The day started with Ed Snider, Paul Holmgren and Ron Hextall at the podium, chatting with reporters. Here is that transcript.
Ed Snider: Hi guys. I think everybody knows why we’re here. Paul started talking to me in January about his idea of bringing Ron into the position of general manager, and he and I talked for a long time.
I wanted [Paul] to take the vacancy, which he agreed to, of presidency of the team, so he’s the president of the Flyers. As of now, he’ll be working more on the business side than he has in the past, as well as giving us a lot of depth in the hockey end.
Therefore, we’re really excited today, and I’m going to turn it over to Paul.
Paul Holmgren: Thanks everybody for being here today on such short notice. As Mr. Snider alluded to back in January was the first time I approached him about my idea of what would be a stronger management team with a way of, I guess, moving up for myself into more of a management position as opposed to being general manager of the hockey team, sliding Ron into the general manager position.
I think there’s many, many ways we can improve as a team from the business side. I think my limited knowledge of the business side – you kind of grow into it as manager, sitting in that seat – I can work closely with Dave Scott and with Shawn Tilger, Gary Rostick, as well as Mr. Snider and try to help improve where we’re going while still being around to help Ron with whatever he may need in the transition. I just think it’s perfect.
What I’m really excited about today, and I think today is the right today – the timing of this is right, and the man is right – I’m really honored and excited, and I think privileged, to be able to name Ron Hextall the new general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Ron Hextall: Thanks Homer and Mr. Snider as well.
I guess years ago when I was done playing, 15 years ago, my next goal was to become a general manager. I’ve been very fortunate to work under Bobby Clarke, Paul Holmgren, and Dean Lombardi out in Los Angeles – three very good people but also three very astute people who I took a lot of lessons from the last 15 years. I guess kind of like when you’re a player, you want to become a general manager soon.
I’ve spent 15 years kind of learning the business from scouting to getting more of a managerial role… I think I know a lot of aspects of the game and I think I’m very ready for this position. I feel very confident that I can do the job. I think we have a very good staff. I’ve got Homer to lean on and obviously Bob Clarke to lean on.
When Mr. Snider and Homer brought me in the other day and talked about offering me this job, not only did I reach my goal of being a general manager, but I got my dream job. I’ve got a special feeling about this organization and I am absolutely honored and thrilled today to be sitting here.
I’ll do the best job I can do, and I’ll work hard to reach the ultimate goal of bringing the Stanley Cup back to Philadelphia.
What happened between the end of last week and today?
PH: That’s a good question. At the end of the day, on that particular day, we weren’t there to talk about that. We were there to talk about the team. So I just kind of brushed it aside. But things were well in the works. I didn’t feel like talking about it that day. Even though Mr. Snider may have hinted earlier… or somebody did. I’m not blaming anybody.
But it wasn’t the day. We were there to talk about the team and our playoff exit.
Ed, how do you characterize Paul’s reign here in seven years as the GM?
ES: Outstanding. I think we have a good young team going forward. We have a nucleus. We need some pieces, but I think we’re going in the right direction. I think back of when Paul first got the job, it was right after we had a disastrous season, as you all know, and the very next season, by moves that he made, we were back in contention. I’m really very happy, and that’s why I was very happy to promote Paul to the position that he’s taking now.
And I’m thrilled that Ron is going to take over because I’m very fond of Ron. He’s done the job, he’s paid his dues. He knows what he’s talking about. He and I have had many discussions recently and I’m very confident that he’s the right man for the job.
There’s talk that Paul wasn’t ready to make this move? And who makes the final decision on hockey decisions?
PH: All hockey decisions fall on Ron’s lap. No question. And as far as [the first part] – I started talking to Ron about this in December. And then I went to Mr. Snider with the idea in January. So just to dispel any doubt about what’s going on… this is a good thing, and we should be talking more about Ron Hextall being the general manager.
So the final say is Ron’s?
PH: The final say in regards to the hockey team is Ron. He has full authority and autonomy.
Paul, are you in an advisory role?
PH: Well, like anything… he’s new on the job. There’s going to be questions about conversations I’ve had with general managers over the last period of time which may have an impact on what he might want to do with the team, whether it be a trade, or… I’ve had conversations with agents… so there’s going to be some transition. He was obviously involved in a lot of stuff that was going on. I’ll be around if he has a question about whatever which may arise.
RH: Let me just add on there. I wouldn’t have taken this job if Paul Holmgren didn’t want to move to the position he’s moving to. I absolutely wouldn’t. I would have refused. You can ask Homer, at one point when we talked about it, he said ‘stop asking me that. I want to go where I’m going… I’m very comfortable.’
Again, I’ve had a long relationship with Homer, but I’m not the type of person to kind of get in somewhere without the people around me that I care about and I’ve worked with being very comfortable. I feel the same as Homer and Mr. Snider that we’re going to be a strong team. I’m really looking forward to it.
Ron, were you offered any other GM jobs, and Paul, did that speed up the process?
PH: There’s no need for Ron to answer that question, and I’m not going to comment on other teams’ business. Obviously if one of those teams that are in search of a general manager wanted to make a comment… but I’m not going to comment on other teams. We did what was best for the Philadelphia Flyers, in my opinion.
