AS FAR AS Ron Hextall could tell, the Flyers' hierarchy was set in 2006.
Bob Clarke, the Flyers' general manager, was only 56. The Flyers were 2 years and one lockout removed from an Eastern Conference finals appearance.
Hextall, then 42, 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 might 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 rebuild a franchise and cut his teeth with a serious promotion.
Hextall traded South Jersey for Mahattan Beach, Calif.
Yesterday, 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 heir apparent to the Flyers' throne.
Hextall was surprisingly hired as the Flyers' assistant general manager and director of hockey operations, effective Aug. 1. He had been with Los Angeles as the vice president/assistant general manager since being hired by Lombardi in 2006. Lombardi signed a 3-year extension in January to remain with the Kings through 2016-17.
"To me, he's probably the most highly thought of guy in the league who is not a general manager," Holmgren said in a conference call. "To add him to our staff is just huge. We've remained very close over the years. His family is basically on the East Coast. The timing seemed right. His contract expired in June. We jumped at it, to be able to add a person of his quality and knowledge. I'm really pleased we were able to do this."
Holmgren said the Flyers reshuffled the titles of front-office members, though their day-to-day roles really will not change. Chris Pryor will be the Flyers' director of scouting. Dave Brown will be the head of pro scouting. John Paddock, former assistant GM and assistant coach, will become player personnel director. And Barry Hanrahan will remain assistant GM in charge of the salary cap and financial decisions.
Some think the rehiring 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 finals (2010, 2007) under his watch. Many of those minor league players ultimately helped the Kings reach hockey's pinnacle.
While Holmgren said Hextall will assist with everything Flyers, it appears Hextall 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 repeatedly is ranked last among the 30 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.
After the last two drafts, the Flyers appear to have restocked their system, and Hextall will likely work in close contact with his former coach, Terry Murray, who will remain on the Phantoms' bench. Murray was the Kings' head coach in Los Angeles from 2008 to '12.
Earlier this year, Hextall was named as a finalist to be the new GM in Columbus, a position that ultimately went to Jarmo Kekalainen. Holmgren said Hextall's deal is a "multiyear" contract with the Flyers, but he certainly wouldn't hold back Hextall from a GM opportunity elsewhere.
"Ron is certainly qualified to be a general manager," Holmgren said. "His knowledge of building teams from the ground up, which is basically what he did in LA - they weren't in good shape when he got there - is [valuable]. It could happen very soon with a number of teams. You never know. This is a funny business sometimes."
In addition to hiring a rising star among NHL 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 are 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 finals in NHL history. He was the first goaltender in NHL history to score a goal by shooting the puck in an opponent's 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 (eight in 1988-89).
When we last caught up with Hextall in 2012, he was contemplating standing in goal for the Winter Classic alumni game against 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 might be wearing a suit, but home is still home.
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