Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Hextall the man in charge as Holmgren kicked upstairs

Rumored at the club's break-up day this past Friday, it took less than a week for the whispers to come true.

In a sudden move Wednesday morning, the Philadelphia Flyers announced changes to their front office structure and personnel, promoting former goaltender and franchise firebrand Ron Hextall to General Manager and elevating former GM Paul Holmgren to team President.

Holmgren had served in the post since the club's last major shakeup on Black Sunday, October 22, 2006, whle Hextall joined the front office staff as the assistant GM last July after a successful stint with the Los Angeles Kings. 

"I'm extremely excited about this new opportunity to manage the Philadelphia Flyers," said Hextall. "I look forward to working closely with Paul in our new hockey structure and working toward our ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup."

The 49-year-old becomes the seventh man to hold the GM post and eighth in organization history. He's also the fourth person with previous affiliation to the franchise to be given the job, after Keith Allen, Bob Clarke and Holmgren.

Hextall played 11 of his 13 NHL seasons with the Flyers and backstopped the club to the 1987 Stanley Cup Finals as a rookie goaltender. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP that spring, despite a seven-game loss to the Edmonton Oilers in the title series, and also claimed the Vezina Trophy as the league's top crease guardian.

The Brandon, Manitoba native played with the Flyers until 1992, then spent one season each with Quebec and New York Islanders before returning to Philadelphia in 1994. He remained with the Orange and Black until retiring in 1999, then joined the team's front office and spent seven years with the organization as a scout and Director of Pro Player Personnel before leaving and spending seven years in various front office roles with LA.

Speculation abounds that Hextall's ascension to the GM post came in the wake of interest from several teams, including the Washington Capitals, who dumped long-time GM George McPhee in the wake of a season without a playoff berth. Hextall brings a Stanley Cup pedigree, having his name engraved alongside the rest of the Kings organization two years ago. 

"Ron is one of the league's bright young stars on the management side, and we're very fortunate to have him," said Flyers chairman Ed Snider. "He's had success in Los Angeles and will now put that experience to work for us as general manager. We all remember the enthusiasm, work ethic and personality he had as a player, and we're excited to watch him bring those qualities to building a team that will contend for the Stanley Cup."

Holmgren just completed his eighth season as the Flyers' general manager. He has been with the organization for 35 years, first as a forward from 1975-84, then an assistant coach from 1985-88 and head coach from the start of the 1988-89 season through December of 1991. He returned to Philly in November of 1995 eventually gaining a spot at Clarke's right hand. 

"Over the past eight seasons, Paul has done an outstanding job," added Snider. "He picked up the pieces of our disastrous season in 2006 and immediately made changes that took us to the conference finals the very next year, and we have consistently been in contention ever since. He's been a Flyer for 35 years and has earned the opportunity to run our entire organization."

The native of the Twin Cities also coached the Hartford Whalers in parts of four seasons from 1992-93 to '95-96, serving as General Manager for part of the tenure. He was named assistant with the Flyers in June 1999 and served in that capacity until he was elevated to GM following Clarke's long-overdue resignation.

"I am very excited to get started in this new role and would like to thank Mr. Snider for this opportunity," said Holmgren, who built a Flyers team that reached the Stanley Cup Finals in the spring of 2010.

The Flyers were 42-30-10 this past season and lost a seven-game series to the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs, one season after failing to make the postseason during the lockout-truncated 2013 schedule.

“I think it was a good year.  There’s no gimme games, every game’s a hard game, and it’s hard every night.  I guess the disappointing thing for me this year is we could have won the first round. I don’t feel like we got beat. I feel like we lost it," Hextall admitted. "The second period probably of Game 7 there was a good example of parts of our season. You can’t have that big of a letdown for a whole period, or most of a period. Obviously, you’re not going to be totally on top of your game every night or for every period, but you’ve got to find ways to be better. You can’t accept having a period that we’re a bad hockey team. You’ve got to push every night and be a good team every period.”
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