In May of 2014, when the Flyers promoted Ron Hextall from assistant general manger to GM to keep him away from other teams, the man he replaced, Paul Holmgren, said this: “All hockey decisions fall on Ron’s lap. No question. I started talking to Ron about this in December and I went to Mr. Snider about it in January. Just to dispel any doubt of what’s going on … this is a good thing. Final say regarding the hockey team is Ron. He has full authority and autonomy.”
The Flyers said they wanted to change the way they did business. They said they wanted Hextall to clean up their salary cap mess, to build through youth, to strategize through analytics, and to nurture their players through sports science. Hextall did all of those things ... yet Holmgren fired him eight days ago. Clearly, the Flyers never meant what they said four years ago. The men whose ideas led to decades of futility -- the men whom he was hired to replace -- essentially dumped Hextall for doing what he was hired to do.
It smacks of pettiness, and of insecurity, especially in light of what a Flyers source told philly.com Flyers beat reporter Sam Carchidi this week:
"I think it’s how you treat your people, so everybody is included as to what’s going on. The people who work for you have to know you trust them and want their opinions and care about them -- and it will be returned every time. Chuck will have that. ...
"Everybody’s going to be happy to work for him. Everybody’s going to be happy he’s there. His reputation, which is pretty easy when you talk to scouts and all those who have worked for him, is top-level. Everybody enjoyed working for him. Everybody wanted to work for him. Everybody felt part of the team.”
You don’t operate with “full authority and autonomy” and need to massage the egos of the people compiling information.
And -- wait a minute. Isn’t this hockey? The scouts and front-office personnel whose feelings got hurt are former hockey players, the toughest hombres in team sports. They played 50 percent of their minutes with fresh stitches, lost their best teeth by the time they turned 25 and fought each other purely on principle. Now they need pats on their heads and Kumbaya sessions?
On Friday Hextall, bleary-eyed from four sleepless nights, held a farewell press conference in a Voorhees hotel ballroom and defended himself as best he could. Meanwhile, the team he created practiced across the street. After the day’s events finished a Flyers source indicated to philly.com that it wasn’t just the scouts and coaches who chafed at Hextall’s abrupt management style. Veteran personnel executives like Holmgren, who was promoted to president in 2014, bristled at not being consulted about decisions both major and minor.
You can’t operate with “full authority and autonomy” and have to seek the council of the men whose poor judgement and flawed philosophies led to your hiring in the first place.
It was iconic owner Ed Snider who pushed for Hextall’s promotion. Snider died two years later. Snider was notorious for his impatience, but he often practiced blind loyalty. Hextall was his young king, and Hextall asked for six or seven years. At 10-11-2, the team was inconsistent but it wasn’t awful. It hadn’t been awful at any point of Hextall’s tenure. Snider would have given Hextall the time he’d been promised.
You can contend that Hextall should have upgraded from goalies Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, who had lingering injury issues. You can criticize Hextall for not improving the coaching staff before this season started; he could have fired Dave Hakstol or his assistant, Gord Murphy, who ran the defense, at any point between last spring’s playoff loss to the Penguins and the day Hextall himself was dismissed.
The team has been inconsistent and the Flyers' young defense has been disappointing, and it is crucial to the rebuild. Murphy, a Hextall hire, was fired two days after Hextall, along with assistant GM Chris Pryor.
Their credentials are irrelevant to this observation -- which, again, revolves around the relief felt throughout the franchise that the man hired to clean the house, and to rebuild, it wasn’t sensitive enough.
Hextall was dismissed during the second phase of a major reconstruction project because he exercised his “full authority and autonomy.”