The front office game of musical chairs keeps spinning – although the Philadelphia Flyers GM seat wasn’t ever really vacant.
The Flyers announced Wednesday morning that assistant GM, and former Flyers goalie, Ron Hextall would take over the GM duties from Paul Holmgren.
Holmgren, meanwhile, was promoted to president.
Holmgren’s time as GM had its ups and downs, but will ultimately be remembered as a “What If?” tenure. What if the team didn’t trade Jeff Carter and Mike Richards to sign Ilya Bryzgalov one year after making it to the Stanley Cup final? What if they had kept James van Riemsdyk, instead of trading him to Toronto for Luke Schenn? What if they had put more emphasis on improving a defense corps that has become too slow, rather than throwing too much money at players such as Vincent Lecavalier and Mark Streit, just to make a splash? And though Holmgren had no control over it: what if Chris Pronger hadn’t run into concussion problems? There’s no telling how much better, if at all, the Flyers would have been had the coin landed on the other side of all these scenarios.
One thing is for certain, though: Holmgren leaves the team with some serious problems on defense.
Under Holmgren, Philadelphia shifted to a new core led by Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Braydon Coburn and the growing defensive influence of Sean Couturier. It’s a decent and young core, but the one it replaced made a Stanley Cup final appearance: will this group be deep and talented enough to achieve that difficult goal?
Now it’ll be up to Hextall to take what Philadelphia has and push it across the finish line.
All signs point to Hextall being a prepared choice. He served as assistant GM in Los Angeles from 2006 until 2013, helping to build a Stanley Cup champion, and Kings GM Dean Lombardi speaks highly of his former assistant. Last summer, Hextall rejoined the Flyers organization as assistant GM and director of hockey operations - with the idea he'd take over as GM eventually - and has been in line for a head NHL job for the past couple years.
Hextall’s first order of business will be to align a confused and top-heavy group that was brought together through wild contracts and trades with no obvious plan as to where the personnel moves were taking them. The Flyers have lots of forwards, but the two highest paid (Lecavalier and Scott Hartnell) are signed for at least another four seasons and aren’t even the most important ones. Unless a non-compliance buyout carves out some space (they’ve used their two compliance buyouts already), the $9.25 million spent on these two will make upgrading the defense a more difficult task.
The future of Kimmo Timonen also hangs in the balance. The pending UFA has obviously lost a step, but he’s still a top-four, offensive defenseman – a type the Flyers sorely lack. Letting him go appears inevitable, but don’t underestimate how much the Flyers will be impacted if they fail to replace, or upgrade, on what Timonen brought.
The one thing the Flyers do seem to have settled on, for now, is a starting goalie – so in that regard Hextall is starting further ahead than most Flyers GMs in the past. But even there, Steve Mason had one really good season after a few poor ones: will he go through another downturn?
There’s no doubt the Flyers have a good base to start from, but a new leader was needed to refine the problem areas. Holmgren got them here, and it was time for a new GM with fresh eyes to look at this roster and have a disconnected opinion on how to move it ahead. Hextall will be more likely to move around pieces Holmgren had an attachment to.
And, hey, a “Hextall becoming GM of the Philadelphia Flyers” post gives us the opportunity to run a highlight reel of his angry playing days.
What did you think of this hire?