VOORHEES – Even though his team was not performing up to expectations, Ron Hextall claims he never saw storm clouds building over his four-plus-year Flyers general managership.
“I didn’t see this coming,’’ he said during a Friday press conference at the Wingate Hotel, just down the street from the Flyers’ Skate Zone practice rink.
“I certainly didn’t feel any warnings,’’ Hextall said. “I was shocked and I was stunned.’’
Hextall said he was called to Flyers president Paul Holmgren’s office on Monday morning and the conversation lasted a grand total of about 20 seconds.
What did Holmgren list as the reasons for the dismissal?
“The only thing he said was, ‘your vision and my vision aren’t the same’,’’ Hextall told reporters.
Hextall, hired in May, 2014, was into the fifth year of his rebuilding program but the team’s start to this season – 10-12-2, last in the Metro Division – obviously played into the Flyers’ decision to part ways.
At Tuesday’s press conference in Philadelphia, Comcast Spectacor CEO Dave Scott said he was completely on board with Holmgren’s decision.
Both Holmgren and Scott gave the impression that upper management wants a more “win now’’ mentality and that mindset probably will play a role in hiring the next GM.
Hextall said he believes his plan was on schedule.
“Where we started 4 1/4 years ago, there’s kind of three stages,’’ Hextall explained. “The first stage for me was cleaning up the salary cap, then you kind of move to the stage where it’s a little bit in-between of how many young players are in the lineup and growing as a team and getting better.
“Then there’s the third stage of ‘OK, it’s ‘go time’ right now.’ I didn’t feel right now that we were at ‘go time.’ I didn’t feel like the Winnipegs and the Nashvilles and the Tampas, that we were quite there.
“Now in saying that, was I open to moving prospects and/or young players for players that could help this season and beyond? Absolutely. We had some talks in the works at the time and obviously Monday that changed everything and whether or not that’s (still) going to happen, I don’t know.”
That said, Hextall sort of refutes the idea that he was standing pat. He states that he was trying to be active in the trade market to make the Flyers better.
“I can assure you I was being aggressive,’’ he said. “The season started the first 10 games and we had some heavy conversations then with other teams. And then the other teams went like this (wavered) and they would back off; that’s sort of the way it goes.
“And you get to the 20-game mark and all of a sudden it gets back to the same thing, where, ‘all right, we’re all looking now and we need to be better here.’ We were one of those teams. It wasn’t a large group that is in the same situation as us – probably underachieving is a fair word. But you look at those teams and you talk, and see if something works out. So we did have some active conversations.”
Maybe it all comes down to how much longer the Flyers could remain patient.
During Hextall’s tenure, the Flyers have made the playoffs just two out of four years and did not advance out of the first round in either of those two occasions.
There were going to be growing pains but apparently the process was taking longer than originally intended, at least in the minds of some.
Hextall related a story of one of his first meetings with the late Ed Snider, the founder and former chairman of the team.
Snider was known for not being a patient man but in that meeting he told Hextall the Flyers won their two Stanley Cups by remaining patient (and not making short-term moves). So he was on board with Hextall’s approach.
“So philosophically that was kind of my vision,’’ Hextall said, “but did I want to speed things up? Absolutely. If something would have made sense for us, short-term and long-term, we would have done it. But I certainly wasn’t going to trade a 20-year old player for a 34- or 35- or 36-year-old player. I wasn’t going there but I was certainly open to some other things.”
What about those so-called “philosophical differences” that gained so much attention on Monday?
Holmgren described Hextall as “unyielding’’ in his plan.
“Homer and I knew each other a long time and philosophically obviously there’s a difference,’’ Hextall said. “He stated (that) the other day. I think we were both after the same thing. Maybe we both thought we’d get there a different way. I don’t really know all the philosophical differences. He mentioned the other day he’s very aggressive and I think I’m somewhere in the middle when you look at the managers.’’
Hextall thought he was on the right track but things didn’t work out.
“Quite honestly I was pretty excited about this season,’’ Hextall said. “If you think about it in September, we’ve got (Nolan) Patrick and (Travis) Konecny and (Ivan) Provorov and (Shayne) Gostisbehere and (Travis) Sanheim, all these young kids that should be better players and should be ready to take the next step.
“Then we added a guy that scored 36 goals (James van Riemsdyk), think if JVR gets his 25 to 30 goals, that’s great. We’re going to be a better team. I certainly expected to take a step this year and it’s disappointing as hell that to this point we haven’t.’’