The Rough And Tumble Ron Hextall
In 1985 when I became a follower of the Philadelphia Flyers, I was already an admirer of the goaltenders. I enjoyed their unique position on the ice. The fact of the matter is, a great goaltender can make all the difference in the world between a bad team and a good team.
After the tragic death of Pele Lindburgh, the Flyers had lost their franchise goaltender. Little did they know that they wouldn't be out for long. In the fall of 1986, Ron Hextall won a spot in the lineup and never looked back.
In just his rookie year, he had many accomplishments highlighted by leading the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals against one of the greatest scoring teams of all time: the 1980's Edmonton Oilers led by notables Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier.
Hextall retired in 1999 after 12 seasons in the NHL. But during this span, he revolutionized the game of hockey and was a superstar of the game, and at times, also infamous.
The following are just a couple of reasons why he should be in the Hall of Fame and why it is a travesty of justice that he is not at this point, already in it.
Hextall had a phenomenal rookie year. In fact, it has to go down as one of the greatest goaltender debuts in NHL history. He was absolutely riveting to watch because he made saves that can only be described as miraculous. At a time when pads were not inflated to the size of beach balls, goaltenders were successful only because of one thing: talent.
In the 1986-1987 season, Hextall made believers out of everyone. He became a household name for his play against the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup finals.
Almost single-handedly, Ron Hextall led the Philadelphia Flyers through games that most teams would not have won. He was seriously on fire.
Nothing showed the world his talent more than having to play against one of the greatest teams of all time: the legendary Edmonton Oilers of the 1980's. The Oilers were a scoring powerhouse with a stacked lineup of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson and Paul Coffey. Most of the time, the Oilers were unbeatable and were always the league leaders in stats.
No one gave the Flyers any chance of beating the Oilers.
But then again, no one knew much about Ron Hextall.
Through a grueling first four games which had the Oilers taking a commanding 3-1 lead in the series, Hextall seemed like the only guy on the ice who was determined—and actually had the ability—to stop them and turn the series around.
Boy did he ever turn it around.
Hextall miraculously won the next two games practically by himself, despite a barrage of shots and Oiler offensive genius. The Oilers had never seen a goaltender like this before. Hextall made saves like the one above. It was almost inhuman. He was that good. His play inspired his teammates greatly who in turn brought their best game to the table.
Hextall also had his detractors who saw him as being violent. In particular, he was criticized for his retaliation on a cheap Glenn Anderson slash in which the referees called no penalty. Hextall, infuriated by referee indifference on what should have been a penalty, tomahawked the nearest Oiler he could find, Kent Nilsson. From this point on, Hextall became known for his temper.
Ultimately, the Oilers did defeat the Flyers in a tough 7th game at Northlands Colliseum in Edmonton. Hextall was awarded the Conn Smyth trophy for MVP of the playoffs in the losing effort. Wayne Gretzky went on to say that Ron Hextall was the greatest goaltender he ever played against.
When the player awards were handed out shortly after, Hextall took home the Vezina trophy for the year's best goaltender, but he was robbed for the Calder trophy for rookie of the year.
In the span of that single year, Hextall went to the top of the league to become a goal-tending superstar. He was a different goaltender. A complete original.
Still to this day, I have not seen any other goaltender in my life of watching hockey make the kind of saves that Ron Hextall did in the spring of 1987. I have seen all of the so called greats play: Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur, Dominic Hasek, Grant Fuhr, etc. and none of these players, in my opinion, ever came close to playing the way Ron Hextall did in 1987. It was exciting, it was desperate and it was an absolute thrill to watch.
No one wanted that Stanley Cup victory more than Ron Hextall did.
Once again, I gotta say, it is completely ridiculous that he is not in the Hall Of Fame.
For a few years, there was talk about the first goal scored by a goaltender. Billy Smith of the New York Islanders was credited with the first goal by a goaltender simply for being the last player to touch the puck. I recall reading the Guinness Book Of World Records and seeing that record.
But on December 8, 1987, Ron Hextall became the first goaltender with the ability and intention in the history of the NHL to score a legitimate goal.
Apparently Hextall had come up with the idea some time earlier and had been practicing the shot, but on this particular night, he was given the perfect opportunity and capitalized on it with precision.
Hextall was groundbreaking in the fact that he was as good a stickhandler and skater as any non goaltender.
