The hiring of former Flyers’ General Manager Ron Hextall to that very same position for the Pittsburgh Penguins could potentially be bad news for Philadelphia.
It is hard to see how the highly competitive Hextall could be any more motivated to win, but given his unceremonious exit from the Flyers organization, he would seem to have an extra reason to be that way. A motivated foe always presents a problem, but while with the Flyers, Hextall complied reams of inside information on the players.
He has his fingerprints are all over the organization and he may know the player’s strengths and weaknesses better than Chuck Fletcher. Of the current roster, Hextall brought forwards Travis Konecny, Oskar Lindblom, James van Riemsdyk, Nolan Patrick, Connor Bunnaman, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Morgan Frost, and Joel Farabee.
Hextall also brought us defenders Mark Friedman, Phil Myers, Travis Sanheim, and Ivan Provorov. He drafted Carter Hart, who may be the most franchise-altering acquisition since Lindros. The thought of Hextall sharing the intimate details of these players with someone such as Crosby is enough to make any Flyers fan wretch.
The Penguins find themselves with no cap space and an aging core. Injuries and age seem to have finally slowed Malkin which allows opposing teams to focus on Crosby alone. Given Hextall’s performance in Philly, there may be more to glean from his hiring. Could Hextall’s presence signal the closing of the Penguins window as contenders?
Based on the blueprint he used with the Flyers, Hextall will give the Pens’ core the chance to compete while focusing on grabbing young talent and organizational depth. For example, Hextall did not trade away Giroux and Jake. It was not a complete teardown, but pieces like Coburn, Timonen, and Brayden Schenn were sacrificed for the future.
The future, in this case, was named Travis Konecny, Joel Farabee, and Morgan Frost. Expect the Penguins’ core to remain, but there will not be a blockbuster trade vaulting them to cup favorites. Hextall’s appointment is a rebuild rather than a reload and it effectively closes the contention window of the Crosby era.
It is hard to overstate the potential damage to the Flyers caused by this Penguins’ union with Hextall, but there is also a silver lining. He has preached patience and has always focused on the long term. He favors a methodical approach building steadily through the draft, and that takes time. Time is not on the side of Malkin and Crosby. The Penguins may again surpass the Flyers, but it will take a while with the steady Hextall at the helm.
There is even more possible good news for the Flyers. Given Hextall’s intimate knowledge of the Flyers’ players and prospects. Fletcher may find him to be a willing trading partner. His familiarity with Flyers’ players may make him willing to pay a premium for players that he already knows and likes. This may give Fletcher a chance to clean out prospects he does not like to make room for ones that he does.
Hextall’s hire by the Penguins will make an already heated rivalry even spicier over the next half-decade. It will be fun to watch and should give us a definitive judgment on the wisdom of the Flyers decision to let Hextall go.