New Flyers GM Ron Hextall bringing winning attitude back to Philly

VOORHEES, N.J. -- A few years ago, former Philadelphia Flyers netminder Ron Hextall was inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame.

The longtime Flyers fan-favorite was, at the time, a member of the Los Angeles Kings' management team. He walked into the event with his two daughters, and who was standing there but Flyers owner Ed Snider.

Snider didn't need to be there.

Hextall, after all, was with a different organization.

But for anyone who watches how the Flyers do business and how their identity is forged, it's no surprise at all that Snider made a point of being at the ceremony to honor his former goaltender.

"That's a special thing," Hextall told ESPN.com. "That's pretty special. That's heartfelt."

Hextall, of course, is back in Philadelphia, now at the helm in his first full season as GM, the circle closed on a career that began back in 1982 when the Flyers first drafted the lanky kid from Brandon, Manitoba. (He also spent a season as the team's assistant GM before going to L.A.)

When Hextall walked into the Wells Fargo Center for the first time as the GM, he ran into many of the same staff that had been with the team when he was a player and later when he worked as a scout and director of professional player personnel.

"It was like, 'Hi guys, how are you doing?' It was almost like I never left," he said.

Weird? Maybe.

But certainly not surprising that this has all unfolded the way it has.

"I feel like I've come home," Hextall said.

That is the Flyer way.

You might go elsewhere, as icons Bob Clarke and current president Paul Holmgren did, but there is something that draws many back to the franchise.

To say it's about loyalty only scratches the surface. It about the team's personality, and the personality of its key figures and the connection they have forged with a community that is as passionate about its hockey team as any in North America, this in spite of a Stanley Cup drought that dates back to 1975.

If the Flyers are to take another step forward and ultimately capture a third championship that has eluded the franchise since winning back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975, the key to the puzzle is surely Hextall.

And if there is one personality trait that will help this team achieve something that has been missing for a generation, it is his patience, Holmgren said.

"If you only knew him as a player, you'd think he wouldn't have any," former Flyers coach and GM and current president Holmgren told ESPN.com. "He's got a really sharp, analytical mind for the game."

But both Holmgren and Craig Berube, who took over as head coach three games into last season, said that the player who became beloved in Philadelphia for his emotional play that included memorable confrontations (and subsequent suspensions) with players such as Kent Nilsson and Chris Chelios, not to mention a Most Valuable Player turn during the 1987 Stanley Cup finals, is well-suited to be an NHL GM and well-suited to the challenge in Philadelphia.

"Ron is a big part of the equation," Holmgren said.

Fans didn't see him away from the game, Berube added in an interview.

"He's a smart guy. He's pretty laid-back and pretty composed off the ice," the coach said.

Berube said he hasn't been surprised by Hextall's presence since taking over as GM.

"I think it's what I thought it would be," Berube said. "He wants the little things done properly."

If this was just about symmetry, "Oh, Hextall left and came back," it would hardly rank as a compelling tale. But what gives this story texture and, if you're a Flyers fan, hope, it's not just that Hextall left and came back, but it's where he went and what he learned when he was gone.

Working under Kings GM Dean Lombardi, a man who also has strong ties to the Flyers organization, Hextall saw firsthand how a team redefines itself.

"I think the biggest thing was, when we went there, we kind of redid the whole infrastructure of the organization," Hextall said. "So, that experience, I think, is invaluable. The trainers, the coaches, the scouting staff. Everything with the minor league operation, everything was kind of uprooted and changed and the hiring of people, how important it was to hire the right people, not just people.

"I think the synergy between the amateur staff and your development people and your minor league coaches, like that whole chain of progression, is huge.

"Dean's a very analytical guy. I'm an analytical guy. He analyzes things up down and all around, and I think I learned a lot on that side of it."

Does he use the lessons learned across the continent?

"Every day," he said.

Already the Flyers are looking to redefine how their young assets are developed as their AHL affiliate moves into a new home in Allentown, Pennsylvania, with better facilities and staff to support the young players.

In a cap system, "I don't know if you can ever be good enough" at drafting and developing your assets, Hextall said.

One NHL source familiar with Hextall's work in Los Angeles said Hextall will be able to take the lessons learned in L.A. and put them to use with the Flyers.

"He will be able to blend what he has seen in [Philadelphia and Los Angeles] from the different hats he has worn and translate that knowledge into his own footprint of what will win," the source said. "With his vast experience as a player and in management, this will give him the respect of his players and as well the hockey operations staff. His passion and personality will motivate both of those groups to be better."

Mike Futa, the Kings director of player personnel and vice president of hockey operations, worked closely with Hextall and said that just as the Flyers GM learned from his time in Los Angeles, those who worked alongside him learned as much.

"It was just an incredible learning experience to be around him," Futa told ESPN.com. "The way he conducts himself. His professionalism."

Some ex-players are not prepared to put in the hours to be successful off the ice, especially guys who have been stars, Futa said.

That isn't the case with Hextall.

"He's a pro. He's just a pro," Futa said.

And while he was undeniably a part of the Kings family, he truly has come home, a journey not everyone gets to take.

"The sky's the limit. I'm just so happy for him," Futa said. "Once a Flyer, always a Flyer."