Penguins/Flyers is such a heated rivalry over the years, and the Hextall family has a special place in it. Bryan Hextall played for the Penguins from 1969-73. His son Ron spent formative years in Pittsburgh idolizing Pens goalie Jimmy Rutherford.
Fast forward 45 or 50 years and Ron has written his own chapters of NHL lore and the Pittsburgh/Philly rivalry, and also became the first person to be the general manager of both the Penguins AND the Flyers.
Since Hextall’s first main managerial stint in Philly only ended a little more than two years ago, what a better resource than our own Steph from Broad Street Hockey to get some of the Flyer perspective on what all went down...And maybe what we can expect moving forward.
Q: For a quick overview, how would you describe Ron Hextall as a manager?
Well, he’s a good GM. Not great, but good. His ability to assess NHL level talent leaves a lot to be desired, but he is a good drafter and will help build an organization from the ground up.
Q: What do you think some of the best moves Hextall made for the Flyers were over the years?
All of these moves are probably draft related - the best thing he did as far as I am concerned was to stockpile enough picks to be able to trade up and draft Travis Konecny. Also being able to trade Zac Rinaldo for a third round draft pick was simply magic.
Q: On the other hand, what moves do you think he made that didn’t work out as planned?
There’s a lot more to this answer than the previous one. The Scott Hartnell for RJ Umberger and a 4th trade did not work out. Signing Dale Weise and Boyd Gordon on July 1st whatever year that happened was a disaster. The short term effects of trading Brayden Schenn for Jori Lehtera and two 1st round picks was felt really hard by the team - the two 1st rounders turned into Morgan Frost and Joel Farabee so we don’t really hate it anymore, but at the time, losing Brayden Schenn was really difficult.
Another move that I think qualifies as a non-move is going into the 2018-19 season with a goalie tandem of Brian Elliott and Michael Neuvirth. That was just simply unacceptable, and yet, he thought it was fine. (It wasn’t, it was not fine)
Q: Why did the Flyers want to move on from Hextall, did it make sense to you personally at the time? Does it make more sense now?
At the time, it was a shock. We were all expecting coach Dave Hakstol to be the first casualty of the season and never thought it would actually be Ron Hextall. After a week or so of reflection, it started to make sense, there were a lot of things wrong with that hockey team and the responsibility had to lay with the GM eventually.
Now with some distance, yes absolutely, he had to go. If for no reason other than he was unable to admit and accept that mistakes were made (mostly in the form of Dave Hakstol but there were a lot of others) and the team was suffering from it. Also, as I mentioned earlier, his assessment of NHL level talent was not great, both in terms of when to promote a prospect and also when it comes to free agents. The bad free agent acquisitions were sinking the team.
Q: Since Hextall has been gone for a few years, do you have a more positive or negative perception of seeing how some of the moves he made have panned out?
Both. He did a lot in stocking the team with the prospects they would need to be competitive and we’re all seeing the fruits of some of that right now. Joel Farabee, Nolan Patrick, Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Mark Friedman, Oskar Lindblom, Carter Hart, Connor Bunnaman - these are guys that have all played for the Flyers this season and they’re all Hextall draft picks.
I am resentful of how much time was wasted with a middling team with no hope of turning it around and a GM that wanted to take his time. I respect that he wanted to do it right, but there was too much time wasted and too many souls snuffed out watching Andrew MacDonald and Jori Lehtera play for the Flyers.
Q: Finally...this is kinda weird right? Hextall has always been the enemy to us, in Pittsburgh he’s most famous for trying to kill Robbie Brown after a goal. This is weird for you guys too, right?
It’s so weird. I called him a blood traitor. These two franchises couldn’t come to terms on a Mark Streit trade nearly four years ago without Tampa Bay coming in between them and making everyone play nice. (Speaking of this trade, I just remembered Valtteri Filppula and I’m mad all over again). Listen, I love all of the contributors at PensBurgh, but if you have to suffer through what we did with Hextall, I will probably giggle a bit. But you’ll have a couple good drafts before things go too far off the rails.
The Flyers have been trying to fix their goaltending situation for like literally 25 years since Hextall’s primary stint ended, and it’s interesting to see he really did get it straightened out until Hart developed. That can take time and Hextall made some curious decisions in net over the years. This could be telling, being as the Pens have had so much turmoil and uneven performances in net these past few years and those decisions will be very important.
Another untrue but popular-in-some-circles narrative is that Hextall is going to seek to add toughness and physicality to the Penguins. This would be opposite of what he did in Philly, and as Steph pointed out one of Hextall’s first moves in his first season was to trade away Zac Rinaldo. As Gretz pointed out, the Flyers remarkably lost about all their fight and fighters in Hextall’s stint. As I wrote earlier, the ideal Flyer for Hextall is a guy like Konecny that competes very hard between the whistles and very skilled, but is not particularly intimidating.
The one other item that really stood out that Steph acutely mentioned is Hextall’s perception of “ZOMG he fixed so many mistakes” might not ring true. Hextall didn’t sign Andrew MacDonald to a ridiculously bad contract, but Hextall also sure didn’t find a way to clear him out either. The general narrative seems to be hopeful that Hextall is going to show up, wave a wand and find a way to deal with a ridiculously bad Mike Matheson contract, but it’s not really as easy as it sounds.
Like Pierre LeBrun, I’m a big subscriber to the “GM can be much better in his second gig because he’s learned the ropes and knows what not to do next time” theory. Getting a sense of the fallout now that some time has passed from Hextall’s first GM job in Philly, he certainly will have to take some lessons from what went wrong at his first gig and apply that to hopefully become a better manager for the Penguins.