Flyers

Was Ron Hextall's authoritarianism too much?

Was Ron Hextall's authoritarianism too much?

VOORHEES, N.J. — Executive vice president and general manager Ron Hextall was relieved of his duties Monday morning in a move that signaled a completely different direction within the Flyers organization. 

The move comes less than 48 hours after arguably the most embarrassing loss of the Hextall era, a 6-0 drubbing to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a game in which several players appeared to stop playing.

Team president Paul Holmgren issued a statement that read in part, “It has become clear that we no longer share the same philosophical approach concerning the direction of the team. In light of these differences, we feel it’s in the organization's best interests to make a change, effective immediately. I have already begun a process to identify and select our next general manager, which we hope to complete as soon as possible." 

Hextall replaced Holmgren as GM in May 2014 and immediately took over all decisions in the hockey operations department. His philosophical ideology to building a championship contender was in direct contrast to the way Holmgren constructed Flyers teams in the past by putting a premium on a win-now approach.

Much of the criticism surrounding Hextall’s authoritarian command was an unwillingness to listen to differing viewpoints and opinions. Hextall deviated from that position in some regard when he brought aboard his former boss in Los Angeles, Dean Lombardi, who was hired in September 2017 as a senior advisor to the GM.

No word if Holmgren is considering Lombardi, who led the Kings to two Stanley Cup championships in 2012 and 2014, as a replacement to Hextall.

With the removal of Hextall, who steadfastly stood by Dave Hakstol through three-plus seasons, there’s now a belief that the head coach is firmly on the hot seat and could be the next to be replaced within the organization. Hextall's decision to hire Hakstol to replace Craig Berube following the 2014-15 season raised eyebrows as he was the first collegiate coach since 1982 to make the jump to the NHL.

However, Hextall’s position to maintain organizational control also meant he didn’t want a head coach to challenge personnel decisions, which is a primary reason why Hextall wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to bring in three-time Stanley Cup champion Joel Quenneville, who the Chicago Blackhawks fired in early November following internal differences with upper management. 

There was also an internal feeling within the Flyers that Philadelphia had no longer become one of the more desirable free-agent destinations for marquee players such as John Tavares, who ultimately chose the Toronto Maple Leafs, even though Hextall expressed afterward that he had a strong desire to add Tavares, who apparently never met with Flyers management.

Once the Flyers secure a general manager, it remains to be seen how new management will view the organization’s current roster and a core that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup playoff series since 2012. 

The Flyers will have no additional statement until Comcast Spectacor Chairman and CEO Dave Scott addresses the media at 11 a.m. Tuesday morning.

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Noah Cates is a prospect the Flyers 'can't stop bragging about'

zack_hill_philadelphia_flyers_noah_cates.jpg
Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers

Noah Cates is a prospect the Flyers 'can't stop bragging about'

The Flyers selected Noah Cates during the fifth round of the 2017 NHL draft, plucking him out of Stillwater Area High School in Minnesota with the 137th overall pick.

At the time, Brent Flahr, Chuck Fletcher and the Minnesota Wild were sitting at No. 147.

"A kid like Cates was right in our backyard," Flahr said. "One thing in Minnesota when you are there, you hate when Minnesota players, especially the good ones, go ahead of you."

Flahr can now thank Flyers amateur scout Nick Pryor. As the assistant general manager of the Flyers, Flahr no longer has to kick himself for missing out on Cates.

"Nick Pryor did a good job," Flahr said last month at development camp. "He was right near his house. They got him. He looks like a real good prospect for us."


(Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

As a fifth-round pick out of high school, Cates was once well below the surface in the Flyers' prospect pool. With time and hard work, he's beginning to blossom — and the Flyers see it. 

"We talk about him every day and we can't stop bragging about him," Flyers player development coach Kjell Samuelsson said. "He's quietly gotten better and better every year, and everything we ask him to do, he's doing it."

In 2017-18, Cates scored nearly a point per game (21 goals, 34 assists) over 60 contests with the USHL's Omaha Lancers. He then followed it up by playing an important role for 2019 national champion University of Minnesota Duluth, recording 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) and a plus-12 mark through 40 games as a freshman.

