Hex, Spies, and Smaller Plates – A Final Analysis of the Flyers’ firing of Ron Hextall

Photo credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Work in and around professional sports long enough, and there are always going to be stories you cannot tell publicly.

It’s the nature of the beast. Keeping some stories under wraps is how you build trust. It’s how you develop relationships with sources. It’s how you become an “insider,” so to speak.

In my 18-plus years being around the Philadelphia Flyers, I have been told or personally witnessed a lot of stories that would have garnered huge, tabloid-esque headlines.

When weighing the journalistic value of these stories, it is important to determine if telling them publicly is the proper thing to do. Do they have any impact on the team? Will they potentially affect the player’s performance? Will they get somebody in trouble, and if so, do they deserve to get in trouble?

When you see incidents like the Kareem Hunt video that TMZ put out yesterday, the answer to that is yes.

When you are forced to help a player get his drunk teammate who is passed out in the hallway of a team hotel three floors below where his room is located at 3 a.m. the night before a game, in most instances, you should put that one in your back pocket.

(Yes, that happened with me and two Flyers players, many moons ago.)

As a result, in my near two decades around this team. I have a lot of stories. Some are hysterical. Some are sad. Many can never be shared in a public forum.

And then there are times when you are torn. There are times when you are given great information, but asked not to share it publicly. Or you are told you can speculate on it, but can’t actually report it – as I did with the Hextall information last Friday.

And I will tell you that since Hextall’s firing, I have been deluged with information from multiple people throughout the Flyers organization that just blew me away.

They all asked that I tread very lightly with this information, and I did so in this post that I published on Tuesday. 

Since then, I’ve read a lot of stories elsewhere about what happened. I’ve read as the Flyers organization has been criticized for making this move and others – such as firing assistant coach Gord Murphy and assistant general manager Chris Pryor.

I’ve watched President Paul Holmgren get vilified for letting his “old school” mentality get in the way of Hextall’s long-term vision with this firing. I’ve heard so many people say the Flyers fired the wrong guy, that coach Dave Hakstol should have gone instead.

And then yesterday, Hextall held his own press conference, and the response was, as expected – more criticism of the organization. More cries that this was a wrong decision. More shouting that the Flyers are a mess internally and don’t know what the hell they’re doing.

I can tell you, from the years I have spent both covering and working with Holmgren, that this is a well-thought out decision and one that was made with the best interest of the Flyers organization in mind.

He also consulted at length with senior vice president Bob Clarke before finalizing this decision. It was done with the blessing of Comcast-Spectacore CEO Dave Scott and Comcast Chairman Brian Roberts.

These are not people who rush into bad business decisions. These aren’t people you can characterize as not knowing what the hell they’re doing.

Knowing what I know, this was a change that had to happen, no matter what story lines have been trotted out thus far.

There was even one column by Marcus Hayes that blamed the city – yep, the city of Philadelphia’s sports mentality – that refuses to embrace progressive thinkers, and chases them out of town. Sam Hinkie died for our sins first. Then Chip Kelly. Now Ron Hextall.

With apologies to Marcus and any other writer who offered an opinion that the firing was the wrong guy and unwarranted, I say hogwash.

Nowhere was the real story told. I gave you a little bit in that real story on Tuesday. Bill Meltzer and Jay Greenberg offered good reads on Hockeybuzz.com that pointed out that there was more than just hockey behind this decision.

Yesterday, Hextall held a press conference at a hotel across the street from the Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J.

He didn’t have to have one. It’s rare that fired executives choose to have a press conference. Hextall said he owed it to the media and the fans and needed it for his own closure.

But maybe, it was one last effort by him to be controlling in the Flyers organization, after all, that’s where the disconnect is for Hextall.

It’s evident, even after his own press conference, that he is mostly not accepting of what was fundamentally wrong with his tenure.

If we’re being objective, from a hockey perspective, Hextall did a lot of good for the Flyers. He got them out of a sticky salary cap situation. He collected assets in young players and draft picks. He even dipped his toe in free agency with the signing of James van Riemsdyk.

But he also had a few blind spots with the roster – namely goaltending and depth at center. But, push those aside, those weren’t reason enough for a firing.

Nor was the four-plus years of stagnated production. Even if you go back and see that teams with terrible records in each of the years of Hextall’s tenure – like Buffalo, Toronto and Colorado – and one that didn’t even exist before last season in Vegas all built themselves faster than the Flyers have.

And yet, while those teams are at or near the top of the standings and the Flyers are languishing in the basement of the Eastern Conference, proving that you don’t need to drag out a rebuild as long as Hextall originally thought, that also wasn’t the reason he was fired.

