Hextall returns as Flyers' possible 'GM in waiting'

071513ronhextallpaulholmgrenap.jpg

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.”

Flyers-Panthers 5 things: Eyeing longest win streak since Ilya Bryzgalov was in net

Flyers-Panthers 5 things: Eyeing longest win streak since Ilya Bryzgalov was in net

Flyers (14-10-3) vs. Panthers (12-11-3)
7 p.m. on CSN and CSNPhilly.com, Pregame Live at 6:30

The Flyers, on the NHL’s longest current win streak, will try to extend it to six games when they host the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

Let’s get you set for the matchup with five things to know:

1. Push it to the limit
The Flyers beat the Predators, 4-2, on Sunday to give them their most consecutive wins since March 15-22, 2014, when they also won five in a row.

A victory on Tuesday would mark the team’s longest win streak since Dec. 2-15, 2011, when it won seven straight and Ilya Bryzgalov was in net — yeah, that long ago.

Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol has been pleased with the consistent effort by his club after it collapsed Nov. 11 in a 6-3 loss to the Maple Leafs.

“You go back to that poor performance up in Toronto, which was about a dozen games ago,” Hakstol said Monday. “Since that point in time, I think we’ve really taken pride in the consistency of our play and worrying about what we do on a day-to-day basis. It’s real important that we continue to do that.”

2. Leier hops right in
With Matt Read out approximately a month because of an oblique muscle pull, winger Taylor Leier has been recalled from AHL affiliate and will join Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Dale Weise on the Flyers’ third line Tuesday.

Leier, a 2012 fourth-round pick of the Flyers, gets his chance after proving himself with the Phantoms in 22 games, putting up 20 points on six goals and 14 assists.

The Flyers decided it was Leier over Scott Laughton, who has been sent back down to Lehigh Valley. Leier's earned his second call-up of the season with the Flyers. The first was just for one game on Oct. 25 in which he was a healthy scratch. Last season, the 22-year-old made his NHL debut, going scoreless in six games.

3. Mason on a roll
Speaking of consistency, goalie Steve Mason finally finding a rhythm is a big reason why the Flyers are stringing together wins.

In his last four games, the 28-year-old is 4-0-0 with a 1.71 goals-against average and .945 save percentage. He was honored for his play by being named the NHL’s first Star of the Week.

“Right now, there’s a comfort level with the guys in front of me,” Mason said Monday. “Winning five in a row is nice and we’d like to keep making ground in the standings.”

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Ever since Michael Del Zotto returned to the lineup from his three-game benching, the orange and black have won five straight. Now there’s no direct correlation, but Del Zotto is providing a stable presence defensively and chipping in offensively with four points (two goals, two assists) over the five-game run.

Panthers: Center Aleksander Barkov leads Florida in assists with 12 and has eight points (two goals, six assists) over his last nine games for a plus-5 rating.

5. This and that
• Mason is 8-3-2 with a 1.95 goals-against average and .939 save percentage in 13 career games against the Panthers.

• Florida goalie Roberto Luongo, who has a 2.15 goals-against average this season, is 9-10-3 with a 2.83 goals-against average and .918 save percentage in 23 games lifetime against the Flyers.

• The Panthers are 1-1-2 since general manager Tom Rowe took over head-coaching duties for the fired Gerard Gallant.

• The status of Radko Gudas (sick) for tonight’s game is uncertain. He’s missed the last two contests.

• Florida defenseman Keith Yandle’s ironman streak of 577 games will come to an end Tuesday as the 30-year-old is expected to miss some time with a lower-body injury.

• It’s unknown if Panthers leading goal scorer Jonathan Marchessault (lower-body injury) will play Tuesday. 

Flyers Skate Update: Taylor Leier gets another chance with Read out

Flyers Skate Update: Taylor Leier gets another chance with Read out

Things can move fast in the hockey world. And not just on the ice.

Taylor Leier will be the first person to tell you that.

Just about 24 hours ago, he was skating with the Phantoms in Lehigh Valley. Tuesday night, he’ll be suiting up for the Flyers when they go for their sixth straight win as they host the Florida Panthers at the Wells Fargo Center.

“I’m really not taking anything for granted here,” Leier said on Tuesday morning while sporting three stitches and a shiner under his left eye, all after effects of friendly fire after Phantoms teammate Corbin Knight caught him with a high stick Saturday night against Hershey.

"I’m just taking it day-by-day and controlling the things I can control and taking it shift by shift in a game scenario. I’m just looking forward to getting things going."

Leier was recalled Monday after the Flyers announced Matt Read will miss four weeks with what sources tell CSNPhilly.com’s Tim Panaccio is an oblique injury.

This is Leier’s second call-up to the big club this season. He was called up in October for a game, but was a healthy scratch.

But that won’t be the case Tuesday as Leier will take Read’s place on the third line with Pierre-Edouard Bellmare and Dale Weise.

There is a familiarity between Leier and Bellemare as the two played together briefly when Leier was with the Flyers for six games in November 2015.

Leier has killed penalties for the Phantoms this season and he will also take Read’s spot on the penalty kill Tuesday, according to Dave Hakstol, who likes the style of game Leier brings to the ice.

“Taylor really has just continued doing, in the first couple months in Lehigh Valley, exactly what he did for us here in training camp," Hakstol said Tuesday morning. “Just playing a real sound, solid role as a two-way winger. He’s obviously scoring at a good pace, he’s nearly a point a game there, which is outstanding."

Leier is second on the Phantoms this season in scoring with six goals and 14 assists. He did not record a point in his six games with the Flyers last season.

Lineup
Expect the lineup to stay the same Tuesday as the Flyers have sent out throughout most of the five-game win streak.

That includes the absence of Radko Gudas, who returned to morning skate on Tuesday after missing the last two games with an illness. He skated on the fourth defensive pairing with Nick Schultz at skate, so he’s expected to remain out vs. the Panthers.

Steve Mason, the NHL’s first star of the week, will start his fifth straight game between the pipes.