Ron Hextall (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Why do former Flyers brass do better in Los Angeles? The key difference is the freedom to make decisions without a hands-on owner.
The migration of on-and-off-ice talent from the Philadelphia Flyers to the Los Angeles Kings franchise that has won two of the past three Cups is not lost on observers. At various points in the past 15 years, the Flyers (a) employed L.A. GM Dean Lombardi as their western scout, and Kings assistant coach John Stevens as their coach; (b) centered their core of forwards around Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, who each have two rings with the Kings; and (c) had Ron Hextall as their director of player personnel before he joined L.A. and was part of their Cup win in 2012.
Hextall returned to the Flyers last summer and will enter his rookie year as Philly’s GM. His best chance to deliver a Cup is if owner Ed Snider leaves him alone to work at it. That hasn’t always been true in the nearly five decades Snider has owned the team. And the success of the Kings – the success of components not good enough for the Flyers – should show Snider the best thing he can do to satisfy his competitive urges is to wall himself off from hockey decisions.
Because in the modern era, it’s a fact: Stanley Cups are won by teams whose owners stay out of the picture.
This is not to say Snider has directed every move made by Paul Holmgren, Bob Clarke or any past Flyers GM. Team insiders insist certain moves, including the trades of Carter and Richards in 2011, would’ve been made regardless of who was signing the checks. But Snider has weighed in on team direction, at times indulging his prerogative to have the final word. He said so himself after the team acquired Ilya Bryzgalov in 2011:
“I was part of making it happen,” Snider said at the time. “It was hard to sit and watch the Cup final, knowing what (Tim) Thomas was doing for Boston.”
Forget that Snider and the Flyers were overdue in making goaltending a priority and whiffed when they committed to Bryzgalov with a rancid, nine-year, $51-million contract. Instead, ask yourself: when was the last time Kings owner Philip Anschutz called Lombardi and dictated what deals needed to be made? When have Red Wings owners Mike and Marian Ilitch ever told Scotty Bowman or Ken Holland which players to discard or pursue? When did the owners of the New Jersey Devils or Colorado Avalanche, during their successful stretches, have any hand in the blueprint laid out by their GMs? There’s one answer to all those questions.
Virtually every Cup-winner is a squad unburdened by overzealousness from the owner’s box. Even franchises whose owners didn’t understand this eventually learned. The Chicago Blackhawks stopped struggling once the megalomaniacal Bill Wirtz passed away in 2007 and his son Rocky left the hockey side alone. The Bruins have been owned by Jeremy Jacobs for four decades, but only when Jacobs stopped pinching pennies and allowed GM Peter Chiarelli to work did Boston win. The Flyers aren’t the only team with an owner willing to inject himself into hockey ops. Islanders owner Charles Wang and Vancouver’s Francesco Aquilini have been hands-on over the years. And as long as franchises are owned by titans of industry, we’ll see some pull an owner-knows-best game.
They never do, though. The combination of hockey fundamentals and intangibles required to win a Stanley Cup cannot be achieved simply by possessing deep pockets. So if you’re a Flyers fan, the thing you should most hope to see out of Snider is to not see him at all anymore and, instead, only hear from Hextall.
An NHL team is a restaurant. And business managers of restaurants don’t make the best cooks.