VOORHEES, N.J. — You could see it in Ron Hextall's eyes.
The sadness. The pain. The disappointment of one of the most exhausting, painful weeks of his professional life.
A moment that took all of 20 seconds for Paul Holmgren to walk into Hextall’s office and tell the legendary Flyers goaltender that his plan was no longer embraced by the organization.
Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott said it boiled down to one question: “Do I think that we can do better as a team now, not two years or three years from now, but now? And I think that answer was yes.”
In answering that question, Hextall truly believed he was working toward a potential deal that would have improved the Flyers' current roster.
“In terms of the games and trying to make our team better, I was on the phone Sunday trying to make our team better,” Hextall said. “I can assure you I was being aggressive. We had some heavy conversations with other teams, and then the other teams went like this (wavered) and they'd back off; that's sort of the way it goes.”
Perhaps that wasn’t communicated with upper management as Hextall pointed out that he spoke with Holmgren in person about once a week on average.
Hextall reiterated on several occasions, and not just Friday, that he wasn’t going to sacrifice the career of a player in his 20s for a more experienced player in his 30s who could help the team win now. Apparently, that was an issue that was debated throughout Hextall’s tenure.
“I’m not going to get into the details,” Hextall said. “I was very specific with you guys. A 34-, 35-, 36-year-old … yeah, I’m not trading a young prospect for that, that helps us now and the future would have happened under my watch.”
And yet, Hextall traded then-25-year-old Brayden Schenn for a pair of first-round draft picks and Jori Lehtera, now 30, who has simply taken up space on the Flyers' roster at $4.5 million. That particular deal irked people within the organization that viewed the Flyers taking a step back in their attempt to challenge the Penguins and Capitals in the Metropolitan Division.
Hextall also acknowledged he was looking to improve the personnel of the team’s power play. He nearly signed 33-year-old Daniel Winnik but ultimately decided against it since the Flyers already had 14 forwards under contract.
However, that was also part of the problem surrounding Hextall’s short-term plan. Signing players like Dale Weise coupled with the trade for Lehtera hampered how Hextall maneuvered through free agency.
Surprisingly, adding speedy winger and penalty-kill specialist Michael Grabner wasn’t on Hextall’s radar either. Grabner opted to sign with the Coyotes on a three-year contract, and as a result, Arizona's penalty kill has improved from 19th last season to No. 1.
“The one thing I felt we needed with this team was a little more juice, a little more energy, a little more … a player or two that could grind it out and grit and piss people off,” Hextall said, "That was one of the things we were on the lookout for too, was a little more sandpaper.”
Antoine Roussel was the sandpaper-type of player Hextall had targeted, but a four-year contract was too much of a commitment. The Canucks ultimately gave Roussel what he was looking for.
As Wayne Gretzky once said, you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.
Hextall could still very well be general manager of the Flyers had he taken a few of those shots and missed.
Not even trying turned out to be the final nail in his coffin.
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