Luukko promised the summer would be “crazy.”
 
His general manager, Paul Holmgren, said the same thing.
 
And it has been just that -- crazy.
 
First, the buyouts of Danny Briere and Ilya Bryzgalov. Then, the unexpected signing of Vinny Lecavalier, followed by Ray Emery deciding to leave Chicago to return here.
 
And now this -- Ron Hextall’s surprising return to the Flyers as assistant general manager and director of hockey operations (see story).
 
Suddenly, the Flyers’ managerial future is just beyond Holmgren’s corner office at the Skate Zone in Voorhees.
 
“A new set of eyes,” was how one person described it.
 
Indeed, Hexy’s 49-year-old eyes and unabashed opinions will again be heard, mostly within the confines of the organization -- not the general public.
 
Hextall’s predecessor, Chris Pryor, moves down from director of hockey operations to director of scouting; assistant coach John Paddock moves up to director of player personnel; Dave Brown becomes head scout.
 
Same people, new titles and new responsibilities.
 
Still, the bottom line is, as one NHL executive with a Stanley Cup to his name said, Hexy is now the “GM in waiting” for Holmgren’s job.
 
This isn’t, as fans perceive it, "Homer’s out and Hexy is in."
 
What it is, is Hextall being solidly in the No. 2 chair ready to assume Holmgren’s post. If the Flyers’ offseason moves don’t pan out after not making the playoffs, and club chairman Ed Snider decides that’s it, Hextall can immediately be slotted in as Holmgren’s successor without needing a search party.
 
That said, Holmgren’s moves have been pretty good this summer. There’s no reason why, on paper, they won’t work out.
 
Which means Hextall bides his time until he gets the tap on the shoulder.
 
Hextall was the No. 3 man in the Bob Clarke era. He left here when Holmgren succeeded Clarke. He was No. 2 behind GM Dean Lombardi in Los Angeles.
 
So why be No. 2 again? Hextall said his “gut” told him to do it.
 
Think about it. Hextall wouldn’t have left L.A. to be No. 2 again unless he knew his next promotion is closer to becoming a reality in Philly than Los Angeles.
 
More importantly, the Flyers are getting a fresh look at their entire scouting/drafting operation, which outside of the first round, has been sub-par for a long time now.
 
Hextall revitalized the Kings' hockey ops and gets a chance to do the same here. Not including this June’s past NHL draft, here's a breakdown of the Flyers' draft struggles:
 
• Last 13 prior drafts, going back to 2000, the Flyers have had 12 first-round picks. Ten of those picks have played or are playing in the NHL, of which only two -- Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier -- are currently Flyers
 
• Since 1995, the Flyers’ best second-round player who made it to the NHL has been Andreas Nodl, now playing for the Carolina Hurricanes
 
• Looking at the Flyers’ picks from the third round through the seventh, over the prior 13 drafts, they have just four drafted players who are active and playing regular minutes on some NHL roster, and just one player on their own roster -- Zac Rinaldo
 
• The Flyers are the only NHL team over that same span of time without a single active drafted/developed defenseman playing regular minutes for them -- not someone else -- every night
 
This is where Hextall gets to make his mark and help turn the Flyers’ future fortunes around behind the scenes. He cut his teeth in the scouting department after he retired in 1999.
 
His no-nonsense approach, coupled with an aggressive demeanor, also means he won’t tolerate continued failures by the organization to produce more NHL players.
 
Holmgren is impressed with Hextall's "knowledge of building teams from the ground up, which basically is what they did in L.A. when he went there,” Holmgren said.
 
“They were a team that wasn’t in real playoff shape and they build their team into Stanley Cup players. I think the things he learned in L.A. and was a part of in L.A. can be helpful to us moving forward.”
 
Hextall said a “gut feeling” told him this was the right job, the right place and the right time.
 
Lombardi will tell you he was a big part of the Kings’ organizational rise from the time he arrived in 2006 until now, which included winning the Stanley Cup in 2012.
 
Hextall was asked whether coming back here placed him a step closer to being a general manager.
 
“Every general manager at some point is going to step down, whether it’s Paul Holmgren or Dean Lombardi, or any of the 28 guys in the league and none of us know when or where that happens,” Hextall said.
 
“It’s just my gut. I’m going with my gut and will look back in two or three or five years and figure out whether it’s the right decision or not, but I feel strongly about it now. It was not an easy decision.”
 
Holmgren approached Hextall at the draft knowing the ex-Flyer goalie's contract with the Kings was expiring. Holmgren and Lombardi are close friends, former Flyers associates and board members with USA Hockey.
 
Lombardi obviously gave Hextall his blessing to move on.
 
“I’m certain that he’s got lot of different ideas, more different ideas than when he left here a number of years ago,” Holmgren said of Hextall.
 
