By Allan Muir
The Philadelphia Flyers on Monday named Ron Hextall assistant general manager and director of hockey operations.
A surprising move, but you can't argue the smarts. Hextall is regarded as an up-and-coming executive whose skills have been coveted around the league for several years.
The question is, was this simply a chance taken to add a highly-regarded thinker to the team's pool of builders and assessors...or is this a clear sign the leash has shortened considerably for GM Paul Holmgren?
"We are very pleased to welcome back Ron Hextall to our management team,” Holmgren said in a statement, apparently without loosening his necktie, Rodney Dangerfield-style. “Ron has a wealth of experience in the front office in various capacities which will be a valuable addition to our staff.”
Hextall spent the previous seven seasons as an assistant GM under Dean Lombardi in Los Angeles, where he helped build the 2012 Stanley Cup champions. Before that, he was director of pro hockey personnel and a scout for the Flyers from 1999-2006.
Hextall spent 11 of his 13 NHL seasons with the Flyers. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 1987 despite losing in the Final to the Edmonton Oilers, and was part of the team that reached the Final again in 1996 before bowing out to the Detroit Red Wings.
So maybe this is just a chance for a franchise legend to come home. Or maybe Holmgren's successor is now (unofficially) in place.
If that's the case, it's a smart move by the Flyers. Despite Ed Snider's cheerful words of a job well done this summer, Holmgren has to be on thin ice. The Flyers underachieved last season, in part because players he gambled heavily on did not come through. That led to him sending Ilya Bryzgalov and Danny Briere packing...but not before they split more than $25 million of Snider's money just to go away. That's a tough result to polish on an end-of-season review.
Holmgren gambled again this summer on a trio of aging vets -- Mark Streit, Ray Emery and Vincent Lecavalier. Not one sure thing in that bunch. It's easy to imagine him taking the fall if things go south early for this team in 2013-14. And if things go well, even better. The team enjoys success in the short term and there's a replacement plan in place for the future.