Prior to Hextall's arrival in the league, goaltenders who handled the puck were a rare breed. Certainly no goaltender before him could play the defensive zone as though he were a third defenseman. He was capable of long accurate passes, and he had the ability to shoot the puck with ease from one end of the rink to the other.
Since the late 80's, when Hextall was one of the goaltending superstars in the NHL, he changed the game of hockey for a goaltender. All of a sudden, most goaltenders started handling the puck, and it became standard practice. Among those who Hextall influenced, and who must have watched numerous Flyers games, was none other than future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur. Brodeur would also go on to score a couple of goals, no doubt taking the idea from Hextall.
Just for this alone, the fact that he changed the game of hockey and brought stickhandling to the position of goaltender should be enough to guarantee his place in the Hall of Fame. But for some reason, he is still not in it. I know there are a lot of talented players inducted, but how many of them can say they actually changed the game? Not many.
Like I said, this is a travesty of justice and an absolute crying shame.
Unfortunately, most people are not smart enough to investigate things thoroughly when coming to conclusions, and Ron Hextall has had the burden of being labelled a goon by such people.
Ron Hextall received an unfair rap as a goon when really he was the best kind of teammate you could possibly want; he was a standup guy who just took no garbage from anybody.
Everyone sees the video of Ron Hextall going after Chris Chelios. Most people assume incorrectly that Hextall was a player who made random acts of violence. This couldn't be further from the truth.
Hextall was the type of player who took matters into his own hands. He was hockey's answer to vigilante crime. He stood up for what was right and for what he believed in.
In this particular series against the Montreal Canadians, Chris Chelios intentionally injured Brian Propp who was the Flyers top goal scorer. Without Propp, as the Montreal Canadians well knew, the Flyers were losing their most dangerous offensive threat.
Ron Hextall despised the injustice and took the matter into his own hands to stick up for his fallen teammate and himself. Hextall was also taunted. After Propp was unable to return to the team, and the Canadians had already beaten the Flyers as the final minutes of the final game ran down, Hextall went after Chelios for intentionally injuring Brian Propp to effectively take him out of the series.
This is something that real friends do. Hextall was going after the guy that injured his friend. Ron Hextall never started anything for no reason, and for that, he was misunderstood. This is the nature of most of the incidents that he was involved in. When there were other incidents, they were the result of players purposely trying to get Hextall to fight them.
If anything, Hextall should have been applauded for being the kind of player who stuck up for teammates.
Shame on you hockey hall of fame and all your voters! This is a further injustice!
With 1987 being the pinnacle of his career playing wise, subsequent years included nagging groin injuries which hampered his ability to regain his true form. Hextall could still make some amazing saves, but he was also cursed with letting in some soft goals too.
In the early 90's, Ron Hextall became a part of the truckload of players traded to the Quebec Nordiques for Eric Lindros. He spent a year in Quebec before being traded to the New York Islanders where he spent another year.
Eventually, Flyers GM Bobby Clarke brought Hextall back to the Flyers (where he put up the best stats of his career in goals against average) to be a part of the Lindros led Legion Of Doom team which made it to the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals. Hopes were high that Hextall could go back to the form that he had 10 years earlier when taking on the Oilers.
But the game had been changing since 1987. Players were bigger and faster than ever. Goaltenders were wearing more and more padding than in the history of the game. Some players like fellow Flyer Garth Snow looked like Bibendum (aka the Michelin Man) in net. It became more about angles than about goaltending ability.
Hextall was ineffective against a very talented Detroit squad that year. Detroit swept the series in four games.
Two years later, Ron Hextall called it a career. He hung up his skates and became a scout for the Flyers.
Eventually, Hextall became the assistant GM for the Los Angeles Kings, and finally, just a few weeks ago, he got the Stanley Cup Championship he had fought so hard to attain.
To conclude, Ron Hextall, in my estimation, should be re-evaluated and be voted into the hockey Hall of Fame on the very next ballot. The fact that he is not in there already, when there are several players who made it in before him whose careers started after his, is a travesty of justice.
He may have been controversial, he may have never played as well again as he did in the 1987 year but for all of his contributions to the game, he needs to be in there.
He was much more than a goon. He was a revolutionary goaltender who changed the game in many ways.
If there is any justice and any brains left in this world, Ron Hextall will be inducted into the NHL Hall Of Fame in the next year or two.
He has waited long enough.