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Ron Hextall and the curious case of departed Flyers

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To paraphrase Bill Withers, ain’t no sunshine when he’s gone.

2020 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Rebecca Fiorentino/NHLI via Getty Images

Sometimes in life, when you feel lost for words, there can be no better medium through which to express one’s emotions than through music. Today, Ron Hextall’s appointment as General Manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins reminded me of the following lyric in Passenger’s Let Her Go:

Dreams come slow, and they go so fast

Hextall build a dream for this Flyers franchise, and meticulously crafted a vision built in said image. In the end, however, such a relatively short period of time of only four years flew by under the imprudent leadership of Dave Hakstol, yet droned on due to Hextall’s unwillingness to deviate to a sprint from his marathon approach.

Now, Ron Hextall the hockey executive steps into the next phase of his long career in the sport of hockey, with one of the Flyers’ most despised rivals. He’ll form a trio together with new President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke and Le Magnifique himself, owner and chairman Mario Lemieux to reinvigorate the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Hextall has indeed been employed by other franchises not located in the city of Philadelphia. As an executive, he served as assistant (to the) General Manager for the so called Flyers of the West in the Los Angeles Kings. As a player, Hextall played one season each in Quebec and in New York for the Islanders. However, none of those franchises can be considered direct rivals of the Flyers. Sure, Quebec fans around 30 years ago loathed the Flyers through Eric Lindros and his refusal to play for owner Marcel Aubut, and the Islanders have become a thorn in the Flyers’ side in the last few seasons, but they can hardly be considered too egregious for Hextall to have featured for. The Penguins, however, are a different story.

Of course, it is not yet known how Hextall’s tenure in Pittsburgh will progress, however one hopes history will not yet repeat itself again. It is a well known superstition that in the city of Philadelphia, athletes, coaches, and other sporting icons who leave for other pastures often find them greener, and that success follows when new colours are worn. Examples that come to mind personally are that of the Phillies, in particular Scott Rolen and Ryne Sandberg. However, the Flyers have not been exempted from this bizarre “trend”.

After being traded for Keith Primeau during the 1999-2000 season, Rod Brind’Amour would captain the Carolina Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup in 2006, and currently has found success as their head coach. Craig Berube would manage to take the St. Louis Blues to a Stanley Cup in 2019 after turning the club around as an interim head coach, though in fairness, the Flyers under Berube were hardly a powerhouse. One can even point to the examples of Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, and Jeff Carter, who all won a Cup or two in Los Angeles following being traded.

Of course, none of Berube nor Brind’Amour are General Managers, and I’ve chosen to exclude players like Peter Forsberg who were traded before they would ever play a game in the NHL, nor players like Kimmo Timonen who were traded as rental moves for a playoff run. Obviously, as well, every franchise has players, iconic or not, who eventually win in another city. Perhaps it is only because of our respective Flyer fandom that those who leave Philadelphia are viewed as examples of an ongoing trend. However, this is all to say that Hextall’s position in Pittsburgh feels different than the examples listed.

None of the players and coaches listed were directly responsible for a direct rival winning a Stanley Cup. Hextall, in Pittsburgh, would be, and therefore if he does manage to make the Penguins a threat and succeed there where he couldn’t in Philadelphia, more individuals than just Steph will be referring to Hextall as a “blood traitor”