Ron Hextall once lived fondly in Philadelphia Flyers lore as the goaltender that fought and hit people with his stick. That all changed when he was named the eighth general manager in Flyers history on May 7, 2014. What happened over the next four-and-a-half years was a stalled “process,” lots of drafting, and a mediocre Flyers roster that wasn’t good enough to compete but too good to fail. While there were some bright spots that remain from the Hextall years, there are also plenty of failures.
Number 5- The James Van Riemsdyk Contract
Ron Hextall did his best to stay out of the trade and free agent markets during his tenure as the Flyers GM, unless of course it was for draft picks or bottom-six forwards that should probably be in the AHL. That is, of course, until the summer of 2018 when Hexy threw a five-year, $35 million contract at 29-year-old free agent James Van Riemsdyk. At the time, JVR was coming off a 36-goal, 54-point campaign with the Toronto Maple Leafs and, as already stated, was the biggest move of Hextall’s time as general manager. What they ended up getting was a one-dimensional player who, when not surrounds with elite-level players, is just an average dude. Now in the 2020 offseason, his goal totals have dropped for three straight seasons and his point totals have dropped for four. Not only that, they’re still stuck with his massive $7 million cap hit for another three seasons, which is going to effect the organization’s ability to re-sign their own players or add a critical piece to a Cup caliber team. Even though Hexy is gone, the JVR deal is one last middle finger that keeps lingering.
Number 4- The 2016 Draft
Ron Hextall’s MO was building through the draft, and for the most part, was very successful in doing so, with one major exception. The 2014 draft was the first that Hextall oversaw as GM and they walked away with Travis Sanheim in the first round and Nicholas Aube-Kubel, and Oskar Lindblom in the second and fifth rounds respectively. In 2015 the Flyers drafted Ivan Provorov as well as trading for and drafting Travis Konency, so big things were expected heading into the 2016 draft. The Flyers were slotted to pick 18th overall but Hexy moved back with the Winnipeg Jets to 22nd as well as picking up the 36th overall selection, and with his drafting prowess, it seemed like a power move. They ended up selecting German Rubtsov at 22, who had a spotty past with the Russian National Team’s doping scandal, and took Pascal Laberge at 36, passing on snipper Alex DeBrincat, who was selected three picks later. Today, Rubstov is stuck in the AHL with seemingly little hope of ever making a full-time jump to the big leagues, while Laberge has dealt with his share of injuries and sees most of his ice time in the ECHL. To Hexy’s credit, he did select Carter Hart in the second round, but striking out on his two top picks and the players selected later don’t seem to be blockbusters either, it’s a very poor showing from an otherwise near-spotless record.
Number 3- Letting Steve Mason Walk
Not sure of the full story of Mason’s departure ever came to light, but losing their unquestioned starting goaltender because of some off-ice heat is hard to forgive. Mason supposedly lost his cool in the locker room late in the 2016-17 after *once again* being left out to dry. While it may not have been the most professional thing to do, and it certainly wasn’t undeserved, his declining attitude didn’t fit well into the Hextall “good character” requirements he brought to the table. He let Mason walk in the summer of 2017 and replaced him with Brian Elliott, which was a steep decline in talent and led to two years of a less-than-stellar Elliott/Neuvirth duo. Luckily they had Carter Hart who was ready to make the jump to the NHL quickly, but one of your top-three goalies in franchise history was disgruntled enough to throw a fit because the roster was so lackluster he was tired of standing on his head and still losing, and your GM not committing to fixing the team, but rather letting Mason walk is not a great look.
Number 2- Elliott/Neuvirth Duo Entering the 2018-19 Season
Maybe you can argue some of Hextall’s questionable moves as some higher power “playing chess not checkers” nonsense, but this one is renownedly stupid. At the trade deadline of the 2017-18 season, the Flyers had acquired Petr Mrazek from the Red Wings because the starting tandem of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth were taking turns on injured reserve. Neuvirth, when healthy, was actually a pretty decent goalie, but his stints of health were few and far between. Elliott missed most of the middle of the season with a core muscle injury and was pulled from the hospital bed to be the starter during the 2018 playoffs where he was dissected by the Penguins and needed a second surgery during the summer. So when the 2018 offseason rolled around you’d think Ron Hextall would’ve brought in some help, no? Well he didn’t, and put his verbal confidence in the duo. Their health lasted all of two days in training camp when Neuvirth went down with an injury. Neuvirth played just seven games in 2018-19 and Elliott only saw action in 26. What followed was a goalie circus, as eight players in total dressed and manned the Flyers’ crease. While it opened the door for rookie phenom Carter Hart, the fact that it got that far was a complete embarrassment and a black mark on Hextall’s tenure in Philly.
Number 1- Dave Hakstol’s Job Security
It’s actually incredible how long Dave Hakstol held onto the Flyers coaching job. The longtime University of North Dakota coach was hired by the Flyers on May 18, 2015, and we were all half convinced “Dave Hakstol” was “Ron Hextall’s alter ego as a way for him to coach as well. What they got was an untested coach who relied heavily on depth players. Chris Vandevelde, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, R.J. Umberger, Andrew MacDonald, and Jori Lehtera are names that will haunt fan’s nightmares for years to come. The poor coaching carried into the 2017-18 season, and that year focused more on mis-management of goaltenders. He road the injured Brian Elliott into the playoffs, where they got curb stomped by the Penguins, to a point where he needed a second surgery in the offseason. Hextall refused to fire him after the playoffs and went onto the 2018-19 season with Hakstol at the helm. After yet another slow start to the season, Hak still wasn’t fired. Instead, Hextall ended up taking the bullet from ownership and getting fired before he brought the hammer down on Dave Hakstol. He was finally fired in December of 2018 after a road trip where they lost four straight games.
Missing out on trades O’Reilly, Oshie, Kessel–
Ron Hextall’s whole philosophy was “build from within” and that meant no help from the outside. That mindset was clear early on when the Flyers passed on both T.J. Oshie and Phil Kessel in the summer of 2015, both of which were traded on relatively low asking prices. Both players ended up winning Stanley Cups with the teams that acquired with them. But hey, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. It was early in “the process” and maybe he didn’t want to go for it. That excuse, however, doesn’t hold up in the summer of 2018, when the Flyers passed on multiple key players, highlighted by forward Ryan O’Reilly, whom the Blues acquired from the Sabres for peanuts, and again, won a Stanley Cup after he was acquired. Instead of making a trade, the Flyers rolled into the 2018-19 season with Misha Vorobyev at 3C, Jori Lehtera at 4C, an injury riddled duo of Neuvirth and Elliott, and Andrew MacDonald still on defense.
Goodbye and good riddance, Ron Hextall.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: buckscountycouriertimes.com