What about the possibility of other teams talking to him?
PH: Well, part of my conversation with Mr. Snider in January was [that’s] going to happen at some point.
Ron, when you came back, did you know this was a possibility this soon?
RH: I can assure you when I came back… everybody speculated and I can tell you guys right now you knew more than I did. I came back, I said at the time it was a gut feeling. I had no promises. Did I think and hope this could happen at some point – yes I did. I told you guys earlier, this is my dream job.
In saying that, there were no assurances from anybody. I felt like I just had to come here and do what I do. Whenever Homer decided to move up or whatever happened, I was hoping I was the guy. But I can assure you, there were no assurances.
Ron, what was the best thing you took away from seven years in LA?
RH: I think whenever you see the way another organization runs, I think it’s valuable. But I think the biggest thing was that we went in there and we kind of rebuilt the whole infrastructure of the organization – the scouting staff, our management team, and really revamped everything. It gives you a little bit of insight on kind of building from the ground up.
To Clarkie’s and Homer’s and Mr. Snider’s credit, this has always been a very competitive organization. It’s been a very good team for as long as I can remember, so you don’t get the No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 top draft picks. You build from drafting well. Certainly I think the Flyers have drafted extremely well. You look at a lot of the players in the lineup and around the league, they’re first-round picks from the Flyers.
But it’s… I don’t know if you want to call it an easier model or not, but when you’re real, real bad and you draft high, it’s a little bit easier to build a top team. I think it’s what everybody admires about the Flyers, that they’re always trying to get better, and we’re going to continue to do that. In saying that, I like young players, and I like draft picks.
My vision is to build this team and continue to make this team better through the draft. That doesn’t mean we won’t make trades, it doesn’t mean at some point, if it’s a good enough player and we’ve got to trade a young player, we may look at that.But it’s not a vision of mine to trade young players for older players. It would have to be a really, really strong deal for us.
What’s the difference, if any, in your philosophy vs. Paul’s philosophy?
RH: I don’t think there’s a whole lot of difference. I think it’s funny -- I think I’ve been back eight or nine months, and Homer and I have talked about draft picks, and how we’ve got to keep our draft picks and draft well. Not only do you have to keep them, you’ve got to make them count. We’ve got to continue to try to keep our picks and make good picks.
They’re part of this development. It’s kind of new; I think baseball’s been doing it for a long time. We’re going to strengthen that part of it and hopefully develop a lot of players. It’s important in a cap world to develop players from within. I think home-grown players, players who have a tattoo of the Flyers on their shoulder… it’s important. So we’re going to try to build from within and keep the pieces that we draft, and hopefully develop them into real good players.
On being close to the cap for next season:
RH: I think there’s always challenges, whether you have a lot of guys to sign or you’re close to the cap or you need to get better. There’s challenges every year. Quite honestly, when you’re an ex-player, you love challenges. I look forward to seeing if we can move pieces for a better fit or whatever, and obviously get guys signed to fair deals that will fit under the cap.
There’s a little bit of manipulation in every area where we’ve got to look at everything. Maybe we can shave a little bit off here and get a little bit lesser player, but open some space up. Again, someone else has got to be willing to deal. We’ll look at everything and we’ll analyze, and we’ll do everything we can to make the team stronger moving forward.
What’s your priority with the roster?
RH: We’ve been in player meetings the last few days, and staff meetings. We’ve got to really sit down and take a good look at what we can make better. Homer and I met with Chief the other day, and he’s got some ideas of things he can maybe do better. I think Chief being in charge right from training camp is going to help.
I think our 5-on-5 play has got to get better. Our special teams were pretty good this year, top 10 in the league I believe. 5-on-5 we’ve got to get better.
The thing I really like about our team is everybody talks about our forwards, and that’s a good group, but it’s a young group as well. And that’s important. A lot of these guys are going to get better, and we’ve got to take it upon ourselves to help them get better every day. We’ve got to expect them to be in better shape than they were last year. That’s a little 2-or-3-percenter that we can do better and put our team in a better position to get off to a better start next year.
There’s a lot of little things you can do, but I think when you’re looking to get better you can’t always get better from outside. Sometimes you’ve got to look inside and put it on the players. Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Jake Voracek, Wayne Simmonds – you guys have got to find ways to get better.
I think you’ve always got to look to get better from within first, and then things you can do on the outside you’ll certainly do as well.
Paul, when you approached Mr. Snider in January, was there any weariness on the job or tired of the day-to-day grind?
PH: No, not at all. It’s all about the strength of the organization. You listen to Ron talk today, and you don’t have to sit here that long to realize what a sharp guy he is, and how he carries himself and how he cares about the organization. He was talking about the Flyer logo… I think he’s got one on his ass.
ES: What did you just say?
PH: He’s a smart guy. As I said when I opened this up, today’s the right day to do it and he’s the right man to do it. I have no qualms. I’m excited about what’s ahead for me personally, and there’s ways I can help there too. Ron’s the right guy.
