To say there's a rift between Bob Clarke and Ron Hextall would probably be a fair assessment.
Not sure they're going to be linking up at alumni functions any time soon. Definitely not after Clarke's recent comments on the Cam and Strick podcast with former NHLer Cam Janssen and reporter Andy Strickland.
The franchise icon and senior advisor had strong words for the Flyers' former general manager, who had worked for and with Clarke before being fired by the organization in November 2018. Hextall, who is in the Flyers Hall of Fame alongside Clarke, is now the general manager of the Penguins.
Back when he was general manager of the Flyers in 2017, he drafted Nolan Patrick at No. 2 overall. Patrick was a consensus top-two pick, a big, 200-foot center out of Brandon that could score, defend — essentially do it all. The Flyers, who lucked into the second overall selection, did not take Cale Makar, who went to the Avalanche at No. 4 overall.
Patrick is now with the Golden Knights after a tough career in Philadelphia. He missed all 2019-20 as he battled a migraine disorder and was traded last offseason. Makar, a smaller, playmaking defenseman out of the AJHL, has turned into a star on Colorado's back end.
Clarke hasn't forgotten 2017.
"We get the second pick in the draft and we end up drafting Nolan Patrick. None of our scouts wanted Nolan Patrick," Clarke said on the podcast. "I don't know where Patrick should have gone after his performances in Brandon, he's a pretty good player, but they wanted Makar. Of course he went next. Now he's a superstar and Patrick hasn't played ... but Hextall made that choice himself.
"And there are other choices that were made in our draft that we're paying for. We've got two or three first-round picks that are never going to play. That's why we're struggling, Hexy made some huge mistakes.
"He alienated everybody right away. He shut his door, he locked the doors. He was the boss and nobody else was a part of it."
Hindsight will always be a beautiful thing.
Did every single amateur scout on the Flyers' staff want Makar? Unlikely. Other players were out there, too. Is it shocking that the Flyers' scouts allegedly had reservation about Patrick, who had an injury-plagued draft year? It is not. That had been the word on the street.
But general managers ultimately make the final call on draft decisions. And Hextall passing on a big center out of the WHL that just about everyone had pegged as a bona-fide top-two pick would have been stunning, not to mention a major gamble. The decision to draft Patrick did not pan out for the Flyers. Scouting and drafting is an inexact science. Stating that is not to defend Hextall's call; it's just the reality of that business.
Clarke said the Flyers have two or three first-round picks under Hextall that will never play. Perhaps he's referring to Patrick no longer being in Philly, German Rubtsov (2016) and Jay O'Brien (2018). Rubtsov is with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley and O'Brien is a 22-year-old playing at Boston University. While those two picks will be met with criticism, those prospects are not done, especially O'Brien, who was seen as more of a long-game pick after the Flyers got Joel Farabee five spots before him.
Regardless of debate, Clarke's public criticism of a fellow Flyers Hall of Famer and longtime colleague is eye-opening to say the least.
It's no secret that Hextall apparently ran a tight ship in Philadelphia. Clarke hinted toward that when the Flyers moved on from Hextall and brought in Chuck Fletcher.
"Whomever you work for, managing people is critical to any success," Clarke said in December 2018. "No matter what job it is, when you're the manager, you've got to use your people. You need those skills to do that, to get the best out of your people, to make them feel a part of what you're trying to do and make them feel good about working for the Flyers. That had gotten away a little bit and that wasn't how this organization was built by Mr. Snider and Keith Allen, which had made this organization great.
"We've got to do what we can to get up into that level where you can compete honestly with these top teams. … There are lots of really good teams. But you can get there through our young players developing, through trades — whichever method it takes, you've got to try and get there. You can't just tread water. That's not fair to the players who played for you or the people who work for you — you have to try and get better."
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