While Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher deserves much of the credit for getting the franchise back on track in terms of positive results, he will be the first to tell you he’s had a lot of help along the way.
Heading that list would be former GM Ron Hextall, who assembled many of the pieces for what has become the NHL Eastern Conference’s top seed for the 2020 season.
Through wise drafting, shrewd trades and the signing of several key free agents, Hextall had a good plan in place.
His only perceived fault? Team ownership apparently thought his long-range vision was taking perhaps a little too long. And hiring an unproven NHL coach like Dave Hakstol probably didn’t help the process.
Maybe if given more time, Hextall – who is now back working for the Los Angeles Kings (another team which has prospered from his hockey expertise) – might have enjoyed the fruits of his labor.
But you can’t change history. . .only appreciate what it does to shape the future.
During a radio interview last Tuesday, Fletcher acknowledged Hextall’s accomplishments with the Flyers’ current cast. It only took the hiring of coach Alain Vigneault by Fletcher to pull it all together.
“Ron Hextall did a really good job of restocking the cupboard,’’ Fletcher said on 97.5 The Fanatic. “So there were a lot of very good young players (in place).
“But the reality is we needed to play the right way. We needed to know how to defend better. There’s a lot of character here and these young guys want to win but they needed to be guided.’’
Drafting potential stars such as Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny and Shayne Gostisbehere were a key part of Hextall’s blueprint.
But ultimately, bringing goaltender Carter Hart into the fold might have been his most noteworthy achievement.
“Again, I can’t say enough about the scouting staff and Ron Hextall’s vision,’’ Fletcher said. “Obviously, when you’re retooling or rebuilding there are going to be days that aren’t great.
“But a lot of these good young players were drafted – there’s a very good development staff (some of it carryovers from the Hextall regime) – the coaching staff at Lehigh Valley has worked hard with some of these guys, particularly players like (Travis) Sanheim and (Phil) Myers, who we’ve seen emerge this year.’’
Fletcher said a rebuild takes time, it’s not a simple process. Everything is kind of clicking right now. There’s certainly reason to be optimistic for the next few years.
“It’s a good hockey team,’’ Fletcher said. “Right now we would like to show we’re better than good. We would like to make a run here and show what we can do.’’
Former Flyer player and current TV analyst Bill Clement believes Hextall deserves all the credit which comes his way.
“Ron Hextall’s philosophy, which is long-term build, played perfectly into Chuck’s hand,’’ said Clement, a long-time Bucks County resident who now calls North Carolina home. “Chuck’s a wonderful general manager but ‘Hexy’ stockpiled draft picks, he drafted Hart.
“We (NBC Philadelphia) ran a graphic the other night: (Montreal goalie Carey) Price was drafted fifth overall, Carter Hart was drafted 48th overall (in the second round, 2016). He was the first goalie drafted that season. By that time in the evolution of the draft, GMs didn’t trust drafting goalies early but Hexy was smart enough to take Hart as the first goalie in that draft.’’
As for Provorov, who was taken seventh overall in 2015, the Flyers couldn’t believe their good fortune when he was still on the board that late. Hextall didn’t blink an eye and grabbed him.
“Whatever Hextall’s philosophical differences were with ownership that led to his demise never altered his overall philosophy for how to build a team,’’ Clement said. “Which was long-term goals, acquisitions and draft picks.
“All of that Chuck inherited.’’
If the Flyers go on to have a measure of success this season or another season down the road, you can be sure there will be a guy who still bleeds orange standing in the wings with a big smile on his face.