On having outside perspectives in the club’s highest roles:
PH: Ron’s been away for seven years. I’ve been part of other organizations… Craig Berube, he’s played for all 30 teams I think. So he must have learned a lot. I think Craig’s a good coach and he’s only going to get better. I think Ron’s a bright young guy in our game that’s only going to get better.
RH: The one thing I’ll say there… you go outside, I was in LA for seven years… I can tell you people around the league look at Philadelphia and say that’s a very well-run organization; that’s a top organization. This organization, in my mind, has had the respect of the league and the sports world for a long time. It’s been a very successful organization. I think obviously Mr. Snider heading it, this is a model franchise. And I can tell you a lot of other franchises look around at the Philadelphia Flyers and say what are they doing? Because we’re doing something right.
Ron, with that said, you were one of the guys who was really close to the Stanley Cup. Why has the team not been able to get the top prize in 39 years?
RH: It’s hard to do. It’s hard to do. If you think winning a Stanley Cup is easy, I’ve got news for you. The one thing I mentioned earlier, Philadelphia’s not sitting there waiting for No. 1 picks year after year after year for five years. It’s the easy way to go and there’s no guarantees of winning a Cup then. But to maintain something for 25 or 30 years, which has been done here… it’s hard to do.
You take a look at the franchises around the league that have been as successful as this one – probably in all of pro sports – in the last 30 years, and there’s not many. It’s a hard thing to do. They went to the Finals in 2010, we lost in Game 7 in 1987, we lost in the Finals in 1997.
If you look at the track record, other than maybe not winning the big one, which again there’s 30 teams out there -- and right now there’s a team -- I won’t mention any names -- there’s a team out there just collecting No. 1 picks right now. Yeah, they’re going to be a pretty good team in three or four years, but ask their fans if they’ve had a fun last seven or eight years.
The culture of winning is nothing to be embarrassed about. We should all be damn proud of this organization and how successful they’ve been. Short of winning a Stanley Cup, this organization’s done everything. That is the goal, and I can tell you there’s nothing anybody in this organization won’t do to win a Stanley Cup, from the very top all the way down.
On strengthening the organization at the AHL level:
RH: In a perfect world, you’d rather have your young players at that level that don’t make the NHL grow into veteran players, but we don’t have enough draft picks there and circling back to what Homer and I talked about, this year coming up we envision having a lot more draft picks and quite honestly a lot more prospects from the guys who have been drafted the last few years.
We’re going to build this team from within, but it’s important to us to have a good team on the ice there to raise our young players in a winning environment and a very competitive environment. We’re going to try to upgrade with a couple of veterans there that can score, and probably as important, that set a good example for our younger players.
It’s important for us to be successful at that level, and we’re going to do everything we can in our power, but I think the key is having the young guys there. You never know what’s going to shake out at training camp, but we envision having probably four or five guys there that came through the system that were draft picks.
Paul and Ed, did you see management potential in Ron going back to when he was a player?
PH: Before Ron left for LA, he worked for us for six or seven years. Ron and I became very close in our roles we were in at that particular time with the hockey team, and absolutely I saw it. You want to talk about two guys crying like babies when he left. I didn’t want him to leave, and I know Bob didn’t want him to leave at the time, but he thought he was in essence third in line here. He went to LA and they built a Stanley Cup champion. So that’s great for him.
RH: I didn’t really cry. Only Homer did.
Paul, how difficult will it be for you if you don’t agree with a decision Ron’s about to make?
PH: Well, we all have somebody to answer to. We all have bosses. When I was general manager, if I had a big decision I had to make, I had to call Mr. Snider and talk about it. If he didn’t agree, he might ask me why I wanted to do it so bad. I don’t envision having any problems with Ron in that regard. I think he knows the game as good as anyone. He studies things, he’s got a tremendous analytical mind. At the end of the day, he’s going to do what’s good for the Flyers.
Paul, are you going to be in a Peter Luukko role, like a sounding board?
PH: I guess. At least initially, until Ron settles in. There’s a lot of things I want to get busy on on the other side that I don’t know much about. So I’m going to lean on Dave Scott and Mr. Snider and Shawn Tilger. I want to role my sleeves up and get my hands dirty.
So if there’s a trade, will he bounce it off you first?
RH: I’d been an idiot not to. Homer played the game, he was an assistant coach, he was a head coach, as he mentioned [also] in another organization. He was an assistant GM and he’s been a general manager. If I don’t use all my resources, I’m not doing a very good job. Homer will be somebody I talk to about things, and bounce ideas off of.
Why, with a background like he’s got, would I not talk to him? It’s no different than talking to our pro scouts and amateur scouts about amateur or pro players. Absolutely I’ll bounce ideas off of Homer. In the end it’ll be my job, like it was Homer's with Mr. Snider, to talk Homer into what I’m thinking and what I want to do, and then run it up the ladder to Mr. Snider explaining why we think it’s a good move for the organization and why I want to move forward with it.
On what Hextall has learned about engaging in contract negotiations:
RH: Back then was a different day. You could extend contracts, rip contracts up. You could do whatever you want. There’s so much structure now in what you can or can’t do. You can start negotiating with a guy on a multi-year deal on July 1 a year ahead, rather than whenever… a one-year deal on January 1. There’s a lot of structure in there, and there’s also a lot of information for us when you’re trying to slot a player into where he deserves to be based on the hockey player he is.
