Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ron Hextall’s patient approach and ability to rebuild are primary reasons that attracted the Penguins ownership to the GM. Hextall was the general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers from 2014 through 2018. His tenure ended in controversy when friction with upper management over the development of then-prospect goalie Carter Hart proved a flashpoint that cost Hextall his job.
The Penguins scooped up Hextall on Feb. 9, 2021, as their new GM to replace Jim Rutherford, who abruptly resigned the month before. The team also named Brian Burke as the president of hockey operations, too.
Hextall has a reputation as a good talent evaluator, but not everyone had good things to say about Hextall’s performance or how he handled the Flyers GM gig. Flyers icon and executive VP Bobby Clarke took Hextall to the woodshed on Tuesday’s Cam and Strick podcast, which is hosted by former NHL’er Cam Janssen and reporter Andy Strickland.
The highlights include, “he alienated everybody right away,” and “none of the scouts wanted Nolan Patrick. They wanted (Cale) Makar.”
In hindsight, Makar would be the right pick in the 2018 NHL Draft as he has become one of the elite talents in the NHL and perhaps the most talented defenseman on the planet.
Patrick flopped in Philadelphia, and they traded him last summer to the Vegas Golden Knights for fellow faded prospect Cody Glass. Patrick has 31 goals and 73 points in 206 NHL games.
Hextall was also a Flyers icon. He was the Flyers starting goaltender from 1986-1992, and his fiery demeanor earned him a spot among all-time fan favorites. The Flyers also went to the Stanley Cup Final in 1987.
For Clarke, however, there may be some lingering hard feelings over Hextall’s Philadelphia management tenure. Clarke hesitated before diving into his unhappiness over Hextall’s performance.
“We remained friends, but 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 before getting in the 2018 Draft as well as the controversial trade of Brayden Schenn.
“We get the second pick in the draft, and we end up drafting Nolan Patrick. None of our scouts wanted Nolan Patrick. I know where Patrick should have gone after his performances in Brandon (WHL), and he’s a pretty good player, but..(scouts) wanted Makar. Of course, he went next (actually, two picks later). Now, he’s a superstar. Patrick hasn’t played… but Hextall made that choice himself. And there were other choices that were made in our draft–We’re paying for it. Now we’ve got two or three first-round picks that are never going to play.”
“That’s why we’re struggling. Hexy made some huge mistakes,” Clarke concluded.
Those picks Clarke referenced were 2018 pick Jay O’Brien (19th overall. 0 NHL games but playing well at Boston U.). Promising 2017 pick Morgan Frost (27th overall) has played 38 games over three seasons but 2016 pick German Rubstov (22nd) has played just four NHL games.
In fairness, the three first-round picks before that were Travis Sanheim (2014, 17th overall), Ivan Provorov (2015, 7th), and Travis Konecny (2015, 24th). Hextall also drafted Joel Farabee with the 14th pick in the 2018 draft. Those four turned out pretty well for the Flyers.
Clarke continued his criticism of Hextall’s operating procedure regarding the Brayden Schenn trade in 2017. The Flyers received a first-round pick and Jori Lehtora.
Clarke omitted that first-round pick became Joel Farabee.
Hextall conducted the Pittsburgh Penguins 2021 Draft, but the Penguins previously traded multiple picks, including their first, third, fourth, and sixth-round picks.
Clarke did have some praise for Hextall, too. Clarke was the Philadelphia Flyers GM from 1984 through 1990 and again from 1994 through 2006, and he praised Hextall, the player.
“I loved (his fiery nature). I loved Hextall. From the time he got there…I signed him to his first contract…he was just incredibly good…,” Clarke said.
One of Hextall’s most famous moments was in the 1989 Patrick Division playoffs when he chased Pittsburgh Penguins winger Robby Brown because of an excessive celebration.
Clarke told the inside stories on Eric Lindros, also put the boots to Mike Keenan, and had great things to say about Craig Berube and the backstory of Hextall’s playing days, too.
You can hear the full podcast–always a lot of fun, though not always safe for work.