What made the national title even sweeter was winning it alongside his brother Jackson Cates, for a school just shy of a 2½-hour drive from his parents Jeff and Jenny Cates.

"Awesome," Cates said. "I think they were at every game this year. It was so much easier for them that we were in the same spot, a couple hours from home. They're obviously so proud of us."

Couple his freshman year with a goal and two assists for the U.S. in the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, and it was a productive 2018-19 for Cates.

"Just grew so much, developed so much with the college game — living on my own, going to school and everything like that," Cates said. "Just an awesome year all around and capping it off with that national championship was so special with my family."

Cates is far from the skinny, offense-first player he was in high school. He's gone from 6-foot-1, 165 pounds to 6-foot-2, 180 pounds. He's a smart, all-situation thinker — in large part because of his development with the Bulldogs and trust from head coach Scott Sandelin.

"My role kind of grew as the year went on, got more comfortable," Cates said. "A little bit of power play, some penalty kill, last-minute stuff — that's important to play in all those key situations, so important moving on to have that experience. To do it for a team like that, it was really special. I can't say enough good things about that program and the whole year in general. Coach Sandelin gave me a lot of opportunity and I'm so grateful for that opportunity and took advantage of it."

The Flyers noticed.

"He scored goals, he's on the ice when you're protecting leads, he's killing penalties," Samuelsson said. "He's a very rounded hockey player."

Cates said it's too early to tell how long he'll stay in school.

"When you're on a team like that and with a program like that, you don't want to leave too early and maybe hurt your career," Cates said, "especially with the opportunity that's in Duluth."

After all, there's no real rush. Flahr, Fletcher and the Flyers know him well.

"So happy to be in Philadelphia," Cates said.

"I just need to play the way I can play, especially these next couple years with my development. They're on board with that, they're happy with where I'm at, but I've got to keep making strides."

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Breaking down 2019-20 third-line competition after Flyers' signing of Chris Stewart to pro tryout

Breaking down 2019-20 third-line competition after Flyers' signing of Chris Stewart to pro tryout

You can never have enough competition.

There will be plenty of it when training camp rolls around in September as the Flyers have a third-line job opening on the wing.

General manager Chuck Fletcher added a candidate Wednesday by signing forward Chris Stewart to an NHL pro tryout for camp.

Stewart, 31, was a 2006 first-round draft pick of the Avalanche and has played 652 career NHL games between six teams. His best season came as a 22-year-old with the Avalanche in 2009-10, when he scored 64 points (28 goals, 36 assists) over 77 games. Last season, he played in the EIHL for the Nottingham Panthers, scoring 13 points (six goals, seven assists) through 23 games.

The 6-foot-2, 242-pound winger has ties to the Flyers' GM. He played parts of three seasons for Fletcher's Wild from 2014 to 2018, putting up 25 goals, 20 assists and a plus-6 rating in 146 games.

The Flyers like their options for the third-line winger vacancy. The names include Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost, Isaac Ratcliffe, German Rubtsov, Carsen Twarynski, Mikhail Vorobyev, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Andy Andreoff and Kurtis Gabriel.

Farabee and Frost have drawn a lot of attention as young first-round draft picks coming off big seasons with Boston University (see story) and the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (see story), respectively. Rubtsov is an underrated option given his size, advanced game and positional versatility. Ratcliffe is a 6-foot-6 winger who scored 50 goals last season with the OHL's Guelph Storm, while Vorobyev saw time with the Flyers in 2018-19.

"It's more than Farabee and Frost," Fletcher said July 1. "I think Rubtsov had a tremendous prospect camp here. Ratcliffe is a quality young player. Vorobyev is a young man that we feel is going to come back next year a little bit stronger.

"There are several players down there that can play games, never mind Andreoff, who's a player that I think will make a very strong push to make our team this season. Kurtis Gabriel is a player that's played games in the NHL the past few seasons. We have a lot of options. That's what training camp is for — it's an opportunity for players to come in and show that they belong. It should be an exciting camp."

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