On November 26, 2018, Ronald Jeffrey Hextall was relieved of his duties as the general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers. This news came as quite a shock to not just our nation of Flyers fans, but the hockey world at large. If you had asked 100 people - who had any semblance of knowledge about the Flyers - whose head would be the first to roll following a 6-0 shellacking at the hands (skates? sticks?) of the Auston Matthews/William Nylander-less Toronto Maple Leafs, 99 people would have chanted “Fire Hakstol” without the slightest hesitation. However, during the early hours on that fateful Monday morning, our Twitter app collectively alerted us to the most shocking news this organization has reported in quite some time.
With the firing of Hextall came the usual gluttony of rumors and “reporting” that befall most any man or woman of prominence who descends from favor. We’ve heard the press conferences, we’ve read about the rumors, and we’ve dissected what may or may not have happened that ultimately led to Paul Holmgren & Co. seeing fit to move in a different direction. We’ve even begun to speculate about who the next general manager of the Orange & Black may be. However, before we fully move on, a debt of gratitude is owed to the man we put our trust in just shy of five years ago. Regardless of the rumors, the stories, or whatever we may hear, Ron Hextall has done some very good things.
Clearing the C(r)ap
As it stands right now, the Philadelphia Flyers have over $12,000,000.00 in cap space, with the number only increasing as the trade deadline approaches. During the pre-cap era the Flyers were never afraid to spend money, but the same held true once the salary cap was instituted after the 2004-05 season was lost due to a lockout. Paul Holmgren made sure to spend nearly every penny he could in an attempt to fulfill Ed Snider’s aggressive wishes of a constant “win now” mentality.
In fact, there were times when the team was forced into ridiculous paper transactions, demotion of players to the minors exposing them to waivers, and long-term injured reserve loopholes in order to become cap compliant each and every season. I will say though it was quite exhilarating to be a Flyers fan. Every single off-season, regardless of how ridiculous the rumors might be, the Flyers were always involved in some way, shape, or form for the biggest names available. Be it trading for the rights to Ilya Bryzgalov and signing him to a gargantuan contract, or signing Shea Weber to the most asinine offer sheet the league has ever seen, the Flyers were in it to win it.
Despite such aggression, Holmgren was never able to hit on any of these moves in the hopes of Lord Stanley’s Cup being paraded down Broad Street for the first time in over 43 years. The Pronger acquisition got this team close, but we all know how that unfolded, which seemed to be the epitome of Holmgren’s tenure as the Flyers’ general manager; just missed it by that much.
All of these contracts left this team in dire straights once Holmgren was fired, er, promoted? Yea, promoted, we’ll go with that! Once Hextall took over as the GM, he was given the unenviable task of clearing out the crap his predecessor left behind. So, where to start?
- Scott Hartnell swapped for RJ Umberger. Hextall was able to turn five years at $4.75 million per of a rapidly declining Scott Hartnell for a more manageable three years, $4.6 million per RJ Umberger. While not a huge deal on the surface, this trade sped up the process of clearing out cap space to put this team in the position it’s in now.
- Nicklas Grossmann and Chris Pronger’s contract to Arizona for Sam Gagner and a 4th round pick. Somehow, someway, Ron Hextall was able to move literal dead weight in Grossmann, as well as a $4.9 million cap hit in Pronger’s contract for an actually useful player in Sam Gagner, plus a draft pick. This was unthinkable, but Hexy pulled it off and cleared even more space off the books.
- Zac Rinaldo to the Boston Bruins for a third round pick. LOL. Do I even need to expound upon this one?
- Luke Schenn and Vinny Lecavalier to the Los Angeles Kings for Jordan Weal and a third round pick. This was akin to the dealing of Grossmann and Pronger, but netted the Flyers a higher upside player in Weal who has made a decent impact at the NHL level for the Orange & Black. That third round pick eventually became Carsen Twarysnki, who is not far from doing the same.
