PAUL HOLMGREN squirmed in his chair at the dais last night - just a little, he acknowledged.

It was not as awkward as his phone call with chairman Ed Snider early morning on Oct. 7, when he woke the Flyers' owner at home to ask his permission to fire Peter Laviolette three (three!) games into the season.

"Those are never fun calls to make," Holmgren said. "Anytime you have to deal with Mr. Snider on issues of that nature, he asks tough questions. The tough questions that make you kind of wiggle around in your seat, like I'm doing now."

It was uncomfortable because an hour before he was forced to dissect the Flyers' 38th consecutive season without a Stanley Cup and, therefore, some of his shortfalls as their architect, Snider threw him a bit of a curveball.

In his own separate interview, Snider spit out what every logical observer believed for more than a year: Ron Hextall is the heir apparent to Holmgren's throne.

Hextall, 49, was rehired by the Flyers from Los Angeles last July 15 to be Holmgren's assistant. Hextall is believed to be a serious candidate for at least one, if not two, openings around the league this summer - particularly in Washington to replace George McPhee.

"He didn't come in to be assistant GM forever," Snider said of Hextall. "But that doesn't mean tomorrow. I've got to sit down with Paul. We're in the process of analyzing everybody's title. We're going to all sit down, and it's going to be up to Paul. It's really Paul's call. All I have to do is endorse it."

In other words, Snider, 81, is not willing to let a hot commodity in Hextall walk this summer if he can prevent it - even if that means another painful conversation with Holmgren.

One problem: Even if Holmgren is raised to the vacant title of team president, he wants to continue to remain the Flyers' head honcho of hockey operations.

"I'm the one who brought 'Hexy' back," Holmgren said. "He's an excellent resource in our organization. He's a tremendous hockey man, and I have no question that he's ready to be a general manager at any point.

"We'll see where that goes, but I'm certainly not in any position where I want to change chairs."

From a distance, last night's news conference sounded like an owner and a general manager on different pages.

Holmgren, 58, was promoted his current position on Oct. 22, 2006; this was his eight season on the job. When asked by another reporter how long he might want to continue as the Flyers' shot-caller, he snapped.

"Do you think I look 70?" Holmgren asked. "I still feel pretty good. Hockey has been my life and my passion for a long time. Do I enjoy it as much? Absolutely."

Strangely, though, Holmgren was less clear as to whether he would allow Hextall to interview for an opening. Hextall is under contract for multiple years. Unlike other sports, the NHL has no rule as to whether front-office employees under contract must be permitted to interview for a job with other franchises, even if it is a promotion.

"Well, I don't have to if I don't want to," Holmgren said when asked whether he would grant permission. "If that were the case, to me, is that the right thing to do? Yeah. You can always say, 'No, I refuse to give you permission to talk to my employee.' There's no law that says I have to give it to them.

"To me, if and when that happens, somebody wants to talk to Ron Hextall about a general manager's opening, yeah. No problem."

When asked whether any team had asked for permission so far, Holmgren neither denied nor confirmed it. "That's something for the other teams to say," he said. "I'm not going to tip my hand one way or the other."

For Holmgren, dissection day only further perplexed a polarizing season. He fired Laviolette after 5 days, fans chanted "Fire Holmgren!" so loudly, so clearly during a Nov. 1 blowout to Washington that he left his general manager's suite to peel the paint off the walls in the Flyers' dressing room during the second intermission with a fiery outrage.

He hired Craig Berube based on instinct; the Flyers were two goals from the second round; and now the Capitals may want to poach his prodigy. Go figure.

"Of course, Paul will be back," Snider said. "Basically, he's the head of our hockey operations. The job that he did, I think was excellent. Not too many guys would have the guts enough to fire the coach after three games."

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