Ron Hextall, the wild goalie who turned into a mild general manager, acknowledged Friday that he was blindsided four days earlier when he was fired as the Flyers’ general manager.
“I was hoping to finish my career here,” he said.
He said his face-to-face conversation with club president Paul Holmgren, who informed him Monday he was being let go, lasted 20 seconds.
“I didn’t see this coming in any way,” Hextall said. “I was shocked.”
When they announced the firing, Holmgren and Dave Scott, CEO of the Flyers' parent company, Comcast Spectacor, said there were philosophical differences that caused the dismissal. They said the rebuild was taking too long and they wanted Hextall to be more aggressive in the trade market.
Hextall, who took the position in 2014, said he had planted the seeds on a trade before he was fired.
“From where we started four and a quarter years ago, there were really three stages,” Hextall said in a news conference at a hotel near the Skate Zone, the Flyers’ practice facility in Voorhees.
“The first stage for me was cleaning up the salary cap, then you move to a stage where it’s a little between, where you implement young players in the lineup and grow as a team and get better. And then there’s the third stage where, ‘OK, it’s go-time now.’ I didn’t feel we were at go-time. I didn’t feel [like] the Winnipegs and Nashvilles and the Tampas, that we were quite there.
"Now in saying that, was I open to moving prospects and/or young players who could help us this season and beyond? Absolutely. We had some talks in the works at the time.”
Hextall said he had trade conversations with numerous teams, “and whether something would have happened, I don’t know. I can assure you I was being aggressive.”
He said when he was hired, club chairman Ed Snider supported his patient approach, with building through the draft.
“He kind of reflected and said, ‘You know, we won the first two Stanley Cups with being patient.’ So he was on board,” Hextall said.
Hextall recalled telling Snider that when he was an assistant GM in Los Angeles, “it took us six years” to win a Cup, and “there were some tough times, especially early. It certainly wasn’t as tough here; we made the playoffs in two of four years. In L.A., we were a really bad hockey team early there and got better every year and then ended up winning in Year 6. Chicago built for I think seven years [before winning the Cup]. Philosophically, that’s kind of my vision. Did I want to speed things up? Absolutely.
“If something would have made sense for us, short-term and long-term, we would have done it,” he added. “Certainly I wasn’t willing to trade an early 20-year-old player for a 34-, 35- or 36-year-old player, especially if they had term on their contract.”
Hextall, who implied he came close to signing Paul Stastny before the free-agent center opted to go to Vegas in the offseason, said the team needed a “little more juice, a little more energy, a player or two that could grind it out and [have] grit and piss people off. That was one of the things we were looking out for, too, a little more sandpaper.”
Holmgren said Hextall was “unyielding” in his approach.
“Homer and I have known each other a long time. … I think we were both after the same thing. I guess maybe we thought we’d get there a different way,” Hextall said. “He’s very aggressive, and I’m somewhere in the middle.”
The Flyers (10-12-2), crippled by injuries to their top two goalies, are at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division standings.
“We’ve underperformed. I’d be the first to admit it,” Hextall said. “It’s disappointing as hell.”
Hextall said he regretted not upgrading the penalty kill in the offseason and said he almost signed Daniel Winnik, who ended up going to Switzerland. He felt Corban Knight, who is injured, would upgrade the PK. “But I would have liked to have done more,” he said.
He said he didn’t have interest in speedy penalty killer Michael Grabner, but said he didn’t want to badmouth him or give a reason.
Hextall said he was “humbled” by all the support he had received from the hockey community. Yes, he wants to be a GM again, but, for now, he is looking forward to spending time with his children and his first grandchild, a boy who was born on Jan. 15, 2018.
“I’m going to take some time and kind of recharge and spend some time with my kids, who have been extremely supportive,” Hextall said, adding he hasn’t gotten much sleep the last few days.
Asked if he had learned anything from his experience with the Flyers that he would take into another job, Hextall nodded.
“I’m a big learner. I like to learn. I think I’ll have a little better perspective on everything in a couple months, kind of look back and try to figure out what went wrong here,” he said. “But I learned some things -- I really don’t want to get into specifics."
A former star goalie with the Flyers, Hextall still feels an allegiance to the team, saying he watched their Tuesday game on TV a day after he was fired.
“I hope this team does well. I care about every player in that room," he said. “I care about the coaches. I care about the prospects. There’s a lot of really good kids coming -- the Wade Allisons and the Joel Farabees and the Morgan Frosts and the Carter Harts. I could go on and on. These are real good kids. There’s a bright future here.”
During the news conference, Hextall said he was “real surprised” that assistant GM Chris Pryor was also fired and called him “the hardest-working guy I know” and said his knowledge of prospects was “amazing.”
Hextall addressed the reported disconnect with the Flyers alumni. He would not allow them in the locker room after games, and it infuriated some of the former players.
Hextall said he has a “lot of respect for them. I’m one of them.” He added that “I don’t run a country club. I don’t believe in it. ... I believed in having tight doors. I believe in the sanctity of the locker room. I believe when the players are in the locker room, it should be [only] the players. That’s team bonding.”
As for the team’s failures this season, Hextall said there was a lot of blame to go around, and he included himself.
“Some of it is goaltending, for sure,” he said. “Some of it is because a lot of younger guys are going through growing pains. Some of it is our penalty kill. Some of it is our power play. It’s not one thing.”