During Ron Hextall’s first press conference since he was relieved of his duties as Flyers general manager, he was quick to point to the Los Angeles Kings, his former team, as the basis for his patience. I’m sure most Flyers fans, myself included, aren’t up on the move-for-move history of the Kings build to their Stanley Cup wins. Luckily, I did the research for you.
Now, it is important to remember that Hextall was only the assistant general manager with the Los Angeles Kings organization while he had full control as general manager of the Flyers. Another important difference is the state of the NHL. Things are much different in today’s NHL than they were a decade ago.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
In June of 2006, the Kings organization purged most of their front office staff after years of missing the playoffs and sub-par play. They brought in a new GM, Assistant GM, head coach, and goaltending coach.
The Kings qualified for the playoffs during the 2001-02 season, but lost in seven games to the Avalanche. They then missed the playoffs for the next two years, missing by 14 points in 2002-03, and 10 in 2003-04. The lockout ruined the 2004-05 season, but it didn’t change much for the Kings as they still missed the playoffs for another four years. The Kings would return to the postseason during 2010, but had back-to-back first round exits in 2010 and 2011 to the Canucks and Sharks respectively.
The King organization saw it’s fair share of coaching changes after long-time coach Andy Murray was fired 70 games into the 2005-06 season. They hired John Torchetti as an interim coach to finish out the year before hiring Marc Crawford full-time to start the 2006-07 season. Crawford would only last two full seasons before being replaced by Terry Murray to start the 2008-09 season, and was dismissed in 2011. The Kings brought in Darryl Sutter early in the 2011-12 season, replacing interim John Stevens after just four games. The team was held together by their defense and goaltending which were playing at an elite level. Their offense finally picked up later in the season and the Kings clinched the eighth and last seed in the 2012 playoffs, and the rest is history.
While the Kings weren’t necessarily tanking before the arrival of Hextall in June of 2006, they missed the playoffs by hefty margins the previous three seasons. The early pieces of the Kings rebuild and eventual Cup winning teams were actually drafted in the 2005 entry draft as they took Anze Kopitar in the first round and Jonathan Quick in the third. His first draft as a King in 2006 was good at the time, and sub par in hindsight. The Kings picked goalie Jonathan Bernier 11th overall, then selected Trevor Lewis at 17 with a pick they acquired from Minnesota along with, at the time, prized prospect Patrick O’Sullivan in exchange for aging star Pavol Demitra.
2007 was another interesting year for the Kings. They took Thomas Hickey in the first round, who they would later lose to the Islanders on waivers. The Kings took Wayne Simmonds in the second round. Even though he wouldn’t find his stride with the Kings, he would be a huge part of a later trade that brought in a key piece of their offense. LA had two fourth round picks, selecting Alec Martinez and Dwight King, who both still play roles on the team.
The 2008 draft was a key for the Kings franchise in their rebuilding phase as they drafted top defenseman Drew Doughty second overall and later Slava Voynov in the second round. 2009 was a down year when it comes to draft results. They took Brayden Schenn fifth overall but he only played nine games before being traded for Mike Richards. Kyle Clifford was drafted in the second round, and even though he is still a King, he doesn’t play a huge role for the team.
2010 provided a singular but major piece in Tyler Toffoli, who represented their last major pick in the draft before their Cup wins.
The Kings were not afraid to wheel and deal throughout Hexy’s tenure, as the organization made 68 trades during his nine-year stint. Most were relatively minor, but some played key roles for their Cup winning teams. below are a list of game changing trades that bolstered the Kings roster
(la acq- other acq)
Matt Greene and Jarett Stoll for Lubomir Visnovsky 6/29/08
Justin Williams for Patrick O’Sullivan, 2009 2nd 3/4/09
2010 2nd (Tyler Tofolli) for 2010 2nd, 2010 4th 6/26/10
Mike Richards, Rob Bordson for Braden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, 2012 2nd 6/23/11
Jeff Carter for Jack Johnson, 2013 1st 2/23/12
Marian Gaborik for Matt Frattin, 2014 2nd 3/5/14
Hextall’s claim of patience in LA weren’t totally accurate, as the Kings had a goal and wasted almost no time making it happen. While the Kings were a little more straight forward with their tanking than the Flyers, they made some trades that sped the rebuilding process up.
The most interesting thing about LA is that they were never top of their own division. They finished third both years they won the Cup, and second the year in between. That could be where Hextall felt justified with his hesitation and not building the absolute best team he could, as the Kings won the Cup from the eighth seed.
One of the biggest differences between the Flyers and Kings is the coaches chosen system. Darryl Sutter played a tough, defensive oriented system and luckily had the benefit of great players on the back end and in net.
After making a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2010, the Flyers slowly declined over the next three years. That forced then-GM Paul Holmgren to fire Peter Laviolette three games into the 2013-14 season. Ron Hextall was brought back to the Flyers organization in July of 2013 as an assistant general manager to Paul Holmgren.
Craig Berube was promoted to the head coaching role after Laviolette was canned, though he failed to return the team to their former glory. In the middle of his tenure on May 7 2014, the Flyers organization promoted Holmgren to team president, then gave Ron Hextall the role of general manager. Berube was fired at the end of the 2014-15 season and replaced with University of North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol.
Since Hakstol’s hiring in May of 2015, to say the Flyers current team has stagnated is putting it nicely. While Hextall had been gearing up the Flyers pipeline for future success, very little of that hope has penetrated the main roster. Only four of the 42 players drafted under Hextall have cracked the roster full-time. That number doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence, but most are now playing in the AHL or are top stars on their respective junior team.
Hextall made multiple trades that have built the foundation of the Flyers future, but the one thing that eluded him was a trade to better the team immediately. Most of the trades he made are players on expiring contracts in return for draft picks, and in that sense he has been great. Acquiring the picks that landed them Travis Konecny, Felix Sandstrom, Morgan Frost, and Issac Ratcliffe, he has built the future through the draft.
The most raved part of Hextall’s time as general manager has been his drafting abilities. While it is too early to determine how many successful picks he has made, a few have made their presence felt in the NHL. Hextall made his drafting debut in 2014, taking defenseman Travis Sanheim 17th overall. his next three picks were Nic Aube-Kubel, Mark Friedman, and Oskar Lindblom in the second, third, and fifth rounds respectively. Aube-Kubel recently made his NHL debut, Friedman pushed for a roster spot out of camp but has yet to make his debut, and Lindblom is playing in his first full NHL season after getting his feet wet at the end of last season.
Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny were both taken in the first round of the 2015 draft and are two cornerstones of the Flyers rebuild. The rest of the 2015 class has huge potential with the likes of Felix Sandstrom, Misha Vorobyev, and David Kase, but have yet to make the jump to the NHL.
The 2016 class overall seems disappointing overall with a huge diamond in Carter Hart. The first two picks of German Rubtsov and Pascal Laberge have both been less-than-stellar, though their third second round pick of Wade Allison does show some promise.
After winning the second overall pick in the 2017 draft lottery they selected Nolan Patrick. Later in the first round, the Flyers went off the board and selected Morgan Frost, who has since exploded into one of the top prospects in the NHL. Isaac Ratcliffe was taken in the second round, 35th overall, after falling down the board from his mid-first round projection.
With two more potential stars in Joel Farabee and Joy O’Brein in 2018, Ron Hextall certainly built a prospect pool to feed the Flyers main roster for years to come.
The Flyers really have been stuck in neutral for quite some time now. Exchanging post season appearances for six years and failing to make it past the second round since their 2010 Cup run, the fans are starting to get restless. It’s reasonable to say that given all the talent Hextall has drafted that this team will be a force to be reckoned with sometime within the next decade, but the issue stems from the current crop of stars being wasted.
The stagnation in the process is starting to take its toll on the patience of the fans. After the Flyers organization pumped energy into the fanbase with the signing of James Van Riemsdyk over the summer, the mood soured once the season started and the same problems rose to the surface once again. Hextall failed to directly fix any of the major issues like the special teams or the goaltending, opting to instead wait for the prospects to make an impact at the NHL level.
Hextall may have had a point about the Flyers being like the Kings, but the dots simply don’t line up. The Kings did explode on to the scene when they won their first Cup, but they didn’t just sit on their hands to make that happen. One of Hextall’s biggest downfalls as a Flyer was his overly patient style, relying solely on drafting to fix the issues.
There is no denying Hextall built a solid foundation for the Flyers for years to come. However, it was becoming more clear that he was not the guy who had the ability to carry the team to the promised land as he lacks the killer instincts it takes to improve the team today. Simply put, Hextall did his job, but now it’s time for someone else to come in and return the Flyers to the greatness they once knew.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: nbcsports.com