There’s a lot of information, analytical information – Barry Hanrahan will be a big part of doing the research and helping out in that part like he’s been for Homer the past few years. There’s sometimes with a contract where you might want to reach out because you think a player’s got a lot of upside and maybe at the end it’ll be a bit of a friendly deal, but those are tougher decisions. Actually I think Homer’s made quite a few on our team right now.
In the end, I enjoy doing contracts. I enjoy negotiating and trying to fit pieces in. It’s always a challenge in a cap world. We’ve paid young players a lot of money at a young age. So it’s not like it used to be. We evolve with the times.
Paul Holmgren took questions on his own following the main press conference. That chat appears below.
When you went to Ed in January, Peter had already been gone for a month at that point. How much of this was driven by his departure versus your thinking ahead?
"I guess you could probably say that had some involvement, but Ron is ready for this and I like the challenge of that other side of the game. It really intrigues me. When I first talked to Ron about it Peter was still here. I was shocked when I got the call from Peter telling me what was going on, it was my birthday. We were in Minnesota and I was walking to go to have breakfast with my grandkids and I got the call from Peter. To answer your question, probably a little bit but not as much as you would think."
Was that role attractive to you when Peter decided to move? Did you think to yourself, "yeah I would like to move into that?"
"It probably played a small part in that when Peter left but I had that conversation with Ron prior to Peter leaving."
Why did you want to leave the position of general manager for president?
"A number of reasons. I like the business side and there is more I would like to learn about the game from that side. I also recognize that Ron is a guy that at some point we were going to lose him. Someone was going to come for him and we would have lost a strong asset. A lot has been going on in my mind but at the end of the day I want to do what I planned to do here and get busy. I'm looking forward to it."
Obviously a lot of these general managers openings have happened within the past few months, did you know from back in last June when you talked to Ron that he was going to be someone that was sought after?
"I'm surprised, it was sort of a sideways step for Ron to come back to the Flyers. I would like to believe that our friendship had something to do with him coming back but the fact is he's been a Flyer, he knows what it’s all about. Ron mentioned it when he spoke that there were no promises about anything like that.
I'm sure in the back of his mind he was hoping and I was hoping that it would end like this at some point. Back then in July when Hexy decided to come back, I don't know if I had envisioned this happening this quickly, but he kind of pushed me ahead in my thinking about what I wanted to do."
Paul, one of the first parts of the transition will be preparing for the draft. Do you plan being actively involved during that phase?
"I've been involved up until this point but so has Ron, as much as I have been. Chris Pryor is the guy who is in charge of our scouting, he's around a lot and talks with both Ron and I. There is work to do. The Memorial Cup is coming up, the combine is coming up, I'm sure Ron will make it to that… I probably won't. Then obviously we have the draft."
You've talked about how much you've enjoyed scouting, is that something that will allow you to get your feet wet a little bit?
"I think without a doubt I'm going to do that from time to time when the opportunity arises. When you are the general manager, and Ron is about to find out, all of those things that you have in the back of your mind that you want to do... you can't because something else comes up.
You lose sight, there’s a lot of things going on on the business side, you lose sight of your prospects and you lose sight of draft picks that are becoming available in the next draft. Is that something that I can do to help? Possibly, but I'm going to get settled in and get busy on some of the other things on this side now."
What was the most challenging part of your 8 years of being general manager?
"Dealing with the media." [laughter] I don't know, there is a lot of challenging things about the job but I never got to the point where I went home and said, 'I hate this job.' I love my job. I just changed jobs and I'm looking forward to what lays ahead of me."
In a perfect world would this be happening 4 to 5 years from now?
"I'm not sure what would happen with Ron, he would probably somewhere else."
That's what I mean. In a perfect world he doesn't have an opportunity for a couple more years.
"I don't know about that, he's ready. He's more than ready, he's been ready for a few years. He put his time in and he's earned the opportunity. I think he's going to be a star. I really do."
How would you evaluate your own term here?
"I don't know, I'm not going to get into that. We didn't win. At the end of the day that's what it’s all about. We had one kick at it in 2010 but we didn't win so, unfulfilled. Fulfilling personally, but in terms of doing what you're supposed to do, we didn't win."
Will you always wonder what would have been if Pronger would've been healthy?
"We've talked about that, we talked about it yesterday. Not the “what if,” but we gave up a lot to get Chris. In fact I asked Ron, he was in Los Angeles when we made that trade. I said, 'What'd you think of that trade? Was it steep?' He said, 'Yeah, but that's the only way you were going to get him.' Then we talked about how nice it would've been to have him this year... you try not to dwell on those things but every once and a while they come up."
You've still been trying to fill that role ever since right?
"Yeah, I said this the other day, probably the only way you're going to get that guy is draft him. Who knows, maybe we have him. Maybe Sam Morin or Robert Hagg, or Gostisbehere. Maybe he's going to be in this draft. Who knows?
That's a long time to wait.
"Well I don't know, the game has changed a little bit where there’s young players every year that pop up on someone’s lineup. We have a couple that could be here next year but you never know."