These roster construction and disappointing performances certainly helped add fuel to the fire, but there was so much more. So. Much. More.

This is where things get tricky for me. I am going to do my best to provide you with enough information without divulging too much as to leave a trail of cookie crumbs to my sources. But know that there are many things that published stories to this point have not addressed.

It’s no secret by now that Hextall was a micromanager. I talked about this earlier in the week, as did others, but his level of micromanagement went far outside the job description of what a GM is tasked to do.

I’ll get into those shortly, but I want to address where things were rotten at the core on the actual hockey side.

You want to know what the biggest fallacy is about Hextall that’s been out there? That he was over-protective of Dave Hakstol as coach.

I’m here to tell you that he smothered Hakstol’s coaching efforts. That Hextall dictated a lot of decisions. That Hakstol and Hextall didn’t always see eye-to-eye on the way things needed to go with this team. A lot of times Hakstol was trying to coach in the vacuum that Hextall created, and was always the guy who had to fall on the sword for decisions that may or may not have been his own.

This is why Holmgren has said he hopes whoever the new GM is will give Hakstol “a fair shake.” That’s because Hakstol hasn’t really had one yet.

And neither have the players.

They have been under intense scrutiny by Hextall. The GM wanted to dictate their every move. He wanted to control their work day in an intensely structured manner that they weren’t used to following.

Keep in mind, professional athletes are creatures of habit. So, they are often used to structure. But they aren’t used to being told how to live their lives. When to sleep. What they can and can not eat. Heck, even what equipment they have to wear.

Hextall admitted at his personal press conference to bringing in a dietitian on board to promote better food choices, but he didn’t tell the media how much input he had in the menus. He would fume at players grabbing a slice of pizza or a few chicken wings after a game. He even changed what food was available on the plane or served in the team hotel, choosing to go more organic.

He also talked about closing off the locker room from outside influences because he’s not running a country club. And he has a point to an extent. Most of us can’t bring our friends to work with us to hang out. So, he wanted to nip that in the bud, but shutting out team employees – including former players – from popping in to offer the guys some words of encouragement, as has been the practice in the organization for many years, likely took that too far and left some bitter feelings.

Of course, that reached a head when the Flyers alumni wanted to use the locker room for an alumni game and Hextall rebuffed the idea. He did admit he wished he could have that one back – but that was really his only mea culpa when it came to his dictatorial style.

When Sean Couturier re-injured his knee in a charity game over the summer, Hextall bristled. He then made it mandatory that all players wear knee braces to protect their knees, including those without knee problems.

Some players had issues with this – and can you blame them? Players should feel comfortable in their equipment to reach peak performance. We all thought the Peter Forsberg hockey boot drama was ridiculous back in the day, but it really bugged him. If you are an elite athlete and suddenly, something changes the way you feel when you are expected to be at your best, it’s going to affect you.

Wearing knee braces unnecessarily, will do that. Hextall didn’t care. He made it an edict. And some of the players were exasperated by this.

Then there’s Gord Murphy.

Murphy was Hextall’s first hire, and that’s important. The two were former teammates. Hextall wanted Murphy to be his eyes and ears in the locker room – and he was.

The problem was, it was secretively.

Murphy was a Hextall spy. And he spied on everyone. Players. Coaches. Trainers. Equipment people. Everyone. He was a direct line to Hextall about everything going on in the locker room, training room and even some personal stuff off-ice.

It got to a point this season where a lot of the defensemen – especially the younger guys like Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim and Shayne Gostisbehere, either didn’t trust their coach, weren’t on the same page or both.

Thing is, Hextall had spies all over the place. He had people who would report anything and everything to him – and Hextall would clamp down on anything he didn’t like.

It was too much for the coaches and players, but at least those are the people Hextall is in charge of as GM. It might have been overbearing, but who hasn’t had a bad boss before?

However, when it crossed over to the other side of the organization, is when the control-freak really came out of his GM seat.

Without getting into specifics to protect the innocent and hard-working people on the business side of things for the Flyers, Hextall complained about certain benefits of season ticket holders. He wanted to control messaging on broadcasts, he wanted to address public analysis of his team, he wanted to control content about the team. He worried about what doors were open and which ones were closed so that people working in the building wouldn’t have the opportunity to see or hear something as they were walking by.

I can’t tell you how many of the more than half dozen people I talked to called him “a nightmare” to deal with.

And the reporting is accurate when they say he shut off many upper management types. Holmgren couldn’t get Hextall to tell him a lot of what was going on. Hextall had a very small, tight group of people he trusted with management decisions. Neither Holmgren nor Comcast-Spectacor CEO Dave Scott were in that circle of trust. Neither was Hakstol.

