Still fresh in Flyers fans minds, the thought of Ron Hextall as general manager evokes different emotions depending on who you ask. Some will say he was essential in building the Flyers team we see today. Others will treat his name like the f-word, seldomly spoken but used with conviction. One thing these fans can all agree upon is that he was polarizing to say the least. According to a screengrab here by Meghan Chayka of Stathletes.com, Hextall may be back at the helm of an NHL franchise sooner than most thought.
That’s right folks, Ron Hextall as general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins is a possibility. No, there’s no substance to this aside from what appears to be a television graphic from SportsNet. However, it fuels speculation considering the source. It also begs the evergreen question of how it could impact the Flyers considering Pittsburgh is their biggest rival.
Rewind to May of 2014, the Flyers promoted then-assistant general manager Ron Hextall to full-time general manager of the club. His first order of business was signing Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Spicy, right? Following the Bellemare signing, he extended Brayden Schenn and Kimmo Timonen. His first trade came almost a month to the date, sending Scott Hartnell to Columbus for R.J. Umberger and a fourth round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. That pick was sent to the Los Angeles Kings for the 104th overall selection that year (Mikhail Vorobyev) and a sixth round pick in 2016 (Anthony Salinitri.) I digress.
There are positives and negatives to this potential signing for the Flyers. Ron Hextall is a wizard when it comes to making deals that benefit the future of his franchise. In turn, he’s equally bad at addressing the current roster. Signing like Boyd Gordon and Dale Weise come to mind. With that being said, it’s only fair we take a look at how the Flyers can benefit and be impacted by Ron Hextall as the general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Pros to Ron Hextall as the Penguins General Manager
Salary Cap Oriented
It’s no secret that Ron Hextall had the salary cap at the forefront of his decisions during his time with the Flyers. It factored into nearly every decision he made. Guys like Braydon Coburn, Mark Streit, even Kimmo Timonen became casualties of Hextall’s cap-slashing ways. He got solid returns on each player, but it was borderline detrimental to the NHL roster as a whole, more on that later.
With that being said, the Penguins have some expensive contracts and a lack of depth at almost every position. That bodes well for the Flyers considering the players who have those hefty price tags have repeatedly taken them behind the woodshed every time they’ve met. Evgeni Malkin is making $9.5 million this year and next. Crosby is making $8.7 million until 2025, but he’ll never suit up for any team other than the Penguins. Kris Letang is making $7.25 million until the end of next year. Each of those players are 33 years or older.
If reports are true that a nixed Kris Letang deal was the final nail in the coffin for Jim Rutherford, that leaves the all-but obvious choice of Malkin being the guy to be traded. Considering Hextall got a third rounder for Zac Rinaldo, there’s no doubt he will maximize the return on a guy like Evgeni Malkin. However, the return will likely only help the team down the road, leading to the next point…
NHL Roster Neglect
We all witnessed this first hand. Ron Hextall neglected the NHL roster until it was too late. Signing James van Riemsdyk was supposed to be the proverbial “next step.” What it ended up being was Hextall’s swan song as Flyers GM. There were constant trades that weakened the Flyers roster with the intent of building it for the future. None spell it out better than the Brayden Schenn trade. Hextall traded then-25 year old Schenn to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Jori Lehtera and two first round picks. The 2017 pick turned into Morgan Frost. The 2018 conditional pick eventually turned into Joel Farabee. Jori Lehtera is now tearing it up with Spartak Moskva of the KHL. Prior to that, he had 11 points in 89 games with the Flyers.
With Ron Hextall as GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Flyers would have a window of 3-5 years where the Penguins would be one of their least concerns. The trades Hextall would make would almost certainly be detrimental to an already-thin Penguins roster. They don’t have the depth they once had. Their defense is a shell of what it used to be and their forward group is incredibly top-heavy. If Hextall does nothing to address that like he did during his time with the Flyers, the Pens can expect a first round exit from the playoffs every other year.
Inability to Admit Wrongdoing
Folks, Dave Hakstol should never have been the Flyers head coach for as long as he was. The fact that he was brought in as a head coach still befuddles some. The fact he remained head coach for that long is just downright ridiculous. You can attribute that to Ron Hextall.
It’s understandable. However, that doesn’t make it right. Hakstol was Hextall’s stamp on the team. That was his first move and he wanted it to be his mark on the Flyers. There was an entire week where the fanbase was anxiously awaiting the firing of Dave Hakstol. It never happened. Apparently somewhere during that week the Flyers hired Joel Quenneville though? Just kidding, that was a load of crap.