“It’s a real big deal for the Flyers' organization.”

Best of NHL: Nikita Kucherov hat trick lifts Lightning over Bruins

Best of NHL: Nikita Kucherov hat trick lifts Lightning over Bruins

BOSTON -- Nikita Kucherov had his third career hat trick to lead Tampa Bay to a 6-3 victory over the Boston Bruins on Thursday night, snapping the Lightning's three-game losing streak.

Jonathan Drouin had a goal and two assists, Brayden Point had a goal and an assist and Anton Stralman also scored to help the Lightning pull three points behind the Bruins for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

Peter Budaj finished with 28 saves for the Lightning to earn his 29th win of the season. Ondrej Palat had three assists, and Jake Dotchin and Victor Hedman added two each.

Riley Nashy had a goal and an assist for Boston, and David Pastrnak and Zdeno Chara also scored. Tuukka Rask stopped 23 shots as Boston, which won seven of the first eight games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, has now lost four straight and six of 11 (see full recap).

Oshie beats Bobrovsky to give Caps SO win
WASHINGTON -- T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington's 35th shot of the game. Orlov's goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead (see full recap).

Senators take down Penguins in shootout
OTTAWA, Ontario -- Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan scored in the shootout to lift the Ottawa Senators to a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night.

Mike Hoffman scored in regulation for the Senators and Mike Condon finished with 34 saves, including two incredible point-blank stops in overtime to keep the game going.

Nick Bonino had the goal in regulation for the Penguins and Matt Murray stopped 29 shots.

After being outplayed for much of the first two periods, the Senators were much better in the third and tied the score 1-1 on the power play at 9:43 as Hoffman beat Murray over the shoulder with a wrist shot just 14 seconds after Matt Cullen was penalized for holding (see full recap).

Flyers regroup behind Steve Mason for big win over Wild

Flyers regroup behind Steve Mason for big win over Wild

BOX SCORE

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- When Zach Parise scored for the Minnesota Wild just 2:07 into Thursday's game, the Flyers were in another difficult position on the road.

This time, they responded with the type of game they've needed on the road all season.

The Flyers scored three unanswered goals by Sean Couturier, Matt Read and Jakub Voracek to beat Minnesota, 3-1, and snap a four-game losing streak on the road (see Instant Replay).

"They're a tough team to handle in their transition," Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said of Parise's goal. "It's quick and it's fast. The players on the bench were outstanding, talking, real calm. Just go out and push it the other way the next shift and I thought we were able to do that."

The Flyers responded with one of their best efforts on the road in nearly two months and pulled within six points of Boston for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference (see standings). The Bruins lost, 6-3, at home to Tampa Bay.

Steve Mason made 24 saves in goal for his 100th win with the Flyers as the team was rarely challenged thanks to an all-around performance that has been missing on the road. The Flyers entered the night tied for the second-fewest road wins in the conference this season.

"Certain things on the road, you've got to be a little more specific with your game and detailed, and I think we did a better job of that tonight," said Flyers defenseman Nick Schultz, who returned to the arena where he played 10 seasons with Minnesota. "Everybody throughout the lineup did that and that's why we got a big win."

The beginning looked all too familiar, though.

An innocent looking dump-in slid to Mason, who tried to cover the puck. The puck went off his stick and Parise quickly poked it past Mason. The Wild had four quality chances early before the Flyers took control.

"They came hard early on in the game and to be able to match that speed; that was a completely different pace of game compared to what we came from in Winnipeg," Mason said. "So, it almost took a second to get your bearings straight to get up to speed."

The Flyers weathered the early flurry by Minnesota, which is safely in playoff position in the West but is facing its own late-season issues. The Flyers killed off both Wild penalties, allowing just two shots on the penalty kill.

Couturier's 12th goal of the season was critical in tying the game with 2:01 left in the first (see feature highlight).

"Coming into the room after the period, I think it's important when you get a big goal like that," captain Claude Giroux said. "You feel like you have the momentum a little bit, so it definitely helped us a lot."

Read provided the lead in the second and the Flyers, who are now 15-2-2 when leading after two periods, pressured in the third. They outshot the Wild, 9-4, in the final period.

"We didn't sit back," Hakstol said. "I thought we were confident with the puck and made some plays and spent a good amount of time in the offensive zone. We played with real confidence in our game."

Mason had been critical after the Flyers lost in Winnipeg on Tuesday, saying the team needed to be more desperate. The Flyers responded Thursday in the difficult position of being on the road and allowing the first goal.

"We knew we had to be better," Schultz said of Mason's comments. "I think on the road, you've got to be at least a .500 team and take care of business at home, and we haven't done that this year. So, obviously, we've got to get better and I think we did respond tonight. Now we have to build on it."