Hextall returns as Flyers' possible 'GM in waiting'


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: Canadiens rally past Lightning for 6th straight win

Best of NHL: Canadiens rally past Lightning for 6th straight win

MONTREAL -- Max Pacioretty scored the tiebreaking goal in Montreal's three-goal third period as the Canadiens beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1 Thursday night for their sixth straight win.

Alex Galchenyuk and Torrey Mitchell also scored to help Montreal improve to 7-0-1. Carey Price made 29 saves to win for the fourth time in four starts this season.

Alex Killorn scored the lone goal for the Lightning, who lost against an Eastern-Conference opponent for the first time this season. Ben Bishop stopped 23 shots.

With the scored tied 1-1, Pacioretty got the go-ahead goal at 10:23 by beating Bishop glove-side. Blown coverage by the Lightning left the Canadiens' captain all alone on the edge of the face-off circle, and Bishop couldn't see the shot with Andrew Shaw posted firmly in front of goal.

Montreal remains the only NHL team still undefeated in regulation (see full recap).

Crosby's late goal gives Penguins win over Islanders
PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby scored the tiebreaking goal late in the third period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 4-2 victory over the New York Islanders on Thursday night.

Patric Hornqvist, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel also scored -- each getting his third of the season -- to help the Penguins win for the third time in four games and improve to 5-0-1 at home.

Crosby, playing for the second straight game after missing the first six with a concussion, scored with 2:25 left as he caught a pass from Scott Wilson at the top of the crease and quickly turned to his forehand to put the puck behind Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak.

Kessel added a power-play goal to cap the scoring 32 seconds later.

Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 35 shots while starting for the eighth straight game.

Travis Hamonic and Shane Prince scored for the Islanders, and Halak finished with 31 saves (see full recap).

Streaking Red Wings win marathon shootout vs. Blues
ST. LOUIS -- Henrik Zetterberg scored in the eighth round of a shootout to give the Detroit Red Wings a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Zetterberg's goal gave the Red Wings a six-game winning streak.

In the shootout, St. Louis' first shooter, Alexander Steen, scored but then Vladimir Tarasenko, Kevin Shattenkirk, David Perron, Nail Yakupoc, Robby Fabbri, Patrick Burgland and Dmitrjij Jaskin all came up short.

Gustav Nyquist scored on Detroit's second attempt but Frans Nielsen, Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheehan and Darren Helm all missed.

St. Louis had the better chances in overtime. Center Jaden Schwartz missed a wide-open net early in the extra session. Jori Lehtera was stopped on a breakaway midway through the period by Detroit goalie Petr Mrazek (see full recap).

Flyers Hall of Famers return to toast Ed Snider, 50th anniversary

Flyers Hall of Famers return to toast Ed Snider, 50th anniversary

There were times when Rod Brind’Amour didn’t quite feel like a part of the Flyers’ family anymore.

Following eight years rich with memories and victories in a Flyers' jersey, Brind’Amour, a beloved player who changed the franchise on and off the ice, was stunningly traded to the Hurricanes less than a month into the 1999-00 season.

He went on to win two Frank J. Selke trophies (NHL’s best defensive forward) and a Stanley Cup in Carolina before landing an assistant coaching job within the organization.

“You get traded, you automatically think, ‘Well, I’m not what I thought I was,’” Brind’Amour said. “But that wasn’t the case.”

Especially once his phone rang and it was Ed Snider on the other line.

“I got a great phone call before Mr. Snider passed and him telling me what he thought I meant to this team,” Brind’Amour said. “That meant a lot. I really feel connected to the Flyers’ organization again and I’ll take any chance I can to get back and be a part of it.”

A year after being inducted in the Flyers’ Hall of Fame, he was among the orange and black greats on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center to toast the team’s 50th anniversary with Flyers Heritage Night. Snider, the Flyers’ fearless and compassionate founder who died in April, would have been all smiles as a pregame ceremony at center ice honored the legends that played a role in fulfilling his vision.

Fourteen Flyers Hall of Famers were on hand as Bill Barber, Brind’Amour, Bob Clarke, Ron Hextall, Mark Howe, John LeClair, Reggie Leach, Eric Lindros, Bernie Parent, Brian Propp, Dave Poulin, Dave Schultz, Joe Watson and Jim Watson came out one by one. Family members of Snider, Gene Hart, Barry Ashbee, Rick MacLeish, Keith Allen and Joe Scott were also present.

The evening was all about family, just like Snider.

Poulin, who captained the Flyers for parts of six seasons (1984-90) and two Stanley Cup Final appearances (1985, 1987), said these are can’t-miss events to reminisce and remember.

“There’s a lot of demands on your time, a lot of different things, it’s busy for everybody and everybody’s got different things going on in their life, but when this call comes in from Brad Marsh (former Flyers player, team’s current director of community development), you’re marking it on the calendar and you’re coming,” Poulin said during the first intermission of the Flyers’ 5-4 loss to the Coyotes (see Instant Replay). “This is pretty special to be out there with this group tonight.”

Since retiring, Poulin, a 1986-87 Selke winner with the Flyers and two-time NHL All-Star, has coached, worked in front-office roles and is now an analyst for TSN. He’s always around hockey and talking hockey.

Outsiders frequently mention the Flyers, one reason why Poulin calls the organization “unique.”

“Still to this day, I have conversations with people that played a long time in the NHL that are incredibly envious of the Flyers,” Poulin said. “I had one as recently as Monday night. I was at a book signing for Darryl Sittler, who has a new book out, and we were teammates here. And I had a great conversation with Syl Apps Jr., who was an original Pittsburgh Penguin. And the first thing he wanted to say was, ‘What about those Flyers, what about that Philadelphia, what about that?’ Guys that never experienced it from the inside were always envious of what they saw, and to a man.”

Poulin said that’s a testament to Snider.

“It was Ed Snider, it was the continuity of a leader that through 50 years — which is unheard of in any industry, any business, let alone a professional sports team — kept it like it was,” he said. “And then everybody assimilated into that. Everybody became a part of it, everybody understood the importance of it.”

During the tribute, Brind’Amour gave Lindros a big hug, to the surprise of many.

“I haven’t seen him in forever,” Brind’Amour said. “It was just fun, when we got out there we just said, ‘It’s nice to be back on the ice again.’ It’s been a long time, I haven’t seen him. I saw [LeClair] last year obviously. But it’s just nice to catch up with these guys and relive some stories. We had a lot of great times, it was nice to see [Lindros].”

Brind’Amour was asked how so many former Flyers from different eras, with families and separate agendas, make such reunions possible.

He found his answer before the question even finished.

“It’s Philadelphia,” he said. “This means a lot to me. To be honest with you, I was out of it, I was doing my own thing and last year, when they did that whole ceremony for me, it just kind of brought me into the fold, that this is important and that they really did appreciate what I did here.”

And Snider, never forgetting any, made that clear with a phone call.

“I think there was a time there where I just didn’t really think that was the case, so it’s meant a lot to me to be back here and be in the fold,” Brind’Amour said. “I love the alumni. … Any chance to get to reconnect with these guys, it just means the world to me.”