Like any boss, Hextall was reluctant to admit failure. Understandable, but pride is a fickle thing. It would have been ten times easier to admit you messed up, fixed it, and then move on from that mistake. Instead Ron Hextall doubled down, all-but sealing his fate with the Flyers faithful.
Cons to Ron Hextall as the Penguins General Manager
Lack of Transparency
Any time someone was injured during Hextall’s tenure with the Flyers, it was always one of two options. You had upper body injuries and lower body injuries, and that was it. It was infuriating for the speculative types, not knowing what the specific ailment was. It was Hextall’s way of keeping his cards close to his vest. Injuries weren’t the only thing Hextall kept under wraps as general manager.
Hextall ran a tight ship to say the least. Rarely would you hear rumors of this guy or that guy being on the trading block. He would never tip his hand at which player he would pursue during free agency, although we came to know exactly the type. It was tight lipped, and that’s the way he wanted it. For fans, it was infuriating. Not that the team would broadcast what they did under Paul Holmgren, but it was a bit more obvious than with Hextall. We’re seeing that with Chuck Fletcher as well to an extent.
Hextall’s tenure as GM was shrouded in mystery when it came to trades and signings. He had it his way and that was that, no exceptions. It ultimately ended up being his downfall when he didn’t take the next step in bringing the franchise back to the top where it should have been.
Stars are Staying Put
What’s one thing the 2013 and 2019 Flyers have in commong? Virtually the same core. Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Sean Couturier. You could add Erik Gustafsson as well, but they’re two separate Gustafsson’s so it doesn’t count. Point being, Hextall didn’t see the need to trade any big piece to the core of the team while GM of the Flyers.
This doesn’t bode well for the Flyers considering Malkin, Letang, and Crosby are the core of the Penguins. A different set of circumstances could call for a different plan of attack, but going by Hextall’s tenure with Philadelphia, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility he keeps these veterans around. That isn’t the great bit of news for the Flyers. Letang has 36 points in 50 career games against the Flyers as a defenseman. Malkin has 73 points in 60 career games against the Flyers. Crosby has a whopping 107 points in 72 career games against the Flyers. To be fair, Crosby averages at least a point per game against all but four current NHL teams. Again, if these guys stick around, it’s bad news for the Flyers.
Adding to the frustration and negating any impact Hextall may have in this discussion is the alleged reason why Rutherford resigned in the first place. Reports have come out that Jim Rutherford tried trading Kris Letang and Mario Lemieux wasn’t having it. If this is true, that means Hextall likely won’t even have the pull to make a deal like that happen, let alone entertaining the thought of dealing Crosby or Malkin.
My Way or the Highway
Let’s pretend Mario gives Hextall the freedom to make decisions on his own here. This could be the most dangerous of scenarios. If Hextall has the ability to make decisions on his own, he could build the Penguins back up to the dynasty we all know and hate, but only after a rebuild.
Hextall’s bullish ways were his downfall in Philadelphia, but could be the key to bringing Pittsburgh out of a potential rebuild and back to the promised land. Yes, it could take some time. It will certainly take Pittsburgh being able to hold onto their first round picks. However, Pittsburgh could come out of the other end of the rebuild stronger than before, giving the Flyers fits for years to come.
The biggest caveat to this is whether or not Hextall has the ability to take the step that he never did with the Flyers. If he’s learned from past blunders and figures things out, Pittsburgh could be a force to be reckoned with once again, and that doesn’t bode well for any divisional opponent, let alone the Flyers.
Realistically, Hextall would be a decent fit for the Penguins. They’re getting to the point where a rebuild could be in the cards. A rebuild could potentially be on the horizon, and Hextall knows the ins and outs of building a teams future. With that being said, it all depends on how Super Mario views this team as it is right now. A full rebuild may be out of the question, so a retooling of sorts could be more his speed.
Hextall is perfectly capable of doing so, but it will come at the expense of the NHL roster. The Penguins already find themselves pretty shallow in most areas, so it will be incredibly difficult to keep this team completely relevant while retooling and setting this team up for years to come.
Don’t expect to see Hextall hired as the general manager of the Penguins when all is said and done. They aren’t at the right stage to bring a guy like Hextall and his attributes aboard. The winning pedigree Pittsburgh has established is something they hold in high regard, and Hextall coming in would almost assuredly put a dent in it. While the team may remain somewhat competitive, they won’t be the contender they’re used to being. If your a Flyers fan however, you should be rooting for Hextall to get the job.
Photo Credit – Bill Streicher/Icon Sportswire