This week, following a first round departure from the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the hands of the New York Rangers, the Philadelphia Flyers have hired Ron Hextall as the team’s new General Manager, and promoted former GM Paul Homlgren to the position of Team President. Holmgren did an admirable job as GM, and the Flyers reached the Stanley Cup Finals under his watch in 2010, but it was time for a philosophical change in Philly when it comes to managing the hockey roster.
The beginning of the Flyers’ downfall (and downfall is a relative term in this case. There are much more poorly run organizations than Philadelphia.) occurred in 2011, when Philly was swept by the Boston Bruins team that they had rallied back against the previous year. Ever since the departure of Ron Hextall, the Flyers have had trouble in the eternal pursuit for another franchise goalie. Goaltending fell apart against the Bruins and Holmgren decided to acquire Ilya Bryzgalov to try and solve the problem. To fit Bryz under the salary cap, Holmgren dealt team captain Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings, and leading scorer Jeff Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets (Carter was later dealt to LA in exchange for Jack Johnson). In 2012, the Kings won the Stanley Cup with significant contributions from Richards, Carter, another former Flyer Simon Gagne, and Ron Hextall, who was working as an assistant general manager at the time. Many jokes were made about the the Kings being like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air with all those guys leaving Philly to find success in southern California.
Ilya Bryzgalov did not work out in Philadelphia, and was bought out two years into his nine year contract. Bryz is still a decent goaltender and isn’t the colossal failure he was made out to be in Philly, as evidenced by his performance in the playoffs for the Minnesota Wild. With the career ending injury to Chris Pronger, the whole defensive system for the Flyers was compromised and it has taken Philadelphia years to recover. While the former Flyers were bringing the Stanley Cup to Hollywood, the Flyers organization took steps backward. Head coach Peter Laviolette was fired earlier this year. Hextall was brought into the front office, and it seemed like it was only a matter of time before he took Holmgren’s job.
Hextall was a fan favorite during his time in Philly. He is the franchise’s leader in games played and wins in net. In 1988, he became the first goalie to score a goal in a playoff game. He’s a good choice to appease the fan base, but he also has a lot of good experience in front offices.
The Flyers are in a lot of ways the Oakland Raiders of hockey. They have a fast and physical style that is synonymous with their jersey and colors. They had their greatest success under a legendary coach from the 70s. Fred Shero’s Broad Street Bullies were knocking out the NHL competition, and John Madden’s Raiders were the NFL’s most polarizing team, and around the same time Rocky Balboa was knocking out Apollo Creed in a fictional version of Philadelphia. The last couple years under Holmgren, the Flyers looked like they were on the verge of suffering the same fate as the Raiders of the last decade or so. They were over-aggressive and desperate, and their passionate fans were growing impatient as they seemed to be losing control of the situation. With Hextall, there is a chance for a fresh perspective, and a new focus.