It’s very rare to see a former employee of a team still address the media following his dismissal. It’s even more unlikely when several days had passed.
The news of Ron Hextall’s dismissal as GM is still resonating four days later. But on Friday morning, Hextall stood in a conference room at a hotel across the street from the Flyers practice facility in Voorhees and addressed the media. If this is something so rare, why did Hextall do it.
“I came here today because I think I owed to you folks, I owed it to the fans and, to be honest, I wanted some closure,” Hextall said near the conclusion of his roughly 35-minute press conference.
Obviously, the burning question coming is was in regards to the supposed difference in philosophy that Paul Holmgren said in the team’s statement on Monday and claimed again at Tuesday’s press conference. Hextall ultimately agreed that there were some differences, notably in his strategic plan and Holmgren’s take-action style, but also acknowledged that Monday’s happenings were very sudden.
“I didn’t see this coming in any way,” Hextall said. “I was shocked. I was stunned.”
Hextall said the conversation with Holmgren lasted 20 seconds.
“The only thing Homer said is ‘Your vision and my vision aren’t the same.’”
Holmgren had said on Tuesday that Hextall was “unyielding” in his plan. Hextall gave some background on his plan on Friday, explaining the timeline, where the team was at and what maybe was to come.
“It was a three-stage process. First stage for me was cleaning up the cap. Stage Two was incorporating young players. Stage Three was go time.
“I didn’t feel right now that we were at go time. I did feel like we were getting close. But I didn’t feel like we were there yet. Some of the growing pains that we’re going through this year with the younger kids, the defense -- that’s a young defense. It’s hard to win a Stanley Cup with a defense that age. Again, I wasn’t willing to trade a young player or prospect for a guy in his mid-30s that might help up this year, might clog us up down the road and his game is dropping. Philosophically, that’s where I was at.”
That was a recurring theme to Hextall’s swan song before the Philadelphia media. He emphasized that he wasn’t willing to make a trade for the sake of making one, to maybe make the team better, emphasis on the maybe.
Even with that in mind, the Flyers this season were underperforming, and Hextall acknowledged it. He noted the growing pains of the younger players in the lineup and said he expected to take a step forward this season.
In terms of being aggressive in making moves, a quality that Holmgren and Dave Scott both acknowledged should be present in the new GM, Hextall assured he approached this offseason aggressively.
“I can assure you, I was being aggressive,” Hextall said. “If we would have had something that made sense for us, short term and long term, we would have done it.”
Maybe in Hextall’s mind, being active in talks to make a trade or sign big-name free agents was being aggressive. Much like the team this season, the results weren’t there. Hextall may have been aggressive in pursuit, but not actively adding pieces in an effort to improve the team at present.
Hextall also addressed a number of other subjects. When asked if a coaching change was something he ever considered, Hextall said you consider everything to make your team better. Now that he is out of the GM chair, he notes that the results and lack of success doesn’t fall on just one aspect.
“There’s a responsibility with every one of us,” Hextall said. “We were all in it together and in the end we didn’t get it done.”
“We” didn’t get it done. We as in assistant GM Chris Pryor, assistant coach Gord Murphy -- both of whom have already been fired by the team -- and perhaps Dave Hakstol, who could be on his way out once a new GM is named.
Hextall was also asked about the belief that he was controlling and had wanted a say in everything.
There’s a lot of things that have come out here, and I don’t know where they’re coming from.” Hextall said.
Hextall noted that in addition to clearing cap space and building up the farm system, two big parts of Stage One of his process, the Flyers had added an analytics department and a sports science department. They hired a nutritionist. They build a new gym at the practice facility.
“I’m proud of my four and a quarter years here,” Hextall said. “We worked hard and I feel like we accomplished a lot.”
In the end, Hextall ended his time in Philadelphia still defending his process and strategy. In the end, a lot of what Hextall did will be more appreciated down the road, either as the Flyers return to contention with pieces he drafted and acquired or as the franchise makes changes and the results still don’t change or past players go on to better careers.
His biggest pitfall was that you couldn’t pinpoint when go time was. Would a two-week hot streak really be enough for Hextall to flip the switch and move to Stage Three, or would the Flyers have perpetually been locked in Stage Two, trying to get the most out of the younger players implemented into the lineup? We’ll never know now.
Hextall didn’t have animosity toward the Flyers. He didn’t speak on Friday to complain or give his side or vent his frustration toward a plan and process that will have to be finished by someone else. He owned up to the end with class.
“I couldn’t bring a Stanley Cup to Philly,” Hextall said. “That was always my goal.
“It’s been a tough couple of days. You guys know how much love I have for this franchise. So yeah, it hurts. I don’t feel betrayed. I’m extremely proud of what we did here.”