If early reports are anything to go by, the Minnesota Wild are looking at either Ron Hextall or Peter Chiarelli as their next general manager. If common sense is anything to go by, Hextall is the logical choice.
Fenton Gets Fired
Following the firing of Paul Fenton, the Wild have already interviewed both Hextall and Chiarelli. While there is no timetable for the position to be filled right now, if it were to hypothetically come down to those two candidates, Hextall has proven more than capable of stockpiling young talent, as he did as GM of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Admittedly, Chiarelli has won a Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins. So, in theory, if the Wild are looking to win it all right now, Chiarelli does have a resume that would be hard to match. There are a few easy arguments to be made as counterpoints, though.
Hextall vs. Chiarelli
Firstly, Hextall has technically won a Stanley Cup more recently than Chiarelli did in 2011. Hextall was the Los Angeles Kings’ assistant GM when they won it all the following season in 2012. It’s on the strength of that championship that the Flyers re-hired Hextall in a similar capacity in 2013. A year later, he succeeded Paul Holmgren as the team’s general manager.
While Hextall’s Flyers teams enjoyed limited postseason success, they did reach the playoffs twice in four seasons, exiting in the first round each time. However, in his final full season at the helm of the team, the Flyers came within two points of a 100-point season.
This past season, during which Hextall got fired early on, represented a step back in the standings. It’s nevertheless hard to deny Hextall’s moves have collectively set the franchise up for success in the future. On his watch, the Flyers drafted forwards Travis Konecny, Oskar Lindblom, defensemen Travis Sanheim and Ivan Provorov and, most notably, Carter Hart, who seems poised to give the franchise a legitimate No. 1 for the first time in ages.
The Schenn Trade Revisited
On the trade front, Hextall’s trades were generally small, but his biggest was admittedly a huge swing and miss. He sent Brayden Schenn to the St. Louis Blues for Jori Lehtera and two first-round picks. It may not have aged well up to now, considering Schenn’s success with the Blues and Lehtera’s lack thereof with the Flyers, but he still managed to get two first-round picks (Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost) that may still pan out. In a few more years, the optics of the deal might change considerably.
Even if they don’t pan out, two first-rounders and a roster player is theoretically a decent return for a top-six forward. Plus, what gets lost in the sea of hot takes is the Flyers had a surplus of centers, having just drafted Nolan Patrick. Trading Schenn gave the Flyers more of an opportunity to move Giroux to the wing, where Schenn had been playing. It’s no coincidence Giroux enjoyed an offensive resurgence after the deal, scoring 100 points for the first time.
So, there was a method to Hextall’s supposed madness with regard to the most infamous failure of his tenure. There was arguably just failure during Chiarelli’s stint with the Oilers. Sure, the Oilers reached the second round in 2016-17, but that season was further proof of the Oilers’ lack of depth throughout the lineup, as they were negative in goal differential without Connor McDavid on the ice.
Chiarelli Can’t Win with McDavid
Even with McDavid, arguably the best player of this generation, falling into Chiarelli’s lap soon after his hiring, he couldn’t take advantage. What’s truly interesting is Chiarelli’s second-most-successful draft pick from a games-played perspective has been Jesse Puljujarvi (139).
That would most definitely be excusable had Puljujarvi shown some signs of developing into a star at this stage. However, the 21-year-old is on the outs with the organization, having demanded a trade after being consistently mismanaged as a prospect. McDavid has become a star in this league purely through his God-given talent and character and in spite of the Oilers’ developmental tactics. That much was always a foregone conclusion, but it’s more apparent than ever, looking at Chiarelli’s draft record.
Ultimately, the Oilers are plagued by the same holes in the lineup as they were when Chiarelli got hired, with question marks in net and on defense. The difference is they had more depth on the wing, with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle still in the fold. Now, their top winger is one-time Professional Try-Out (PTO) Alex Chiasson, who is on his fourth team since 2015-16, failing to score 30 points in a single campaign in that span, up until last season when he had 38, again playing largely with arguably the best player in the league.
Not only did Chiarelli fail to take advantage of McDavid’s entry-level deal, but now the team is in dire straits from a salary cap perspective. As a whole, the Oilers are worse off than when he started. The Flyers are in much better shape, in large part thanks to Hextall, who has proven himself capable of at the very least putting proper pieces in place. That seems like what the Wild need in the aftermath of some of the dubious trades Fenton made.
Hextall the Better Man for the Job
It’s admittedly still early in the hiring process. The Wild may opt to go in a different direction altogether, but it’s clear that, if the decision does come down to either Hextall or Chiarelli, you have to go with the former Flyers GM.
Simply hearing Chiarelli, as a Stanley Cup champion, out doesn’t hurt. However, it is telling how, even if Hextall was justifiably fired (for a general lack of post-season success and maybe being too patient), he is far and away the better candidate between the two.
The Wild may see themselves as perennial playoff contenders and maybe Hextall isn’t the guy to build them into a legitimate one right away, but Chiarelli isn’t the guy to build them into a contender at all. In theory, Hextall, if he’s willing to evolve, deserves a chance to prove himself to a greater extent than he already has.
Maybe Chiarelli does too, but in many ways the Oilers were his second chance and he couldn’t piece together a team that could win with any consistency despite the rights to one of the game’s best players. The Wild may be looking to win right away, but, between these two candidates, Hextall seems more likely to build a team that could win in general, even if it might take more time than they’d like. Fenton arguably started the rebuild process already, but Hextall can do it right.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.