- Braydon Coburn to Tampa Bay for Radko Gudas, a first, and a third. Coburn was the longest tenured Flyer at the time of the trade, but moving on from the aging defenseman proved to be the right move in hindsight. Gudas has been a fine enough addition on the blueline, but the real kicker in this deal is the 29th overall pick that Hextall was able to garner as part of the trade. Ron packaged this pick along with a second round pick to move up five spots during the 2015 NHL draft, enabling he and his staff to select Travis Konecny, who has become a mainstay on the team’s top line right wing.
Hextall was able to make all of these moves while also steering clear of dishing out overpriced, term-laden contracts to shiny new (old) toys on July 1 of each off-season. This is what has set the Flyers up to be in a position of strength as it relates to the salary cap at this very moment, and for that, Ron, we thank you.
Re-stocking of the cupboard (and the pantry, and the cabinets, and the coat closet, and the junk drawer)
Paul Holmgren spent eight years as the general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers and was the man at the helm of the NHL Entry Draft for seven out of those eight years. During those seven drafts, Holmgren made five first round selections (James van Riemsdyk, Luca Sbisa, Scott Laughton, Sean Couturier, and Sam Morin) and just three second round selections (Kevin Marshall, Anthony Stolarz, and Robert Hagg). Homer turned around and traded two of those first round picks shortly after Flyers’ careers started (JVR and Sbisa). Outside of drafting Shayne Gostisbehere in the third round of the 2012 draft, Homer wasn’t exactly the best drafter of talent outside of the first two rounds. How did Hextall compare to his pal Holmgren in this area?
Hextall was the man in charge of the previous five drafts for your Philadelphia Flyers. In those five years, Hextall has amassed eight first round picks (Travis Sanheim, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, German Rubtsov, Nolan Patrick, Morgan Frost, Joel Farabee, and Jay O’Brien), as well as six second round picks (Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Pascal Laberge, Carter Hart, Wade Allison, Isaac Ratcliffe, and Adam Ginning). We are now beginning to see the fruits of some of these picks at the NHL level, while some are on a clear path to make it here in the near future. However, where Hextall has show the most prowess as a GM is in the later rounds of the draft.
Hextall was able to nab some absolute gems once the Flyers were picking past the first two rounds of the draft. Some notable names include Oskar Lindblom (5th round, 2014), Mark Friedman (3rd round, 2014), Mikhail Vorobyev (4th round, 2015), and Linus Hogberg (5th round, 2016). Obviously not every prospect is going to pan out, but Hextall has proven that he was capable of finding some diamonds in the rough and we are still waiting for his most recent draft classes to begin panning out. Despite having two less drafts to work with, Hextall was able to make 41 selections at the NHL Entry Draft during his time as the Flyers’ GM in comparison to Holmgren’s 43. That is quite a feat when you consider the cap situation he inherited.
The patience to see it through
Well, Ron, while this may ultimately be what did you in during those final days, at least this organization is poised to take a step forward with the amount of cap space and assets it has acquired since you took the reigns back in 2014. Ideally, the process would have moved quicker and things would have clicked into gear sooner. Unfortunately it didn’t pan out that way, but we thank you for being patient enough to complete each step along the way. You didn’t waver, not for a second, and because of that the next GM of this team will be locked and loaded to pull the trigger on whatever they see fit, which may ultimately result in what we are all dying for.
I can’t imagine it was easy. Biding your time as the contracts expired, waiting for draft picks to develop and turn into the players you evaluated they might be. But you did it! You held your ground - probably to a fault - and positioned this franchise to take a step forward. We don’t know what having cap space is like. We aren’t entirely sure how drafting and developing is supposed to work because our assets were never around long enough for us to watch them grow. Maybe that’s why we became so frustrated... the confusion, the passiveness, the patience. Maybe we just weren’t ready for it.
Regardless, Ronald J. Hextall, we have you to thank for the position this team is in moving forward on its trek to become Stanley Cup champions. Without your cap shedding, contract moving savvy-ness, your drafting ability, and ultimately your patience, this team would not be poised to take a leap with such a bevy of options before it. We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors and know this will not be the end of Ron Hextall in the National Hockey League.