By Michael McCarthy
Is it possible that new Flyers general manager Ron Hextall is willing to break with the team’s tradition of always sticking with what its got? Is the old boy’s network a thing of the past?
Last week, Hextall called Scott Hartnell’s agent to deliver news that he wanted to end Hartnell’s seven-year run as a Flyer, five of them as a 20-goal scorer.
Hartnell was mad at Hextall — totally blown away hearing a deal had been worked out with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
This really stung Hartnell because he’d developed a real love for the Flyers and Flyers fans. Plus, he was just one season through a six-year, $28.5-million contract extension.
Hartnell had the power to stay right where he was in the form of a no-move clause.
But stay where he’s not wanted by his bosses?
Hartnell had a decision to make.
“Since Hextall was named GM, I think he kind of wanted to put a fingerprint on what he wants going forward and his style of play,” Hartnell said in a conference call. “You kind of knew something was coming, but I never thought in a million years that it would be me going.”
Hartnell made a final decision on Sunday, then called Hextall on Monday morning.
Shortly thereafter, the Flyers announced that Hartnell had been dealt to Columbus for veteran forward R.J. Umberger and a 2015 fourth-round draft pick.
Hextall didn’t mention anything about not wanting Hartnell in his Monday conference call with Flyers writers, but Hartnell talked about it at length later in the day in his first interview since the trade.
“I guess four or five days ago now, my agent got a call from Hexy and he said there were a couple teams that inquired about me,” Hartnell said. “I think he hummed and hawed about maybe my role, my position in Philadelphia. I think he decided it was probably best for me to move on from the Flyers.
“To be honest, I was pretty shocked at first,” Hartnell said. “I was upset. I was a little angry. I took a few days to look at the situation and it was hard. It wasn’t easy. It was a lot of emotions.
“I probably decided (on Sunday) that Columbus is an up-and-coming team with a lot of great players. I decided it was the right decision for me to go to a team very, very excited to have me and (leave) a team that basically said I was done there.”
Hartnell had mixed emotions.
“I don’t think I ever wanted to leave Philly,” he said. “That’s why I signed a (contract) extension there a couple years ago. There’s been a lot of great times there, obviously a lot of great friends … my best buddy in hockey, Kimmo, playing almost a thousand games with him.
“It took me a few days to comprehend things. Looking at Columbus and what they’ve done in the last few years as an organization, where they’re going, I’m really, really excited to go. I think they beat us more than we beat them last year and it was always a tough game. You were always getting checked, always getting hit. … I was like, ‘Geez, who are all these turds running around?'”
A top-line player the last three seasons, Hartnell was told he’d have a reduced role if he didn’t accept this trade.
Hartnell was loved by legions of Flyers fans for his style after arriving in along with Timonen in a June 2007 trade from Nashville, his home for his first six NHL seasons. He was a power forward who got under opponent’s skin and he scored goals, popping in a career-best 37 in 2011-12, a season in which he was an All-Star for the first time.
“A lot of really, really good memories,” Hartnell said, referring to his time in Philadelphia. “The fans were nothing but supportive of me and my ups and downs.”
Playing the 2011-12 season on a line with Claude Giroux, now their captain and a 2014 Hart Trophy finalist, plus all-time great right wing Jaromir Jagr was one of his top Flyer thrills.