How the Mighty Fall: Ron Hextall’s Path from Hero to Zero

If you were to ask a fan of the Philadelphia Flyers who the best players in franchise history are, the list would likely include Bobby Clarke, Bernie Parent, Eric Lindros, and one other name:

Ron Hextall.

An undeniably legendary goaltender for the Orange and Black, Hextall stayed in the hockey business after retiring. He was the assistant general manager for the Los Angeles Kings and helped build them into a team that won a pair of championships. So, when Hextall took the reins as the general manager of his beloved Philadelphia Flyers in 2014, fans were over the moon in the hopes that their former Vezina and Conn Smythe-winning goaltender would replicate the magic he had in Los Angeles and shape the Flyers back into a Cup contender.

As The Joker would say, “you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Heralded as a drafting guru, Hextall stocked up on draft picks in order to restock the organization’s prospect pool, selecting a total of 42 players over 5 drafts. Under his watch, the Flyers steadily rose up the ranks of NHL farm systems. Many fans looked back fondly on his drafting record at the time of Hextall’s firing in 2018. While he hit on a few picks, Hextall’s reputation to draft dark horses in early rounds and mainly 200-ft players instead of high ceilings in the later rounds has plagued the Flyers. Even with the plethora of picks at his disposal, the Flyers have been mostly left with players who are good but not good enough. For someone who was brought in to take the Flyers to the next level, this is not acceptable. In the time since Hextall has left the organization, many fans have soured on the former player-turned-GM, as he catapulted the Flyers into the era of mediocrity we are currently experiencing.

And it seems that another aforementioned franchise legend, Clarke, agrees with that sentiment.

Today, an episode of the St. Louis-based podcast The Cam and Strick Podcast dropped which featured an interview with Clarke. Clarke, who also served as the general manager of the Flyers, showed no mercy when offering his opinion on Hextall’s tenure as GM, during which Clarke served as the senior vice president. He ripped Hextall’s decision to draft Nolan Patrick in 2017 when the Flyers were gifted the second overall pick, stating, “None of our scouts wanted Nolan Patrick… they wanted [Cale] Makar, of course he went next. Now he’s a superstar and Patrick hasn’t played, but Hextall made that choice himself.” Clarke continued, “There are other choices we made in our draft that we’re paying for. We’ve got two or three first round picks that are never going to play.” In these cases, it appears that Hextall regularly decided not to heed the advice of the scouting department and instead made his own picks; which, while well within his power as general manager, isn’t necessarily the right move to make, especially as we are seeing now with the picks he made.

Hextall also apparently did not think to consult anyone in the Flyers organization before making trades either. According to Clarke, when Hextall decided to trade Brayden Schenn at the 2017 NHL Draft, no one except Hextall knew until after the trade had been completed. “Hexy made that on his own,” Clarke said, “All of our scouts were at the draft. Our scouts were so mad at Hexy for doing that. We also had a chance to get [Ryan] O’Reilly from Buffalo but we didn’t. Obviously that’s the manager’s decision, but it’s another one the scouts weren’t consulted on.”

While these revelations from Hextall’s time as GM have been heavily rumored for some time, to have Clarke confirm them really hammers home how much Hextall’s tenure set the organization back. His once-lauded drafting strategy yielded little to no stars. His trade-making ability was heavily questioned in the Flyers organization, as the front office was skeptical of both trades he made and those he neglected to. Perhaps worst of all, Hextall led the organization with a “my way or the highway” approach. Clarke divulged just how poorly the relationship with Hextall and the organization became, stating, “When Hexy came in, he alienated everybody right away. He shut his doors, he was the boss and nobody else was part of it. He made himself bigger than the team, and that is something I never ever would’ve thought of with Hexy because he was such a team player.” It is disheartening to see how the reputation of Ron Hextall in Philadelphia has fallen; because he is such an important part of Flyers history, it is difficult to separate the legacy of Hextall’s playing career with the one he created as the general manager. What was once a man beloved in hearts of Flyers fans everywhere is now a man whose image has been irreparably damaged.

While fans are rightfully grateful Hextall drafted players like Ivan Provorov, Joel Farabee, and Carter Hart into the system, his other immense blunders as general manager have set the team back by several years. As Clarke himself stated, “That’s why we’re struggling, Hexy made some huge mistakes. We’ve got a long ways to go to catch up.” Only time will tell how long it will take the Flyers to right the ship that Hextall left shipwrecked. One thing is for certain – now that Hextall is general manager of our most hated rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins, we can only hope that he did not learn from his mistakes in Philadelphia.

By: Katie Bogan (@cl4udegiroux)

Image credit to Len Redkoles via Getty Images.

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