VOORHEES, N.J. – It sounded like a case of “my way or the highway’’ and in this particular instance, the highway finally prevailed.
After four-plus years in charge of the Flyers, general manager Ron Hextall was fired on Monday.
Some would suggest this was the culmination of a power struggle between the GM and the folks in upper management.
Monday turned out to be the day of reckoning.
Like any rookie general manager, Hextall upon arriving said he had a plan to bring a championship team to Philadelphia, just as he had helped do in Los Angeles a few years back.
However, his task with the Flyers was much more daunting.
/> With the Kings, there was Stanley Cup caliber goaltending with Jonathan Quick. Here? Such forgettables as Steve Mason, Petr Mrazek and the late Ray Emery.
/> In Los Angeles, the blue line was patrolled by Norris Trophy winner Drew Doughty. Here: Journeyman Mark Streit or aging Kimmo Timonen might be considered the best of the bunch.
/> Finally, up front the Kings had proven winners Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams. Here: Yet to get out of the first round of the playoffs since 2012 vets Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek.
Thing is, Hextall was on the right track by declaring he would go about this the patient way, building through the draft, etc. and trying to somewhat follow the Los Angeles blueprint.
There are people inside the organization who say Hextall’s intentions were all well and good but that often he did not seek counsel from other people, such as scouts, aside from chief talent evaluator Chris Pryor.
While Hextall did come up with some promising players in the 2014 draft (Travis Sanheim, Oskar Lindblom) and 2015 (Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny), those are the only four players from his five drafts currently on the Flyers’ NHL roster.
A source in the organization said communication within the front office was questionable at best.
Trades supposedly were made without consulting veteran talent observers.
Another insider portrayed the situation as one of “low morale,’’ from top to bottom.
Others wonder how Hextall could go into this season with two goaltenders (Brian Elliott, Michal Neuvirth) over the age of 30 with bad hips? A fourth of the way into the season, the Flyers are now working on their fifth goalie (Anthony Stolarz).
No doubt team president Paul Holmgren somewhat dreaded this day, having to pull the plug on a franchise icon who took the Flyers all the way to Game 7 of the 1987 Stanley Cup Finals, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy and the regular-season Vezina Trophy for NHL’s best goalie in the process.
Holmgren apparently was on board when Hextall made the decision to break with convention and hire college coach Dave Hakstol, who had no prior NHL experience as either a head or assistant coach.
And you have to wonder how many times Hextall stubbornly chose to stand by Hakstol, even when the Flyers missed the playoffs two years ago, barely made them last year and then started off so badly this season.
This is an organization which has put up with a lot over the years and generally tends to give coaches and GMs the benefit of the doubt.
In this case, the clock on goodwill had run out.
Hextall became increasingly insulated from outsiders. Fingerprint identification locks have been installed both at the Skate Zone and the Wells Fargo Center.
Flyers assistant coaches haven’t been allowed to talk to the media for four years, perhaps the fear being they might say something contrary to the team’s best interests.
Injury information? Almost non-existent.
The ego and the control became a bit too much. Maybe it affected Hextall’s judgment.
In the end, the freedom and the faith from upstairs probably proved Hextall’s ultimate undoing.
Where do the Flyers go from here?
One name (probably a long shot) being mentioned is ex-L.A. GM Dean Lombardi, who was Hextall’s boss out there and receives credit for two Stanley Cups. Besides, he already works for the Flyers right now.
Now that choice would be more than just a little ironic.
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