The only guy who was around the team every day that was in that circle was assistant GM Chris Pryor, who became an unfortunate casualty in this whole mess after 20 years with the organization because he was closest to Hextall, and Scott and Holmgren, with the blessing of Comcast Chairman Brian Roberts, needed to eradicate anyone and everyone who Hextall considered a confidante.

That brings me to Scott.

According to multiple sources, Hextall had a particular distaste for Scott. He didn’t think Scott knew much about hockey, and wasn’t shy about saying that privately. This certainly didn’t sit well with Scott, which is why Roberts was brought into the conversation.

Now, anytime you need to fire the general manager of a company, of course the big boss should be involved, but this was on another level. This was rooted in a more than just a dislike for a superior, but rather a belief that the superior shouldn’t be intimately involved because of a lack of knowledge of what he’s managing.

That was probably the greatest death knell for Hextall.

I can tell you with assurance that Hextall’s departure has brought a sigh of relief throughout the organization – from top to bottom.

And now, the healing begins.

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54 Responses

      1. Enough already with these Flyers articles. No one gives a shit about this shitty organization that has been stuck in neutral for 43 years! Let’s talk if the Eagles should sign Kareem Hunt.

        1. Shut your pie hole dumbass..Eagles funally win a. SB. and now all of a sudden they are some great organization? LMAO!!
          Thank your lucky stars. the Saints defensive brainfart allowed the Vikings to win a game they had no business winning. Otherwise your Eagles would have faced Brees in the NFC Championship and like the ass whooping you got two weeks ago ..the Eagles wouldnt have sniffed the Superbowl.
          You dont like the Flyers then dont post on this board you. hack..go take a long walk off of a short pier you walking abortion.

  1. I still think Hakstol is a boring uninspiring dolt and the guy who got promoted/fired shouldn’t be the one back in charge of making hockey decisions. That being said, some very interesting stuff for sure and seems like the play should improve, which I’m sure a lot of fans aren’t expecting.

    Why did the players seem so shocked about the firings then?

      1. No ..he doesn’t …he needs to adjust to the pro level, speed, skill, etc and I have no issue with him getting that in the AHL first .. he does not need a lot of work …he is technically as sound a goalie as you will ever see.

        1. ever? relax dude, i was an avid flyers fan until i took a step back and realized we are the cleveland browns of hockey…..but for real EVER? he has a + 3 gaa in the ahl if you are the most technically sound goalie as one could ever see then you have not watched hockey you’re just butthurt

          1. Some goalies are capable of playing at a high level in the NHL even if they happen to put up some pedestrian numbers in the AHL. For just a quick, recent example, LA Kings Cal Petersen’s AHL numbers this season: 10GP with a 4.29 GAA, and .881 SV%. During his call-up in the NHL (when Quick was injured): 9 GP with a 2.41 GAA and .929 SV%. Hart has his “heart” set on playing in the NHL and may just rise to the occasion when he gets his shot.

  2. I enjoyed the article tremendously. Nice done, informative and paints a picture where no one looks good in the organization but Hextall looks the worst. The one part that can not be overlooked is the unimaginable goaltender decisions this off season. The press conference Hextall held was good for fans and media, but petty and bad for his future.

    Again, very good article.

  3. I’m reading this and I am thinking: Hexy sure sounds like he was the NHL version of Bill Belichick.

    Honestly, a lot of the issues mentioned here are done in the NFL already. Required knee braces? Aren’t NFL offensive lineup required to wear them? With salaries where they are, I’m sorry, but requiring particular safety gear to be worn is a prudent idea.

    I think it is pretty much standard operating procedures for pro athletes to be on particular diets. Hextall likely went too far if he didn’t allow the occasional cheat day. But yeah, I don’t have a problem with the food and sleeping standards. It’s where sports are going, and going fast.

    The biggest issue I see here is that the Flyers organization is set in a particular way of doing business. That is fine, but the cold hard truth is that Hextall’s actions are a harbinger for the direction that the best pro organizations in sports will be following in the not too distant future.

    Hextall’s greatest mistake was likely going to war with Dave Scott. That was foolish and likely led to his demise, for when times became tough, it made the decision the cut bait so, so easy…

  4. These are the type of articles I want to see more of. I am a huge Hextall supporter, especially when he pulled off trading a guy was wasn’t even playing in Pronger. But this is a side I needed to hear because I can only base my decisions on what I see on TV. Thank you for a great read.

