Ron Hextall admits that growing up, he wasn't exactly a fan of longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Bobby Clarke. But by the time he was a standout goaltender for the Flyers in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Hextall had emulated the physical, intimidating style Clarke harnessed in turning the Flyers of the 1970s into one of the most iconic teams in hockey history.
Hired Monday as the Flyers' new assistant general manager and director of hockey operations, Hextall admits there is another aspect of Clarke's career he would like someday to emulate: becoming an NHL general manager.
And the man responsible for bringing Hextall back to Philadelphia, where he spent 11 of his 13 seasons as NHL player and spent his first seven years as a front-office employee thinks that potentially could happen sooner rather than later.
"It could happen very soon. You never know," Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said Monday. "It's a funny business these days and you never know what's going to happen."
After seven years of working in the front office of the Los Angeles Kings, where he won the Stanley Cup in 2012, Hextall now is looking to help the Flyers return to the playoffs after a 10th-place finish in the Eastern Conference last season.
While he's focused on helping the Flyers in the present, Hextall hasn't shied away from the fact that he is looking someday to become an NHL GM. It's something he made plain to Holmgren when the Philadelphia job came along.
"I do want to be a general manager," Hextall said Monday. "I talked to [Holmgren] about that when we talked about this job. If something else becomes available, I at least want to look at it. He was absolutely fine with that. My goal still hasn't changed in terms of where I want this to all end. I'm looking forward to going back and doing my part to help the Philadelphia Flyers be successful and hopefully bring a Stanley cup to Philly."
He may not have the job yet, but his credentials so far are hard to dispute. As assistant GM in Los Angeles, Hextall oversaw the Kings' American Hockey League affiliate in Manchester. Under Hextall's leadership, the Monarchs made the playoffs every season and appeared in two conference finals. There's also that Stanley Cup victory on his resume. And his new boss could come in handy someday as a reference.
"To me, [Hextall] is probably the most highly thought-of guy in the League who is not a general manager," Holmgren said. "The fact that he was in the Los Angeles organization, you saw the success he had."
During his tenure in Los Angeles, Hextall admitted that he paid attention to the hiring and firing of GMs around the League. And while he wouldn't pinpoint an individual reason for leaving the Kings, he did make reference to "certain general manager jobs getting filled." But he didn't come to Philadelphia thinking it would springboard him quicker into a general manager's seat. He'll be serving essentially the same role he did in Los Angeles and Holmgren, 57, has made no mention of leaving his post as Philadelphia's GM.
In the end, Hextall said it was his gut that brought him back to the scene of his greatest triumphs as a player. And whether it happens in Philadelphia or elsewhere, becoming a general manager would be the realization of a longtime dream.
"It's no different from when I was 2 years old and threw a sock up the stairs and stopped it. For whatever reason, I knew I wanted to be a goalie. It was the same with trying to pursue being in hockey management, with the ultimate goal of being a general manager," said Hextall, who admits he took the Kings job in 2006 partly because he thought it afforded him the best opportunity to someday become a GM. "The hardest decision I made in my life was to leave Philadelphia to pursue a stepping stone that I felt would give me the best chance possible to be a general manager. That is my goal and it has been since I stepped off the ice."
Should the opportunity to leave Philadelphia and head an NHL front office come along, be it in a year or in 10 years, the Flyers won't stand in his way.
"If that opportunity arises, nobody here is going to hold him back," Holmgren said. "Ron is certainly qualified to do that. I'm extremely pleased to have him as part of our staff."