When Ron Hextall was a young child, he threw socks up the stairs and tried to stop them from going past him. He clearly wanted to be a goaltender.
When Hextall was late in his NHL goaltending career with the Philadelphia Flyers, he admired Bobby Clarke's work as general manager and aspired to a front-office role when his playing days were over.
Fourteen years later, Hextall hasn't reached his goal to be a general manager. On Monday he appeared to take another step forward, even though he made a lateral move in becoming an assistant general manager for the Flyers and leaving a similar position with the Los Angeles Kings.
"To me, Hexy is probably the most highly thought-of guy in the league that's not a general manager," Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said.
That could happen in Philadelphia or somewhere else. It was unlikely to occur in Los Angeles after Dean Lombardi built a Stanley Cup champion, so Hextall cited his "gut" in jumping back to the organization that gave him his start as a pro scout in 1999.
"I think every general manager at some point is going to step down, whether it's Paul Holmgren or Dean Lombardi or any of the other 28 guys in the league," Hextall said on a conference call Monday night. "My goal still hasn't changed in terms of where I want this to all end."
Hextall as a GM appears inevitable, based on the experience he built up with the Flyers and Kings. Garth Snow, who shared the net with Hextall in Philadelphia for parts of three seasons, has been the New York Islanders' GM since he retired in 2006. Patrick Roy recently was named vice president of hockey operations and coach of the Colorado Avalanche.
Some of their contemporaries like Glenn Healy and Kelly Hrudey went into broadcasting, but Hextall is following a path more in line with former players like Brett Hull, Mike Modano, Chris Chelios, Ron Francis and Dave Poulin. Steve Yzerman paid his dues in the Detroit Red Wings' front office before becoming GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and now Hextall just hopes his time and effort pays off in the same way.
"Quite frankly to this day I still don't know if that's going to happen," he said. "It's no different when you're playing in the minors and you're striving to play in NHL. You're just dreaming and pushing hard every day to make that dream come true, but it doesn't come true for everybody. This one may or may not come true at some point."
The Flyers missed the playoffs last season, so Hextall's return to Philadelphia sparked plenty of speculation that he could be Holmgren's eventual replacement. The 49-year-old said he has "no idea" if he envisions himself being GM of the Flyers.
"If that were to work out at some point when Homer's had enough, that's great. But that can happen again in 29 other places, as well," Hextall said. "I do want to be a general manager and I talked to Homer about that when we were talking about this job (that) if something else comes available I at least want to look at it, and he was absolutely fine with that."
Hextall signed a multi-year deal to be the Flyers' assistant GM and director of hockey operations. How long he's in that spot remains to be seen because Holmgren sees the former Conn Smythe Trophy-winner as a future GM.
"It could happen very soon with a number of teams I guess, you never know. It???s a funny business these days and you never know what???s going to happen," Holmgren said. "If that opportunity arises, obviously nobody here is going to hold him back."