  5. Only got to the paragraph about the leafs, avs, sabres and Knights being better than us when worse, or not in existence, when hexy took over. I will read the rest of this article but Matthews, Tavares, Eichel, Dahlin and mackinnon are generational type talents and also the 3 teams have been awful at points and longer. Leafs went 11 years with only 1 playoff berth then back to back 60 point seasons (68, 69) respectively. Buffalo hasn’t been in the playoffs since we knocked them out in 2010 while putting up 48, 52, 54, 81, 78 and last year 62 points. Avs, more of the same. Before last season had 1 playoff berth in 7 years. Went from 48 points in 2016-17 to 95 17-18.
    Flyers been on the cusp or in the playoffs through all this while not getting a face of the team type player with the 1st or 2nd picks of the draft. If the flyers were to have 3 seasons in a row out the playoffs and we’re 15th or 16th in the conference it would be blood bath everyday on every flyers site, so a sixers and sabres type tank wasn’t a option either.

  6. I got to say Anthony has been hinting at Hextall being the one to go, but listening to everywhere else they were shocked. Being a reader on Crossing Broad, we weren’t shocked. Keep up the great work Anthony.

  7. The reporting on this situation as well as Radio Wars shows how Crossing Broad is leaps and bounds the best sports media outlet… scratch that… best media outlet in Philadelphia. It’s authentic, thoughtful, well-informed, well-presented, no bullshit content. As tons of media outlets try to figure out this “new media landscape” the answer is simple: quality. As a diehard fan, the drama happening in Flyerdom is disheartening but ASF’s reporting offers comfort by providing explanations, answers, and hope by hinting the tough decisions that need to be made are being made given the circumstances he’s reported.

  8. Well done Anthony. Nice to see legit journalism on CB and a post getting real social shares. Hope you get a raise. Your article actually softened me up a bit on Hakstol, and I’m curious to see what he does with the leash off.

  9. Nice job, but the obvious question is why didn’t this get out sometime over the last 4 years.

    Anthony, your sources are either cowards or they’re lying. Four years of the biggest mediocrity we’ve seen in 25 years and everyone in the vaunted Flyers family is still so afraid that no one will talk on off the record about this toxic environment until the boss is gone and now not even on background or on-the-record?

    The more obvious scenario is that everyone was fine with his approach so long as we were on the Kings trajectory. Once it become obvious that we were Columbus not LA, with the balance sheet reflecting that reality, the toxic environment suddenly became unacceptable.

    Absent ownership, a President who blindly trusts former Flyers, a Head Coach who won’t resign because he is scared of his future job prospects,, and a Captain who won’t step up to the job are all equally responsible for this fiasco. It toook the MBAs with the spreadsheets to stiffen spines.

    This used to be a top 3 franchise in the NHL even without the Cup for 40 years. Conference finals every three years. Free agents begging to come here. Now they are an afterthought. And the cowards on Pattison and 1701 JFK Blvd say it is all Hextall’s fault. They need a mirror.

  10. Wow. Hextall won a cup elsehwere and was changing things here in an organization that hasn’t won anything in forever. Old people set in their ways didn’t like it. He was paying attention to every detail. That’s so terrible I guess.

    This article did nothing to change my opinion. The GM is supposed to help the team win games not make sure he wins he popularity contest. That’s the problem, the Flyers always hire their boys, their friends that they like and follow the Flyer way. How’s that working for winning??

    I am sure the CEO doesn’t know much about hockey also. You think Hextall said something everyone doesn’t already think or know. The CEO has to check his ego and not be all offended at the truth. Hextall kept a small circle cause he was invoking change the dinosaurs couldn’t handle. Maybe they are the control freaks???

    The Hextall roster and farm system and the position he put the team in is gonna to be the reason for any future success we may have.

  11. Marcus Hayes is ridiculous. Tanking on purpose is not progressive thinking. Continually running the same 5 plays without success and treating people like crap is not progressive. What Hextall did was close to the opposite of what Hinkie did but Marcus thinks that is progressive too.

    Stringing words together does not make you a good writer. Marcus should cover high school football. Analysis and logic have long avoided this self absorbed narcissist.

    Blame the people of the city? If we could run people that do the same thing over and over with crap results out of town, Marcus would have been gone years ago.

  12. How about letting us know why Laviolette was fired? Guy has been successful everywhere he went? Why did they fire the best coach they’ve had in ages only 3 games into the season? Since then they’ve only hired coaches with no other NHL head coaching experience.

  13. So let me get this straight…

    You go on for ages explaining about how Hextall is this massive control freak who wouldn’t let anything go…if that’s the case, then how the hell does a coach he doesn’t see eye-to-eye with stay on the team for 4 years?

