It was a boon for our business and hockey chatter across North America. After a sigh, a breath, and a slight hesitation, former Philadelphia Flyers GM and current senior advisor Bobby Clarke figuratively shredded current Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ron Hextall for his performance as the Flyers GM from 2014-18.
During a podcast on Tuesday, Clarke backed the truck up and dumped the blame for the Flyers’ current struggles on Hextall. Bad drafts, a bad trade, and refusing a good trade were part of the grievances. According to Clarke, when Hextall traded Brayden Schenn at the 2018 NHL Draft, it was without others’ input or knowledge. Clarke also said the Flyers could have acquired Ryan O’Reilly in 2018, but Hextall declined.
Oh, and Hextall’s first-round-pick foibles, most notably not drafting current superstar Cale Makar in 2017, was also done without input from the scouts or Clarke.
“…He alienated everybody, right away. Shut his door. He locked the doors. He was the boss, and nobody else was part of it,” Clarke said.
As part of the Cam & Strick podcast hosted by former NHL’er Cam Janssen and reporter Andy Strickland, the interview went viral. Everybody buzzed over the takedown. Of the Schenn trade, Clarke groused.
“I sat at the table three seats away from him. When he traded Schenn, I didn’t have a clue.”
The Real Issue
But the reality of the comments was immediately evident, too. Ron Hextall didn’t consult Bobby Clarke, which was the great sin. The rumors were that Flyers president and former Flyers GM Paul Holmgren also felt excluded from the decisions.
The two former GMs looking over Hextall’s shoulder didn’t like how their former protege-turned-GM excluded them.
Gee, that doesn’t sound like two men putting ego above results. And that is why the Flyers are in a heap of trouble against the salary cap and will likely miss the playoffs, again.
Our colleague Sam Carchidi of Philly Hockey Now wrote Clarke brought the issues to light to distract from another Philadelphia Flyers nose dive.
The trade for which Clarke took Hextall to the woodshed–trading Schenn to the St. Louis Blues for Jori Lehtora and a first-round pick turned out pretty well for the Flyers. Lehtora was soon broomed away, but that pick (14th overall) became Joel Farabee.
Farabee, 21, has 16 points (10-6-16) in 28 games this season. Schenn, 30, has 12 points (5-7-12) in 22 games.
Schenn was 27-years-old and due a hefty raise. He currently carries a $6.5 million AAV with St. Louis. The Flyers were going nowhere and were also up against the salary cap. Hextall pulled Farabee out of the fire.
If that’s a terrible trade with no input, bring me more. A senior adviser should want a few more of those “terrible” trades.
Pittsburgh Penguins fans probably won’t argue; Farabee is an exciting young player who is only getting better (and still on his $925,000 entry-level contract).
Ron Hextall Drafts
Hextall and co. did whiff on Cale Makar. For that matter, so too did the New Jersey Devils, who drafted Nico Hischier, first overall. And maybe the Dallas Stars who selected Miro Heiskanen, who also appears to be a real player, but Makar is elite. Clarke said, “none of our scouts wanted Patrick,” but that seems to be revisionist history.
Most scouts had Hischier and Patrick, 1-2.
Also, it happens. It indeed happened to Clarke a few times when he ran the Flyers drafts from 1994-2006.
Hextall also picked Travis Sanheim, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and the promising Morgan Frost with first-rounders. He snagged Carter Hart with a second-round pick and Oscar Lindblom with a fifth-rounder.
Does anybody want to argue the Hart pick?
Clarke also didn’t mention the cost for O’Reilly: Three forwards, including a recent first-rounder, a first-round pick, and a second-rounder.
Hextall probably should have pulled the trigger on an O’Reilly deal at the 2018 NHL Draft, but so, too, should a lot of teams. Hextall’s logic has merit–a team entering a rebuild doesn’t spend future assets for a 27-year-old center at the top of his game.
At best, Clarke’s comments show a disconnect between Hextall, who was trying to retool cautiously, and the Flyers old guard who wanted to win, NOW, and wanted a say in how Hextall did it.
The old way that hasn’t worked vs. a new way. The old way won, and the Flyers stink again. They’re currently well out of the playoff chase.
At worst, Clarke putting the boots to Hextall shows the Flyers old guard as out-of-touch and petulant over their lack of input. Clarke is a piece of Flyers history who lifted the Stanley Cup as a player, but that was a long time ago (1975), in a hockey galaxy far, far away.
GM Chuck Fletcher is currently chasing his tail trying to patch together a playoff team. Facing a crumbling core last summer, the Flyers traded Jakub Voracek and acquired defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. It was a far cry from the Penguins keeping their championship core together, and the Flyers’ moves were all about the 2022 NHL playoffs.
Tunnel vision. Win NOW. And the direction undoubtedly comes from above.
In Clarke’s two GM tenures with the Flyers, which began in 1984, they made it to the Stanley Cup Final twice (1987, 1997). They made it to the Eastern Conference Final three more times (1995, 2000, 2004).
Never won the Cup.
Not since Clarke and the Broad Street bullies bloodied opponents have the Philadelphia Flyers lifted a Stanley Cup. In 2014, Hextall was fresh from being an assistant GM with the LA Kings, who used a plethora of young players (for which Hextall was responsible) to win two Stanley Cups.
Hextall may not have been perfect as the Flyers GM, but Clarke’s pop-off merely highlighted the Flyers’ dysfunction and the effects of their lack of direction.
On Tuesday evening, Hextall had a brief exchange with Carchidi and declined to comment on Clarke’s criticisms. That was too bad. He could have had some fun pointing out the Flyers haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1975, and much of that falls on Clarke and Holmgren.
He also could have pointed out that the organization’s best assets next season will be Hextall players (if Claude Giroux departs).
Perhaps that special feeling Hextall has helped cultivate around this Pittsburgh Penguins roster with cautious pickups Jeff Carter, Danton Heinen, Brian Boyle, and even Evan Rodrigues will pay dividends. Maybe.
But the Philadelphia management won’t be drinking champagne anytime soon, only sour grapes.