Paul, is the hardest commodity to get in hockey that franchise defensemen?
"You could argue that. That's one of things, it has been a franchise goalie, a franchise centerman ... there's a lot of different things that you need to be a good team and I believe that we have a lot of good pieces in place. Are there areas where we need to get better? Sure, but I think most teams would say the same thing. Nobody around here is allergic to hard work and we're going to continue to get better and win."
What about the structure of the organization? Does that make it sort of a different situation here?
"I'm sure I'm not going to be making big decisions on the business side but with my hockey background maybe through sitting with Shawn, Mr. Snider, and Dave Scott maybe there is something they don't know about the hockey side that could turn a light on on the business side, or vice versa. It's the business of hockey. Let's face it, it’s a business and we've all got to get better at it."
Ron says that he watches old clips of himself and says, "Wow was I really that crazy on the ice?" He says he is not the as person and as an executive you can't do that. Did you notice a change in him at all? He said the same thing with you. You were a physical player and we've watched how calm you were as the general manger, you get a new job and you can't be the same person you were on the ice. Was that an adjustment for you? And do you see him making that as well?
"There is an on ice guy and an off ice guy. What I see now is an off ice guy who is very intelligent, very articulate and knows the game inside and out. It has been growing over the last fifteen years so he's obviously learned from that."
Was there a moment when Ron came back after being with L.A. that you can think of where he might have said or done something that made you say, "He got that from the Kings or (Dean) Lombardi” that shows his growth seeing the game as an executive?
"I can remember watching a Phantoms game with him earlier in the year and he said, 'How many draft picks do we have playing in this game?' Honest question right? I think I said, 'Four?' Cousins was there and we were counting free-agent guys that we brought in, not young guys or older guys that we brought in from other organizations, I think we had four or five. He just mentioned that, and the team that we were playing against that night had twelve.
So we've got to get better at that. He mentioned it today that we have to keep our draft picks and we've got to do a better job in that regard and he's right, we do.
The other thing that we have to get better at is development. He's gone out of his way to help with that development side. In the limited amount of time he's been here he has hired a guy to work with the forwards that we drafted in our organization, not playing for the Phantoms but in our organization.
He gets on the ice with them and does work, and when time allows Kjell Samuelsson works with our defensemen. He's been out seeing Gostisbehere, Sammy Morin. It's not that we weren't doing these things prior to that but just not to the level we are now. Instead of having one player up top, now we have two. There’s been some changes that have been ideas of his and I guess a result of the forcefulness of him getting those ideas across."
Paul when you look at your time here is there one thing you're more proud of? Maybe going from the worst in the league to the Eastern Conference Finals the next year, or the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010, or maybe something else? Is there something that you're most proud of?
"I don't know how to answer that. Both of those years were good years. I don't know how to respond to that."
What will you miss most about this job? Was it fun to make trades? Is there a certain part of the job that you will miss?
"I'm not sure it was fun making that Pronger trade because of all of the assets that we had to give up but there is a lot that is fun about the job. In particular, winning. When you see your team winning we all still enjoy that."
How tough was it then to say, I'm going to go do something else. You said last week you still had the passion for it.
"Well now I have a passion for something different and I'm still part of the team. I don't view it any differently, we all have different areas that we focused on and mine changed today. I'm really looking forward to it."
Is it fair to say the most difficult thing was to trade Richards and Carter in the same day? How difficult was that, and how do you think that panned out?
"Yeah, Mike and Jeff grew up in our organization, drafted, developed...those were difficult trades, both of them are good kids. How has it panned out? I don't know that the Flyers have seen the full results of that.
I think the parts of that trade that are here are good players that are still blossoming. Sean Couturier was the draft pick in the trade with Columbus and the sky is the limit with him. Wayne Simmonds continues to improve, Brayden Schenn is an improving and emerging player, and then Jake Voracek, I think, is one of the most exciting players to watch in the league. They're not at their peak yet, so I don't know.
L.A. won the Stanley Cup with Mike and then made the trade with Columbus to get Jeff so it works out. I wish it had worked out where we won a Stanley Cup but maybe we will, that's the idea."
Ron Hextall also took questions on his own. They appear below.
Paul said that you have a tremendous analytical mind. Are you a guy that reads into any of the analytics that are out there and follow any of that stuff or are you more someone that just goes by what you see?
“No, analytics is where we’re going. I’m very interested in it. It’s very intriguing. Why I have an analytical mind I have no idea, but I do. You can’t overvalue it, but in my mind it’s going to become more and more and more valuable, I think in all sports. It’s another tool. Why not use every tool available?
You still need eyes on hockey players. You need that. I don’t think that will ever change, but the analytics – I wouldn’t say it’s a huge part – but it’s going to get bigger and bigger. I’m interested. It intrigues me.”
You say this is a dream job. Is there pressure now on you, do you feel that being in this market where fans want a Cup so bad, extra pressure?
“No, I don’t think so. If you can be a player, you can certainly handle the pressure of this. I welcome it. I know I have a big responsibility, and I’ll do everything I can to do the best job I can do. Again, I think that connection with the Flyers makes it more special, and there’s nothing more I’d rather do than win a Stanley Cup in Philadelphia.”
