Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Hextall returns to Philadelphia; successor to Holmgren now in the ranks

After serving what amounted to a six-year apprenticeship with the Los Angeles Kings, firebrand and late-era franchise icon Ron Hextall has returned to the Philadelphia Flyers.

The club announced on Monday afternoon that Hextall has been named Assistant General Manager and Director of Hockey Operations.

“We are very pleased to welcome back Ron Hextall to our management team,” said Flyers GM Paul Holmgren. “Ron has a wealth of experience in the front office in various capacities which will be a valuable addition to our staff.”

Hextall will assumed the role vacant since January, when John Paddock stepped down to become an assistant coach. He'll officially begin his duties on August 1.

It appears that the next man responsible for guiding the path of the franchise has been put in place.

The 49-year-old native of Manitoba ended his playing career in the Spring of 1999, and went right to work with the Flyers as a scout. Over the next seven seasons, he proved himself successful enough to be elevated to Director of Pro Hockey Personnel.

That led to an even more successful seven-year tenure in Los Angeles, whose apex was a Stanley Cup championship in 2012 -- one which many viewed as a cashing in of the positive karma he racked up 25 years earlier in guiding the Flyers to a Game 7 against the Oilers as a rookie goaltender.

Hextall served as assistant GM there, with a front office and on-ice product that held a distinctly Flyers flair: General Manager Dean Lombardi previously served as Flyers scout, Terry Murray and John Stevens had both been Flyers head coaches, while Justin Williams, Simon Gagne, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were integral pieces to the Cup puzzle.

In that period, during which he also presided over the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, Hextall was key in the drafting and development of players such as Jonathan Bernier, Slava Voynov, Dwight King, Matt Moulson, Kevin Westgarth, Jonathan Quick, Davis Drewiske and others.

His skills in reshaping the minor leagues are as essential to the Flyers' future as proper drafting and shrewd trading are at the top level.

The Adirondack Phantoms have been at the bottom of the league record-wise ever since landing in Glens Falls from Philadelphia in 2009, with a dismal record of development and a turnstile of head coaches which has seemed to cease with Murray's hiring last year.

For Holmgren's part, he remained very cagey on the subject of his successor and any time table for that switch.

"It could happen very soon. You never know," Holmgren added. "It's a funny business these days and you never know what's going to happen."

It's highly unlikely that Holmgren will be pushed out or fired from his current post, no matter how the start to the upcoming season progresses. It is possible that he will be kicked upstairs to make way for Hextall at some point, but even in that case, any regime change will be presented as being done voluntarily -- as it was when Bob Clarke left the GM post during Bloody Sunday in October of 2006.

It's also highly unlikely that Hextall will wait the 11 1/2 years Holmgren did while learning under Clarke in his second stint at the controls. After all, Hextall had interviewed with Columbus before it chose Jarmo Kekalainen. Still, you'd have to think that loyalty to the organization, which is often a two-way street between management and former players who come back to the city to serve the team, will pay off in a relatively short time frame.

"I do want to be a general manager," Hextall said Monday. "I talked to 'Homer' about that when we talked about this job. If something else becomes available, I at least want to look at it. He was absolutely fine with that. My goal still hasn't changed in terms of where I want this to all end. I'm looking forward to going back and doing my part to help the Philadelphia Flyers be successful and hopefully bring a Stanley cup to Philly."

He certainly has the backing of the fans, who are always clamoring to see a fresh, yet familiar face exerting influence over their favorite franchise. He also picked up the long-sought-after silverware that forces the organization to place a greater amount of faith and trust in their hires.

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