When the Philadelphia Flyers hired Ron Hextall as general manager in 2014, it signaled a drastic change in how the organization would operate.
Prior to his arrival, the front office had taken the impulsive approach to patch up holes each season by signing aging veterans to long-term contracts and through quick-fix trades, as well as with quickly replacing coaches when seasons went south, in their quest to end a four-plus decade Stanley Cup drought.
In comparison to those failed conquests, Hextall had a calculated plan, strategy and a vision, to return the Flyers to NHL supremacy.
As he took over the reins from Paul Holmgren, Hextall ushered in an era of shrewd drafting and then developing young players – and not trading them away for veterans.
It would take years, he cautioned, to complete the rebuilding project, which Hextall modeled after the one the Kings used to win two Stanley Cups. He served as assistant GM during L.A.’s rebuild and their first championship before joining the Flyers.
The Flyers organization needed to accept this time frame and show – gulp – patience for everything to come to fruition.
On Monday, in a shocking development, the Flyers fired Hextall. Ironically, the reason they parted ways was that the top brass’ patience reportedly ran out.
The Flyers have qualified for the playoffs just twice, losing in the first round each time, under Hextall. They entered Tuesday’s game against the Senators 10-11-2, coming off an embarrassing 6-0 loss on Saturday night in Toronto and losers of five of their last six games.
With another season headed toward mediocrity, Comcast Spectacor Chairman and CEO Dave Scott and Holmgren, now the team’s president, apparently pushed Hextall to make a blockbuster trade or coaching change, which both represented the panic decisions the organization used to make and netted little success.
When Hextall stood firm against the request, it’s assumed he was shown the door.
It’s a shame a better solution could not be worked out between the two sides. While Hextall’s long-range blueprint hit some expected snags and dragged on, he was on the right path and just needed some more time.
Hextall fixed the severe salary cap issues he inherited, from Holmgren no less, turned a dormant farm system into one of the best in the league and assembled a roster that was supposed to take the next step – eclipsing 100 points and winning a playoff round – in the process this season.
His failure this offseason to add a reliable backup goalie and improve the team’s woeful penalty kill have handcuffed the Flyers. Starting goalie Brian Elliott and backup Michal Neuvirth have each missed significant time due to injury, while the PK has been one of the worst units in the league.
Despite calls to rattle the cage from his superiors, fans, and the media, though, Hextall refused.
He was faced with a similar situation last year when the team suffered through a 10-game winless streak in November. Rather than make a drastic move, he let the players and coaching staff work it out.
The team responded by winning six straight, finished with one of the top records in the NHL over the final four-plus months, and qualified for the playoffs.
The turnaround happened because Hextall showed patience. The organization should have extended him more of the same virtue.