When you look back on this year, what’s your opinion of your first year – how the team did, how everything went – how’d it go?
“I think it was a good year. You look, you make the playoffs – I think it’s hard to make the playoffs nowadays. You get 16 teams, it used to be 21 teams, 16 made the playoffs, and you had to be really bad not to. Now, it’s a battle, it really is. There’s no gimme games, every game’s a hard game, and it’s hard every night.
We made the playoffs this year. I guess the disappointing thing for me this year is we could have won the first round. I don’t feel like we got beat. I feel like we lost it. We were capable of winning it and we didn’t. We have to be better; we have to find ways. The second period probably of Game 7 there was a good example of parts of our season. You can’t have that big of a letdown for a whole period, or most of a period.
Obviously, you’re not going to be totally on top of your game every night or for every period, but you’ve got to find ways to be better. You can’t accept having a period that we’re a bad hockey team. You’ve got to push every night and be a good team every period.”
What areas do you think the team needs improvement? Is it speed, battling corners or just in general terms?
“There are a lot of little things that we’ll look at moving forward here. Again, I really like the upside of our young forwards. Can we add speed? Yeah, we can add speed. Can we add skill? Yeah, probably. I think our team’s skilled enough. I guess the one thing I’ll be looking at is the fit with our forwards. Does everything fit together? Do we have the best fit for player X, player Y? I’ll be looking hard at that. I think on defense we’ve got a couple guys that are getting older, so we’ve got to take a peek at that as well.
We do have three good, young defensemen coming right now that we’re real excited about. We also can’t rush the process with these guys. They’re young people and they’re young players, and we can’t just throw them in the lineup and expect them to make us a better team.
That’ll all shake out at training camp and throughout the year, but the one thing I’m not in favor of is rushing young players. Sometimes one step is better at a time than two. Again, we’ve got the pieces coming on the back end, so we’ve got to be careful not to move them for older players. I don’t see it happening.
I like our team. I think the team’s in a good spot, and quite honestly, I think I’m taking over at a good time.”
Is Kimmo a guy you’d like to re-sign if he decides to return? If he wants to return?
“We talked to Kimmo the other day, and we’ll wait to see where he comes back to us. We’ve got the cap issue and everything else, but yeah, we’d like to have Kimmo back. He’s a smart player. He’s a good player, and he’s a good example for our young people, as well.”
You’ve been asked about contracts before, but you did say that a lot of your guys are already locked up to pretty long deals. Does that make it tougher in a sense, that you don’t have some of the flexibility, than if you were inheriting a team that’s way below the cap? You have guys that are locked up for a long time now.
“A lot of the guys that we’ve got locked up are young players, so that’s great. Are there guys locked up that maybe don’t fit with us? Maybe. You look, again, we were a pretty good team this year with the team we had. So we should be better next year, just from within.
Just with all young players getting better. There aren’t a lot of old guys that are going to take a step back. So we should be better just from within, but in saying that, if we can find a deal out there that one player’s a better fit than a guy we’ve got, we’ll look at everything.”
You mentioned the difference between being part of the Flyers, which reload basically every year in an attempt to win a championship vs. the [Los Angeles] Kings, where you had to fill the entire infrastructure of the organization. How jarring was that difference when you first got there? Was there a moment when you remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is completely different from what I experienced with the Flyers,’ and what was it like to deal with that and get accustomed to it?
“Yeah, there were a lot of those moments. We went in there and quite honestly, we were a bad hockey team. I hadn’t been through a lot of that in my time in hockey, 22 years or whatever it had been at the time. It was an adjustment. I think the one thing you can never allow yourself to do is accept losing. That was hard, because you don’t accept it. You also had to step back as a manager – you’re not a player anymore.
It’s not emotional; you can’t be emotionally involved. You’ve got to use your head to make deals, not necessarily your emotions. I knew I was a manager, not a player and just had to sit back and build this thing. We had a vision, and you’ve got to build with your vision. I’ve got a vision here already. Again, you see our young defensemen and I don’t think it’s going to be next year, but in two or three years you can kind of look at our defense and say ‘OK, this guy will be here, this guy will be here and this guy will be here.’
You’ve always got to be in the present. You always have to have a vision toward the future.”
How big of an adjustment is that for you to hold in your emotions? People remember you playing as a guy that didn’t take any crap out there, in addition to talent. With a team struggling, I’ve seen people in motions who want to trade the whole team or so. Is that something that goes through your head and you have to say, ‘I can’t do this’?
“Don’t ask me why because I don’t know why, I guess older wiser. I watch YouTube too, and I look at that guy and think ‘man, he must be crazy.’ I don’t know. I’m not a different person, I’m the same person, but I think as your role evolves you start to realize.
Quite honestly, I watched Bob Clarke for years. Here’s a guy that I watched as the most feared competitor ever. He was my general manager as a player, and then all of a sudden I step up into scouting and Clarkie’s still there. I’m kind of watching him every day, and I see this patient guy and I’m kind of like – woah, that’s not exactly what I expected. Did he get mad? Yeah, he’d get mad every once in a while, but I looked at him and he was a great mentor for me. Again along with Homer, I worked extremely close with Homer and you could say the same about him – emotional guy, he was a hard-nosed player.
