As far as Ron Hextall could tell, the Flyers’ hierarchy was set in 2006.
Bob Clarke, the Flyers’ general manager, was just 56 years old. The Flyers were two years and one lockout removed from an Eastern Conference final appearance.
Hextall, then 43, was the team’s director of player personnel. Paul Holmgren was above him as Clarke’s assistant general manager, the heir apparent should Clarke ever decide to leave his post.
Hextall’s blood may be more orange than red, but it was clear than any path for him to rise to the top of the organization’s front office was clogged.
Plus, Hextall needed more experience.
So, when Dean Lombardi left the Flyers’ scouting staff on April 21, 2006 to become the eighth president and general manager of the Los Angeles Kings, he offered Hextall an opportunity to re-build a franchise and cut his teeth with a serious promotion.
Hextall traded South Jersey for Mahattan Beach, Calif.
On Monday, Hextall returned home - with a Stanley Cup ring on his finger and a boatload of experience.
This time, it appears Hextall has positioned himself as the new heir apparent to the Flyers’ throne.
Hextall was surprisingly hired as the Flyers’ assistant general manager and director of hockey operations, effective on Aug. 1. He had been with Los Angeles as their vice president / assistant general manager since being hired by Lombardi in 2006. Lombardi signed three-year extension in January to remain with the Kings through 2016-17.
“We are very pleased to welcome back Ron Hextall to our management team,” Holmgren said in a statement. “Ron has a wealth of experience in the front office in various capacities which will be a valuable addition to our staff.”
The Flyers now have three assistant general managers under Holmgren, including John Paddock, Barry Hanrahan and Hextall. Chris Pryor previously held the title of director of hockey operations, though his job will not be changing.
Some believe the re-hiring of Hextall is the Flyers' biggest coup of the offseason to date, even more so than Vincent Lecavalier or Ray Emery.
Hextall, 49, was an integral part in helping push the Kings toward their first Stanley Cup championship in 2012. In addition to aiding in contract negotiations, Hextall oversaw the Kings’ entire minor league operation, presiding over a Manchester AHL franchise that twice reached the Eastern Conference final (2010, 2007) under his watch. Many of those minor league players ultimately helped the Kings reach hockey’s pinnacle.
While there has been no official announcement from the Flyers as to Hextall’s plans, it appears he will be tasked with getting the club’s minor league system back on track. The Phantoms, one of the most talent-depleted rosters in the AHL, have not made the playoffs since moving to Glens Falls, N.Y., in 2009.
The Phantoms are 131-153-12-16 since the closing of the Spectrum. The organization is repeatedly ranked 30th and dead last among NHL teams in prospect rankings, counting only Erik Gustafsson (an undrafted free agent) and Zac Rinaldo as full-time NHL graduates over the last four seasons.
Paddock, a dedicated hockey man, attempted to help revive the Phantoms, but was never given the proper resources. After the last two drafts, the Flyers appear to have restocked their system, and Hextall will likely be the boss of his former coach, Terry Murray, who will remain on the Phantoms' bench. Murray was the Kings' head coach in Los Angeles from 2008-12.
Earleir this year, Hextall was named as a finalist to be the new GM in Columbus, a position which ultimately went to Jarmo Kekalainen. In addition to hiring a rising star in the league’s front office ranks, the Flyers also brought back one of the most popular players in team history.
Hextall was the 19th member inducted into the Flyers’ Hall of Fame on Feb. 6, 2008. He appeared in 489 games during his 11-year Flyers career, posting a record of 240-172-58 and his 45 playoff wins at the most in franchise history.
Hextall won the Vezina and Conn Smythe trophies in 1987, when the Flyers fell to the dynastic Edmonton Oilers in Game 7 of what many believe to be the best Stanley Cup final in NHL history. He was the first goaltender in NHL history to score a goal by shooting the puck in an opponents’ net - and the first to do it in a playoff game. Hextall also still holds the Flyers’ record for penalty minutes by a goaltender (113 in 1988-89) and points by a goaltender (8 in 1988-89).
Hextall raised his family in the Philadelphia area. His son, Brett, played for the Philadelphia Jr. Flyers before heading off to the Univ. of North Dakota. His daughter, Kristin, played soccer at La Salle University. Brett Hextall, drafted by Phoenix in the 6th round in 2008, plays for the AHL’s Portland Pirates. If he can make it to the NHL, Brett Hextall would become just the second, fourth-generation player to do so - Ron's father, Bryan, and grandfather, Bryan Sr., both played in the league. Bryan Hextall Sr. is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
When we last caught up with Ron Hextall in 2012, he was contemplating standing in goal for the Winter Classic alumni game at the Rangers - even though he was still recovering from back surgery. That’s how badly Hextall wanted to put on his Flyers sweater again.
This time around, Hextall may be wearing a suit, but home is still home.
For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers