Philadelphia Flyers: Ron Hextall deserves all the credit

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

A new era of Philadelphia Flyers hockey is underway, and the organization only has former general manager Ron Hextall to thank.

Stuck in the doldrums of mediocrity for a number of seaons, general manager Ron Hextall and the Philadelphia Flyers were in a bad place. With aging veterans, an unpopular coach and a lack of grit which once embodied the franchise, it was difficult finding something to truly be excited about. Sure, there were long winning streaks, but they were often marred by an abundance of losses in between. They may have battled their way into the playoffs last year for the first time since the 2015-2016 season, but what indication was there that they could truly compete with the Eastern Conference elite?

The Flyers were stuck, and Hextall knew it.

Entering the 2018 offseason, Hextall filled the void of offensive firepower by re-acquiring forward James van Riemsdyk, signing the New Jersey native to a five-year deal worth $35 million. All that was left was finding the ever-elusive stabilizing force in net to help right the ship, but that area would remain in a state of flux.

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And so the 2018-19 campaign began, and it sure didn’t take long for the season to appear eerily similar to every Flyers season in recent memory.  Hanging around the bottom of the division, their prized offseason acquisition was on the shelf after suffering a knee injury sustained in the first period of the season’s second game, and their rotating door of goaltenders was growing even wider.

Then November 26th came.

Ron Hextall was sent packing after being relieved of his duties by team president Paul Holmgren, and three weeks later, head coach Dave Hakstol would follow. Preceding Hakstol’s firing came the news that new Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher had recalled top goaltending prospect, Carter Hart, who would make his NHL debut shortly thereafter playing under interim head coach Scott Gordon.

A new era of Flyers hockey was set to begin.

And it’s all possible because of Hextall.

Throughout his five years as Flyers GM, Hextall preached patience in building a team. Much like their Wells Fargo Center tenants, there was a process that had to be trusted, which proved difficult for many fans to endure, and ultimately upper management agreed.

But had it not been for Hextall’s devotion and commitment to the larger picture, the team would not have the promising future it now holds. The very reason Hextall was fired is the exact same reason for which the team now finds its success.

Oh, the irony.

Despite the Flyers dedicated fan base wanting change – whether it be shaking up the roster by trading veterans for prospects, trading prospects for a big piece – Hextall’s steadfast approach was right all along. While the team was stuck in what appeared to be the doldrums of mediocrity, Hextall’s long-term vision always allowed for short-term sacrifice even if the expense was uninspiring hockey and decreasing ticket sales.

But it’s a business, and Hextall was given the boot.

While Fletcher’s track record is spotty, at best – in nine seasons as Wild GM, his team never made it beyond the second round of the playoffs – he fits the mold of what Flyers personnel covets: a more aggressive nature with a willingness to shake things up. In theory, that’s an okay approach, but it was that approach that got the Flyers in financial trouble without much young talent to rely on.

Then Hextall came in and cleaned everything up.

Now with manageable contracts on the books, the Flyers are in good salary cap shape with flexibility moving forward. They have a deeper pipeline of quality prospects from which to develop. And they have their goaltender of the future – perhaps the first reliable netminder since Hextall when he was redirecting pucks for the orange and black.

Much to the ire of many, Hextall’s patience (or as some would profess, reluctance) to call up Hart and other prospects sooner was always for the betterment of the organization. Again, Hextall was focused on the big picture and knew young guys needed development and seasoning. Hart, at only 20-years-old, certainly appears ready. And while current Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher may have played the card sooner, he’s pulling from the hand that Hextall built.

The future is bright for the Philadelphia Flyers. The team is back in playoff contention, and though this season may end similarly as season’s past, now there is hope; hope that Hextall ultimately created. (Heck, even Gritty was born under Hextall’s watch!)

The Flyers were stuck, and Hextall knew it. When they’re competing for the cup in a couple of years, it will be because of Hextall’s patience and vision.

Next. Philadelphia Flyers should focus on youth movement for remainder of 2018-19 season. dark

Yes, the exact same patience and vision for which he was fired.