You step back into a different role and you’ve got to adjust. I can’t make decisions with emotion. You’ve got to make them with your head and with your gut.”
Ron, what are your thoughts about hosting the draft?
“I think it’s great. I think it’s great for the city, and I’m excited about it. It’s kind of a neat thing to step into.”
You mentioned the young defensemen that you want to bring along. Clearly, that aspect of the sport is at the forefront now. You see successful teams with defensemen that can move the puck and skate. Looking at analytics, do you see the next thing, what do you think is next beyond that? At some point, teams are going to figure out a way to counteract that. Are you looking ahead to see ‘OK, what’s next, what’s the next iteration here, the thing that becomes the thing that teams need to succeed?’
“I’m not exactly sure what you’re asking, but I’ll answer what I think you’re asking – is the next vision of a defensemen. We’ve got to be really careful getting too small. You look at some of the series out West and Boston – it’s not a real small man’s game. It is a quick game, it’s a fast game, it’s a puck moving game.
There’s no doubt about that. Some people talk about small puck movers and stuff, and that’s the way to build a team, but if you look at the best defensemen in the league, they’re not small puck movers. They’re bigger guys that you have some physical play, you have puck movers, you have smart guys.
I think the defensive stick is something that people don’t talk about enough. It’s huge. It’s huge. It’s so hard to score goals. You can’t give up easy goals, whether it’s your goaltender or your defense. You’ve got to close on players. So you’ve got to have good feet, you’ve got to have big bodies and again, hockey sense is a huge part of the game. The average fan doesn’t necessarily see it, but I really like smart players, competitive players, obviously fast players.”
Do goalies see the game differently? A lot of people think if there’s a difference between you and Paul [Holmgren], that might be it.
“I don’t know. Everybody asks me that because goalies are all the announcers and stuff, but I always say we are the smart guys. I don’t know. It’s a good question. A lot of goalies obviously stay in the game, whether it be in the media on TV or working for teams. The whole theory is the goalie sees the whole ice, sort of like a defensemen sees most of the ice. I don’t know if there’s anything to it or not. I haven’t analyzed that.”
You’ve known Craig [Berube] for a long time. You’re inheriting a coach obviously, but what’s your relationship with him and how do you think that will help you moving forward?
“I have a very good relationship with him. I think the biggest thing in relationships is respect, and I have that for Chief, and the players have it for Chief probably more importantly. I played with him; I know what he’s all about. I’ve been with him here. I was in on the decision at the start of the year. I can’t say that I had as much pull as Homer there because obviously he knew Chief from assistant coaching here, but I can tell you I felt good about it.
I felt good about Chief going in even though it was risky. Whenever you put the head coach in that’s never been an NHL head coach, it’s risky. But obviously in the end it played out, and it was a good decision. Chief was a smarter player than people give him credit for because he played the role he did, but he had good hockey sense. He knows the game.
That doesn’t always translate from the ice to off-ice, but with Chief he was a lot smarter player than people give him credit for.”
Were there any decisions that Paul made in the last year that you weren’t entirely on board with, or maybe decisions that you’re now inheriting that in hindsight you might have done differently, gone in a different direction?
“We all have different ideas about structure of a team, and structure of a management team, and structure of a scouting staff, so there will be little tweaks there. I can tell you Homer and I have – the seven years before and this year, I’ve worked with him for eight years now, and he was also assistant coach back when I played for a couple of years and then head coach, so I’ve had a long relationship with him – and I can tell you that I remember one time early in my scouting career there I didn’t agree with him. I said ‘Homer, I don’t think – Clarkie was GM at the time – I don’t think it’s a good move.’ I kind of felt bad because I was young and I was just a year or so into it, and I’m thinking ‘Oh boy.’
He looked at me and said, ‘You know, that’s reasonable.’ I was kind of like, ‘I don’t mean to..’ and he said, ‘You know what, if every mind thought the same, there’s no reason to have everybody.’ It was a great lesson for me at that time, where you have to speak your mind; you have to tell your boss or people around you what you think. It’s communication, and typically in the end it’s going to be my decision, but I’ll be talking to scouts and personnel people, and Homer, and other people.
In the end, again, it’s my decision, but if you’re not using your resources and your people, you’re probably not doing a better job. I’m a little longwinded there. In short with Homer, I don’t know in the eight years that there’s ever been something we’ve done that we haven’t come to some type of a compromise.
I’ve always been under Homer, so I’m not going to bang on the table and say 'but there’s things that I didn’t want to do that he said this is why I think we should do it, it was reasonable, and vice versa.' No two people think alike, but I know this, we’ve worked together very well before without any confrontations – you guys might not believe that, based on our playing careers – but it’s true.”
Were you OK with resigning MacDonald for example? Moves like that?
“Yeah. We needed to resign him.”
Into the amount of money and so forth?
“Yeah. That’s what the market dictated. Quite honestly, his agent kept saying he might have got more. He might have. He’s a good player. He’s a young player and when you look, you talk about a vision moving forward, you start to do your boxes with your defense and Andrew’s right in there with our young guys, as an older guy in two or three years. That’s the type of vision that you have to have and you have to plan like that.
