Tuesday morning The Cam & Strick Podcast released an episode featuring Flyers great Bobby Clarke. The biggest takeaway? Clarke’s scathing criticism of former Flyers goalie Ron Hextall’s decisions as the team’s general manager.
Hosts Cam Janssen and Andy Strickland interviewed Clarke, who still acts as a senior adviser to the team, about his time as a player as well as his relationship with the organization over the years.
When it came to talking about Hextall’s time as general manager from 2014-18, Clarke didn’t hold back from criticizing Hextall, who is the current GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins, specifically for his poor draft record. Clarke, who was the Flyers general manager from 1984-90 and again from 1994-2006, called out Hextall for going against scouts’ wishes and selecting Nolan Patrick with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NHL entry draft.
“We get the second pick in the draft and we end up drafting Nolan Patrick,” Clarke said. “None of our scouts wanted Nolan Patrick.”
Nico Hischier, who New Jersey took No. 1 overall, and Patrick were widely expected to be the first two picks of the draft. Hextall also had an added connection to Patrick because they played for the same junior team, the Brandon Wheat Kings.
After making his debut on Oct. 4, 2017, Patrick went out with the first of a series of injuries 20 days later. He was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights prior to the 2021-2022 season after 197 games (30 goals, 40 assists) with the Flyers, his tenure marred by injuries. He has played just 61 games since 2019, when he missed the entire season due to a migraine disorder, and has played nine of 38 games so far this season with Vegas.
The next three draft picks, however, (Miro Heiskanen to Dallas, Cale Makar to Colorado and Elias Petersson to Vancouver) are all on track to be stars. Clarke specifically mentioned Makar, who won the Calder Trophy in 2019-20 as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year, and has averaged 0.97 points per game since debuting, No. 1 among NHL defensemen during that span.
“I don’t know where Patrick should have gone after his performances in Brandon, he’s a pretty good player, but they [the scouts] wanted Makar,” Clarke said. “Of course he went next [Makar actually went fourth]. Now he’s a superstar and Patrick hasn’t played ... but Hextall made that choice himself.”
Without mentioning names, Clarke also addressed the other first-round draft picks the Flyers made under Hextall.
“And there are other choices that were made in our draft that we’re paying for,” Clarke said. “We’ve got two or three first-round picks that are never going to play.”
The Flyers’ 2016 first-round pick, German Rubtsov, has played just four NHL games. Their next first-rounder, Jay O’Brien, is still in college and has yet to impact the organization.
Clarke said trading Brayden Schenn to the St. Louis Blues in 2017 was “just as bad.” The Flyers received Jori Lehtera (and his undesirable contract) and two first-round picks for Schenn. They used the draft picks to select forwards Joel Farabee and Morgan Frost, who are both still with the team. Meanwhile, Schenn became an All-Star and won the Stanley Cup with the Blues in 2019. Clarke said Hextall made that decision on his own since all the scouts were at the draft.
“I think we got two first-round picks, but so what?” Clarke said.
“That’s why we’re struggling, Hexy made some huge mistakes ... We’ve got a long ways to go to catch up.”
Clarke also claimed the Flyers had a chance to trade for center Ryan O’Reilly when he was a Buffalo Sabre. O’Reilly, who was acquired by the Blues in 2018, won the Stanley Cup alongside Schenn in 2019, his first season with St. Louis.
Before addressing these grievances, Clarke mentioned he “loved Hextall” and signed him to his first contract. He played his first year in Hershey, “and he was just incredibly good,” Clarke said.
“The next year, Hextall came up, and from then on, the fire and the competitiveness and stuff, it rubbed off on everybody,” Clarke said. “They’re invaluable, to get a guy like that.”
When Paul Holmgren first hired Hextall, Clarke said he thought it was the right decision. They remained friends when he came in, Clarke said, but Hextall “alienated everybody right away. He shut his door, he locked the doors. He was the boss and nobody else was part of it.” Clarke said firing him was the right choice.
“He made himself bigger than the team,” Clarke said. “And that is something I never, ever would have thought of with Hexy because he was such a team player.”