The Philadelphia Flyers’ former GM has obviously put the team on the right track, but let’s not go overboard in praising him.
Their Game 2 clunker against Montreal notwithstanding, the Philadelphia Flyers have made huge strides this season.
The team looks to have finally turned a corner that everyone has been waiting years for, one that former general manager Ron Hextall planned on at an almost surgical level (until his surprising dismissal in November of 2018). As a result, Hextall has been getting all kinds of credit for the current construction of the team, one that looks like it could propel the Flyers to success for years.
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And that’s fine, but it’s far from the whole story.
Hextall did solid work to navigate the Flyers out of a nightmare salary cap situation courtesy of his predecessor, and ruiner-of-everything, Paul Holmgren. In addition, his draft selections of players like Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Travis Sanheim look like they will bear fruit for many more years to come. Oh, plus that Carter Hart guy. Hextall looks like he hit on a great percentage of the picks he made.
But you’ve also got to take into account the picks that look like whiffs. The team has gotten four games to date out of 2016 first-rounder German Rubtsov, and 2018 selection Jay O’Brien was criticized from the moment he was taken 19th overall (although the Flyers had at least gotten Joel Farabee already in that draft).
There was also the biggest potential flub of all, Nolan Patrick at the #2 selection in 2017. Granted, it was the correct move on paper, but the Flyers are facing the possibility of having nothing to show for it just three years later due to Patrick’s lingering health issues. We’re all hoping for a big comeback from this young man, but there is a very real chance that things will never work out. The fact that the three players selected immediately after Patrick have all turned into stars only rubs more salt in the wound.
Transactionally, Hextall did a great job to clear out dead weight like Vincent Lecavalier. But his parade of cheap-o free agent signings, along with other ill-advised moves like dealing for RJ Umberger, have to be taken into account as well.
We now know in retrospect how badly Hextall blundered in 2015 when he fired eventual Cup-winning coach Craig Berube to bring in the unknown Dave Hakstol. Looking back, it certainly seems like this move was so that Hextall could continue to exert as much control as possible (just like the Phillies did by hiring Gabe Kapler) with an inexperienced coach running the team. Who knows if the Flyers would have eventually done something under Berube, but they wouldn’t have done any worse.
This finally brings us to current GM Chuck Fletcher. Yes, his team is buoyed greatly by what Hextall built (which Fletcher himself is quick to point out), but Fletcher’s moves for players like Kevin Hayes and Matt Niskanen cannot be overstated for their positive impacts on the team. Add in the fact that lineup mainstays like Sean Couturier and Scott Laughton pre-dated Hextall, and it becomes clear that it takes a village to build a successful hockey club and organization.
Hextall’s goal was to remain at least somewhat competitive while the team rebuilt, something that was only partially accomplished. They never won a playoff round with Hexy as the GM, a testament to both the long game he was playing as well as the narrow focus that many now seem to have when it comes to his tenure. You have to consider the whole picture, taking the bad along with the good, which is something that doesn’t seem to be happening at this time.
So, give Ron Hextall credit for the foresight that has seemingly put the Flyers in a good place for years to come. But let’s not build any shrines to the man. In this case, people are blinded by Hextall’s pre-existing relationship with the Philadelphia Flyers, viewing his time as GM as a continuation of his legacy as a player. It’s a good narrative, sure, but it adds an unnecessary extra layer to things.
If the Philadelphia Flyers are to capture the ultimate prize, either this year or in the seasons shortly to come, Hextall’s contributions should always be noted. But there was a reason that he was let go after what basically amounted to a power struggle. Sometimes, success can only come after an element has been removed. And that’s what Ron Hextall is to this Flyers team: an element. Let’s not heap too much praise on one part of the whole when there are many others to consider.