So Andrew MacDonald’s going to be a big part of this team moving forward. Did we love the cap number? No. We would have liked to have been a little lower, but in the end if I was his agent I could have probably said it should have been a little higher. Which typically, if neither side’s real happy with the deal, you probably got a fair deal.”
Since 2000 the Flyers are the only team in the league that doesn’t have a drafted and developed defensemen playing regular minutes for them every night. Is that a foremost priority, to get that solved right away?
“Yeah, it is. I think we’ve got Kjell Samuelsson on our development team now, and he’s worked with our young defensemen a lot this year. He was up seeing Sam Morin a lot, Shayne Gostisbehere, he was over in Sweden with Robert Hagg.
So yes, it’s a huge priority. I think the one thing that hasn’t changed in my mind about building a team is build through the middle – your goaltender, your defense and your centermen. You have to be strong there or you can’t win. If you look at the history of the teams that have won, typically there’s a one-two punch in the middle at center, going back to Yzerman-Fedorov, Forsberg-Sakic, Kopitar-Richards, all kinds of examples of the one-two. Then on defense you’ve got to be strong. You can’t win in the playoffs without defense and goaltending. What are my priorities in terms of building a team? That’s it. Right through the middle.”
Paul just said that he told Brownie that the only way to get a top-level defenseman, a number one guy, is to draft one and develop him. Are you convinced of that?
“Yeah, I am. The problem is if something does come along, a number one defensemen, you’re giving up two or three young players, two or three draft picks. You fill one hole and you create three or four others. That’s the whole thing – trying to get all those holes filled at the same time. In a cap world, you’re always going to have a weakness. So you want the weakness on the wing or wherever, that to me, that’s how I think. If you’re going to have a weakness, that’s where it should be.”
What are your most immediate fillable goals? Personnel wise, what do you think this team needs immediately?
“Like I said, I really like our group of forwards. Whether it’s a perfect fit, that’s a thing I tend to look at as the lines and the fit. There’s a couple things. We had a lot of guys move around the lineup this year. I’d like to find one or two guys that are a little better fit. I don’t know if that will be out there or not.
That would be one priority and I think on defense, we’d like to upgrade, but I’m not going to do something rash to upgrade short term. We’re building this thing. Like I said, we’ve got some good, young defensemen coming and defense is going to be a priority.”
Hexy, beyond Mason, what do you expect to do on goaltending if [Ray] Emery’s not signed for next year?
“I’m not sure there. We’ve got to evaluate that position and see whether we go with Ray or look elsewhere. I’m really not sure on that one yet. I think Ray did an admirable job for us this year. I know he’s got a real good relationship with Mase, which is important, but like any other position if you can upgrade, you’re going to try to upgrade.”
It’s no secret that defensemen tend to have a little longer learning curve than forwards. How hard is it to balance developing your defensemen with trying to compete every year?
“Even when you’re competing at a high level you’ve got to continue to develop. Trying to balance a cap out when one player’s getting older and wants a whole bunch of money, you’ve got to try to replace him from within with a little cheaper. It’s a big cycle. Development is not going to go away. I don’t care if we’re a top five contender in the league, we’re going to continue development. It’s going to continue to be a priority. So are draft picks. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to trade draft picks because inevitably we will. But we’re going to try and hold as many as we can and develop as many of our own players as possible. I think the hardest part is wanting to put young players in the lineup.
Here’s how I view it – a young player’s got to earn his way onto the team. Not be saying ‘OK, player X is on the team and he’s got to play his way off.’ No, he’s going to earn his way onto the team ahead of a veteran. That’s kind of the way I view it. I think if a player doesn’t come into training camp and really show you something, he probably needs more time. You look at young players, tell me one young player in the history of hockey that’s been hurt by spending some time in the minors.
I can tell you, there are hundreds and hundreds that have been hurt by being put in an NHL lineup too soon. We did our pro meetings halfway through this year – the theme that kept coming up was too much too soon. It’s hard to hold yourself back, but those are the types of decisions you make.
As much as a year, or six months, or three months seems like a long time – it’s not. It’s no different than sending your child to kindergarten. The gift of time, sometimes that’s just the best thing.”
You mentioned scouting and hanging onto draft picks and so forth. How much difference is there between the Kings’ and Flyers’ philosophy, and how much maybe are you bringing over from LA with that idea?
“I think we all learn. I think scouting is a little more intimate than it used to be. I think getting to know the players along the way is important. I think being diligent with what you’re looking for and giving them a direction is important. It’s no secret if you watch the playoffs right now, will goes a long way.
I’m a big will guy, and that doesn’t mean physical. That means will, and that means driven. It can be a little guy that’s just flat out driven to score, driven to win. I like players that have a lot of drive and they want to win. That’s the priority.
Again, whether it’s a center that’s not physical, he can still be driven. Claude's probably a really good example. Here’s not a real big guy, and he’s one of the top players in the league because he’s got a lot of will.”
How long were you asking Paul [Holmgren], ‘Are you sure about this, are you sure about this?’
“It was over the course of a few days. He said, ‘Will you shut up already?’”