    That’s just INSANE logic. Someone with true control issues (as you described) would never keep someone around he’d have to fight with about everything. Just ridiculous.

  14. This article feels like something written by a person forced out by Hexy. It doesn’t mean there aren’t accurate bits of information in it. But if somebody lost their job due to leaking company information they would probably go on a similar rant about how their boss was a control freak.

    1. Yeah, so strange that the writer of this post went from working for the Flyers to writing for a medical trade magazine right when Hextall was hired. What a coincidence.

  15. Wow, Its not surprising that Hextall was a micro-manager but the issue progressing to this level is not good. In Hextall’s defense, we have seen how the pressure and emotion of the game can get to young players, but his reaction is not right. My biggest concern during his tenure was the regression of the younger players and I always assumed that was Hakstol. This is a group of players that want to have fun and be creative on the ice. That mentality is going to produce some mistakes but ultimately results in growth. They have to be free to express themselves in their play and not feel restrained. We will see where it goes from here.

  16. Good read but you forget who put us in this mess. Facts are facts and the fact is Homer put us in this mess to begin. He’s a nice guy but was a horrendous coach and GM. Now he is making decisions for the franchise tells me that this organization is doomed and there is zero indications that this will change. Oh and Scott knows zero about hockey is true. He is a politician.

  17. The author is being too soft on Comcast and Dave Scott. For me, Scott is the problem. For years, he said nothing, did nothing and appeared disinterested in the team. He spent more time renovating the arena than focusing on the team that played in it. If Hextall was behaving as the writer indicates, was he put on a performance improvement plan? Any leader knows this is standard management practice. Dave Scott failed the team. Brian Roberts failed the team in appointing Scott to a job for which he was not qualified.
    I think the truth is that Scott was scared of Hextall. Scared to confront him. At the end, he sends in Holmgren with an absolutely classless dismissal. This is not to say that Hextall was without fault. My point is that Comcast failed to get involved until it was too late. My prediction is that we will never see a cup as long as Comcast owns the team. If Dave Scott had an ounce of courage, he would retire again. If Brian Roberts had an ounce of courage, he’d admit he too made a hiring mistake.

      1. It works in any profession. As a former HR person too, you should give anyone a directive to improve. If he was blindsided as I believe he was, this was a management failure on the part of Scott. He was an uninvolved leader. A failure gone unnoticed. My opinion.

        1. Here’s how it went down with the consultants:

          Ron Hextall: The thing is, Bob, it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care.
          Bob Porter: Don’t… don’t care?
          Ron Hextall: It’s a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and the Flyers win a couple extra games, I don’t see more fans in the seats, so where’s the motivation? And here’s something else, Bob: I have three different bosses right now.
          Bob Sydell: I beg your pardon?
          Ron Hextall: Three bosses.
          Bob Sydell: Three?
          Ron Hextall: Three, Bob. One that fucked up our salary cap and two that know shit about hockey. So that means that when I make a mistake, I have three different people coming by to tell me about it. That’s my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.

        2. is give the person that you plan to fire 90 days advance notice that you’re going to fire them, and create a docu trail so you don’t get sued for wrongful term.

  18. And with all of the dismissals, why is Ian Laperierre still on the job? The coach of the worst PK for 5 years and he survives the great purge of 2018. Makes no sense.

  19. This narrative is right out of corporate speak and spin. Jim Jackson commented last night that Hakstol looked more relaxed… as if Hextall was his burden. I’ve been a longtime supporter of Hextall and feel he did a great job clearing up Holgroms mistakes. I’ve also been vocal on the fire Holgrom brigade. Now it seems like a fire Comcast is the chant. If a guy who has spent his entire life in hockey thinks you dont know anything about the sport I’ll trust his opinion. If Hextalls job was to improve the team and win a Cup in 4 years he failed. If it was to improve a team and win Cups in years 5 to 8… well I still think this team in nearing that point. To Hextalls point they arent at go time yet but are close. You dont win Cups with 22 year old defenseman across the board but as they age together and maybe you mix in a top level vet I think you get there. Sal… think you are funneling the company line in this article. Funny how Comcast allows the tank model for the Sixers but blames Hextall for the .500 record while building a contender. I’ll stick with my idea: #firecomcast

  20. fillipo is just a mouthpiece for Holmgren, clarke, and scott.

    This reads like your typical spurred journalist. Hextall probably didn;t divulge much information to him so here’s his chance revenge.
    Bravo for you, little man.

  21. Outstanding , outstanding piece, Anthony. Thanks for sharing! Agree with those who say this is why I come with hope to CB.

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