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Holmgren says Hextall will run the show

Flyers new president happy to let GM call shots on players

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AFTER an up-and-down, eight-year reign as the Flyers' general manager, Paul Holmgren was elevated Wednesday to club president, a position in which he will oversee the club's business and hockey operations.

Holmgren, who handed the GM duties to his top assistant, Ron Hextall, made it clear he will only be a sounding board for trades and signings, and that Hextall is running the show.

"All hockey decisions fall on Ron's lap. No question," Holmgren said, adding that Hextall had the "final say" and "full authority and autonomy."

During a news conference at the Wells Fargo Center, Holmgren said he approached club chairman Ed Snider in January about forming a "stronger management team." He broached the idea of him moving into the president's role that was vacated by Peter Luukko's resignation on Dec. 2. At the meeting, Holmgren recommended Hextall take his place down the road.

Holmgren would not answer when asked if other teams had approached him recently about permission to talk to Hextall about another GM opening.

Last week, Holmgren said he was not ready to relinquish the GM seat. But on Wednesday, he claimed he didn't feel like talking about the situation last week, which is why he brushed aside speculation.

"Ron is ready for this and I like the challenge of that other side of the game," said Holmgren, who admitted he does not know much about the business end of hockey operations. "It really intrigues me."

Holmgren, 58, a former player and coach with the Flyers, gets mixed reviews for his tenure as general manager.

On one hand, he turned around a team that had the NHL's worst record in 2006-07, then made a 39-point improvement and reached the Eastern Conference finals the next season. He also put together a team that reached the 2010 Stanley Cup final.

On the other hand, the signing of Ilya Bryzgalov led to the disastrous deal that sent Sergei Bobrovsky to Columbus, where he won the Vezina Trophy as the league's best goaltender two seasons ago. Holmgren also gave away many overpriced, long-term contracts that have left the Flyers with little cap flexibility moving ahead.

The Flyers went 42-30-10 this season and lost to the New York Rangers, four games to three, in the opening round of the playoffs.

Under Holmgren, "we have consistently been in contention," Snider said. "He's been a Flyer for 35 years and he has earned the opportunity to run our entire organization."

Holmgren's best deal might have been the one he made on June 18, 2007, sending a first-round pick to Nashville for the rights to Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell, players who helped the Flyers start a revival. The No. 1 pick he traded was the one he had acquired from Nashville four months earlier in the Peter Forsberg deal.

Acquiring goalie Steve Mason late in the 2013 season was also one of his top moves. Mason was acquired from Columbus for Michael Leighton and a third-round draft pick in 2015.

Holmgren boldly changed the face of the Flyers on June 23, 2011, trading Jeff Carter and Mike Richards in separate deals. Carter was dealt to Columbus for Jake Voracek, a first-round pick that turned into Sean Couturier, and a third-rounder that turned into Nick Cousins. Richards was sent to Los Angeles for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and a second-round pick.

Carter, who was later traded to L.A., and Richards both won a Stanley Cup with the Kings in 2012, but the players the Flyers received have made the trades work in their favour.

"I don't know that the Flyers have seen the full results of that. I think the parts of that trade that are here are good players that are still blossoming," Holmgren said. "... I wish it had worked out where we won a Stanley Cup, but maybe we will. That's the idea."

Holmgren also made some deals that would haunt him. Most notably, in 2012 he sent Bobrovsky to Columbus for a second- and two fourth-round draft picks. The next day, he traded left winger James van Riemsdyk to Toronto for defenceman Luke Schenn.

Van Riemsdyk has blossomed into one of the NHL's top young left-wingers.

-- The Philadelphia Inquirer

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 11, 2014 B5

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