Dean Lombardi

Ron Hextall not veering from Kings' path with Flyers' young defensemen

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Ron Hextall not veering from Kings' path with Flyers' young defensemen

If that “mirror, mirror on the wall” actually existed, Flyers fans would be lined up right now wanting to know, “Who’s the most deserving of them all?”

And rightfully so.

Unfortunately, without that magical piece of glass from the movie “Snow White,” you may not get the straightforward answer you’re looking for. "Preseason 2017," for lack of a better title, will be remembered as “The Battle on the Blue Line,” and now that we’ve cycled through the credits, culminating with the final game against the Islanders, it appears as if a sequel is already in the works.

It was an intense competition revolving around the team’s talented, homegrown defense. Sam Morin, Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim competed for the two vacated positions. Sanheim displayed an impressive and rare offensive skill set with a team-high-tying three goals, but he flashed shortcomings with his penchant for turnovers. Morin was strong in all phases, most notably his imposing physical presence, while also showing a tendency to contribute offensively. Morin’s mishaps, perhaps not nearly as glaring as Sanheim’s, were mostly positional play. Hagg was perhaps the least flashy and noticeable of the trio, but remained consistent throughout.

All three rookies had their bags ready to go Sunday night — destination unknown at the time. Either they would be joining the rest of the Flyers team on the charter to San Jose or they would be carpooling to Allentown as they begin another season in the AHL. Now with the upper-body injury to Shayne Gostisbehere, all three rookies are California dreaming, and more importantly, California unpacking.

If "Ghost" suits up in the season opener, then in all likelihood, only Hagg will actually crack the lineup to start, and that will remain a head-scratcher for a fan base that's been asked to sit on its collective hands.

And they’re not alone. Even members of the Flyers' Cup teams have expressed to me personally a desire to see the kids play. The decision is even more puzzling to guys like Morin and Sanheim, who both believe they did everything possible to earn their spot.

“Yeah, I’m very excited,” Morin said Monday. “I think I had a pretty good camp. I deserve it. We’re going to see what happens. I’m just living one day at a time. I’m just really excited to prove I can be in the NHL and be a regular.”

For Hextall, this is nothing more than business as usual. He rarely deviates from the script that comes straight out of Hollywood, just not crafted by Disney.

During his time with the Kings, then-general manager Dean Lombardi nurtured his defensive corps in much the same manner.

Alec Martinez — Three seasons of college hockey followed by 2½ seasons with the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL. Became a full-time NHL regular at age 23.

Jake Muzzin — Four years in the OHL (Ontario Hockey League) proceeded with 2½ years with the Monarchs. Became a full-time NHL regular at age 23.

Slava Voynov — Three full seasons (266 games) with the Monarchs. Entered the NHL at age 22.

Martinez and Muzzin remain core pieces to the Kings' defensive unit and Voynov was equally as talented, perhaps even more so. However, Voynov was indefinitely suspended for allegedly assaulting his wife, and hasn’t suited up in an NHL game since October 2014. He has since returned to Russia to play in the KHL.

Compare those players with Hagg, 22, Morin, 22, and Sanheim, 21, and you can see Hextall will not serve up one of his defensemen until they are properly aged to his standards. You can place Drew Doughty and Ivan Provorov into a category of all their own.

During his brief press gathering Sunday night following the decision that Oskar Lindblom would begin his North American career with the Phantoms, Hextall had this to say: “American League time hasn’t hurt one player in the history of professional hockey.” In other words, to Hextall, no one regresses playing in the minors … ever.

It seems fitting the Flyers will begin their season just a few hours away from Napa Valley, because Hextall refuses to pluck one of his guys off the vine until the time is absolutely right. There’s no one right way to serve up an NHL defenseman, but there is, in Hextall’s vision, a certain recipe for disaster. Don’t think for a moment the ingredients that go into that will ever change, especially now that Hextall just recently hired Lombardi, who I’m sure packed up his “How to Build a Stanley Cup Champion” cookbook and brought it with him.

When asked about his three impressive, young defensemen specifically, Hextall smiled and said, “When you look at the career of a young player, going to the minors is OK, even if its for a couple years. It’s not a death sentence. You’re still a pro hockey player and you’re still one injury, one day away from a call-up. It’s not as disastrous as you try to paint it, maybe.”

Even Hextall understands that sometimes the best-laid plans have to shelved. It was an injury to Mark Streit that opened the door for Gostisbehere, who burst onto the scene two years ago and never looked back, despite just 21 games of AHL experience.

When will Morin and Sanheim earn their spot, permanently?

If you have a magic 8-ball lying around, now would be a good time to dust it off, and give it a good shake.

Ron Hextall excited to bring 'sharp guy' Dean Lombardi back to Flyers' front office

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Ron Hextall excited to bring 'sharp guy' Dean Lombardi back to Flyers' front office

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The Philadelphia-Los Angeles pipeline is apparently still intact.

General manager Ron Hextall on Sunday confirmed the hiring of former boss Dean Lombardi, who’s been added to the Flyers' front office, but in a position that has yet to be determined.

“He’s got a lot of experience,” Hextall said of Lombardi. “He’s a sharp guy and we’d be foolish not to bring him aboard. For me, it’s going to be another guy to run things by. We'll find something else for him to do. He’s not going to be in the scouting department.”

Lombardi served as a Flyers scout from 2003-06 before joining the Kings organization in the role of general manager in 2006. He hired Hextall, who, at the time, was the Flyers' director of player personnel, as assistant GM that same year and together they constructed a team that brought Los Angeles its first Stanley Cup championship in 2012. After Hextall rejoined the Flyers organization in 2012 as assistant GM, Lombardi and the Kings added a second championship.

What Lombardi does here in Philadelphia will be completely different from Hextall’s job in Los Angeles.

“Night and day,” Hextall said regarding Lombardi's role. “He’s a real hard worker and a thinker. Again, every hockey mind you can get around is good. He’s got a good mind. Whenever your work with people, you learn a lot. From Bob Clarke to Paul Holmgren to Dean, everybody’s got their strengths. So whoever you work with, you learn. I learned things from Keith Allen years back.”

Hextall and Lombardi had initial conversations not long after the Kings fired Lombardi this past April, but Hextall doesn’t believe Lombardi was holding out to see if a general manager position opened up somewhere around the league.  

“I think he was kind of focused on us, if something worked out with us,” Hextall said, “He had been here before and we obviously know each other. In terms of whether he wants to be a GM again, that’s a better question for him.”

Perhaps the better question is whether Lombardi and Hextall can bring similar success to Philadelphia like they did in L.A.