Ron Hextall never lost track of his vision for the Flyers.
The overarching goal was to be competitive in the present while setting up a long and prosperous future.
The best of both worlds in theory.
In 2018-19, his fifth year as general manager of the Flyers, Hextall was fired. He had meticulously and tirelessly rebuilt the club's future but the present wasn't coming together quickly enough for the organization's liking. When he was relieved of his duties, the Flyers were 10-11-2 and in last place of the Metropolitan Division at Thanksgiving for the second straight season.
Hextall believed the organization was unified in staying the course. In a video interview last Thursday with NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Clark, Hextall discussed the apparent disconnect.
I think it’s more of an understanding of kind of everybody being on the same page and buying in. Hey, I didn’t like the last month and a half, the October and November there before I got let go, I didn’t like the way we were playing, something had to change and we were certainly working hard to try and change something. But what I wasn’t going to do was what I said all along — I wasn’t going to trade young players for older players to try to win a round of the playoffs or to try to make the playoffs.
I knew it was going to take some time. Quite honestly, I still say the same thing, I was surprised when things went down like they did. I felt like people in the organization were on the same page; obviously I found out different.
Hextall can be proud of his work in the GM seat of his former team. As the 2019-20 club has enjoyed success and looks poised for multiple runs in the future, Hextall can take solace in the fact that he played a big role in constructing the team's window to contend.
“I can say I wasn’t surprised, we built it for four and a quarter years there and kind of what we planned on building is what’s in place right now and hopefully is in place for the next 10 years," Hextall said.
“You start adding these kids to the mix of [Jakub Voracek] and [Claude Giroux] and those guys, it’s a pretty good formula there for success. Last year, at the start of the year, we weren’t getting the production and the performance out some of the kids that we thought we would get and we probably should have got — they got a little bit better as the year went on but they really popped this year. It takes time with young players, it just does, it’s history.
“I hope they have success; there’s certainly a lot of people in the organization that I’m extremely fond of, the players that were either drafted under my tenure or signed under my tenure, I wish nothing but good for those people. I think they’re set up for a long time so I’m not at all surprised by the success that they’ve had. They’ve got good players, but they’re also good people. Typically when you have good people that are, as well, good hockey players, in the end, they’re going to be a pretty good team. [Chuck Fletcher has] done a good job, as well.”
Now a part-time advisor to hockey operations for the Kings, where he won a Stanley Cup as an assistant general manager, Hextall said any future success for the Flyers will bring him mixed emotions. He would have loved to see his process through with the organization for which he played 11 years.
"I got drafted by Philadelphia when I was 18 years old, I started playing my first year when I was 22, and the only thing I wanted to do was be a part of bringing a Stanley Cup to Philadelphia," Hextall said. "Obviously we came up a little bit short as a player. To get the opportunity as a general manager, my sole focus was not building a real good team, the sole focus was building a team that was capable of winning the Stanley Cup.
"It’s so hard to win, we went through it in L.A. there. You’ve got to have a lot of breaks, you’ve got to be healthy, your goaltender has got to be great — everything has just got to go the right way because of the parity in the league now.
“They’ve got a good group there and I’m happy for all those kids. Does it sting a little? Yeah, of course it does.”
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