The Flyers dropped a bombshell on Tuesday, but not the one fans and pundits really saw coming.
It was GM Ron Hextall —and not coach Dave Hakstol— who got the axe as the Flyers’ top brass citing a differing philosophical approach on the direction of the club as a driving factor in the move.
Hextall was far from perfect, as most GMs are, but was able to get the Flyers out from under a murky salary cap situation and re-stock a bone-dry cupboard of NHL-level prospects. But his undoing was doing too little, not making enough moves necessary in order to take the Flyers to the next step and into Stanley Cup contention under his watch.
Taking the Flyers forward and taking that next step towards contention will be the duty of someone other than Hextall, once unthinkable but now a firm reality for the Orange and Black.
Ahead of the Flyers’ press conference today at 11am ET to hash into the move to part ways with Hextall, let’s delve into some of the names that have been bandied about in association with the Flyers’ now open GM position.
Fletcher, 51, spent nine seasons with the Wild as general manager but didn’t have his contract renewed this offseason. The Wild made the playoffs in six of his nine seasons, but never advanced past the second round and were eliminated in the first round in three-straight years.
Seven current members of the Wild are Fletcher’s draft picks, including five from the first two rounds of the draft. Despite that, the Wild don’t have much to show from their last few drafts, with just a handful of homegrown players from the past four draft years. Fletcher was also a driving force behind landing heralded free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter back in the summer of 2012 when then Flyers GM Paul Holmgren was near desperate to ink the pair.
But for the talent Fletcher brought in to Minnesota, he also let some useful pieces get away like Erik Haula and Alex Tuch to Vegas, while uber prospect Kirill Kaprizov couldn’t be swayed to join the Wild from Russia.
Fletcher was mentioned by TSN’s Darren Dreger on Tuesday on Twitter as an early name in the Flyers’ search.
Carolina hasn’t been asked yet by Philadelphia for permission to talk to Francis but obviously this is early in the process https://t.co/JeQ0MpzX5p— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) November 26, 2018
Lombardi, 60, is currently a Senior Advisor to the General Manager with the Flyers, his second stint with the club after serving as scout for a time prior to taking over the Kings’ GM position in 2006. A solid record of drafting and development in Los Angeles netted Lombardi players such as Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown, Alec Martinez, and Trevor Lewis, who were key cogs on what would end up being two Stanley Cup winning teams in LA. He also added Mike Richards and Jeff Carter via trade to help get the Kings over the hump, showing a willingness to part with young talent in order facilitate progress.
The Kings flamed out towards the end of Lombardi’s tenure, though, missing the playoffs in 2014 after their second Cup run in three seasons and falling to the Sharks in the first round in 2015 in five games. They missed the playoffs yet again in 2016 and Lombardi was relieved of his duties and replaced by Rob Blake.
Then there’s Lombardi’s handling of both the Mike Richards and Slava Voynov situations, which were handled poorly and leave a black mark on his candidacy for sure.
Given his place in the Flyers organization and their willingness to bring him on after he was ousted in Los Angeles, his experience makes him a natural replacement for Hextall, who was his understudy once upon a time.
Again mentioned by Dreger, Francis is in the midst of parting ways with the Carolina Hurricanes after a four-year stint with the club as general manager and later as president of hockey operations. His contract with the Canes was terminated on April 30.
Much like Hextall, Francis met the job with patience and felt as though the reward would be worth the wait. But a mixed bag of drafts along with stagnated production from veteran stalwarts like Jordan Staal, Eric Staal, and Cam Ward sank the Canes, and their new owner soured on Francis quickly a year after giving him a promotion.
The Hurricanes didn’t make the playoffs in any of Francis’ four seasons and had a high watermark finish of 87 points in that span. His four drafts haven’t been long in terms of NHL games, but he did hit on Sebastien Aho and the Canes’ prospect pool is generally well regarded overall though his replacement did flip two of his earlier picks in Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm in the Dougie Hamilton deal.
Francis, like Hextall, has definite NHL pedigree, but didn’t seem to share the same on-ice success in the front office. If Hextall’s process was taking too long for the Flyers’ brass, perhaps Francis would be more of the same.
For Flyers GM ... I mean, it's gotta be:— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) November 26, 2018
2. Dean Lombardi (unless they just see him as a Hextall extension
3. Ron Francis
4. Pierre McGuire*
*in my dreams.
Pronger, 44, fits the mold of former Flyers joining the front office as the Flyers have been run more less by a former player in 30 of the last 34 years. If the Flyers got more bark than bite with Hextall, maybe they’ll get it with their snarly former captain, who is currently a senior advisor of hockey operations for the Florida Panthers.
His name was brought up by TSN’s Frank Seravalli, along with that of both Fletcher and Francis in his retrospective of Hextall’s tedious tenure.
The one-time Hart Trophy winner was essentially forced into early retirement in 2011 due to post concussion syndrome and a bad eye injury, but remained with the Flyers as a scout for a couple years before officially being allowed to retire when his contact ended in 2017.
Pronger has always had a bright mind for the game and has been spending time getting to know the front office side of things for a few years. He would certainly fulfill the former Flyer qualification that has been part of the Flyers’ GM job over the course of the years, though he could be too much of an outside of the box hire for a club that could be in win-now mode more than ever after watching Hextall sit around and build for the better part of five years.
Seravalli dropped Snow’s name as well, and oh boy would that be some kind of choice for the Flyers to replace Hextall with his former crease mate. Snow, of course, spent 12 years as the Islanders’ GM after retiring to take the post back in 2006. He won NHL Executive of the Year in his first year on the job, but made the playoffs just four times in those 12 years overall.
While the man with the massive shoulder pads during his playing days did turn the Islanders back into a respectable franchise, he also made some head-scratching moves that included a 15-year deal for Rick DiPietro, though the Islanders were prepared to offer a similar deal a year earlier sans Snow. Nevertheless, Snow still offered the deal and it turned out to be one of the very worst in NHL history. Though new rules would prevent Snow from making such a mistake again, it might not be wise to give Snow the keys to the Flyers franchise in any event with other more qualified options out there.
Kidding. Well, sort of? Considering all things Flyers, this wouldn’t even surprise in the least.