Fletcher, Flyers, Must Avoid Errors of Expansion Drafts Past

Flyers (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Flyers (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The Flyers’ NHL season has marched forward and the expansion draft still looms.  On July 21, 2021, the Flyers, like every other NHL team, will have their roster sampled by the Seattle Kraken. The draft will work in much the same way as it did back in 2017 when the Vegas Golden Knights were born. There were plenty of lessons taught that year. Will the Flyers, and Fletcher, heed them?

Looking back at that draft, the Flyers left the cupboard pretty bare for the Knights. There was no real player of consequence left unprotected. The selection of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare proves that. But the Flyers’ experience of fretting over borderline NHL talent was a far cry from what many teams experienced.

The deeper the team, the more was at risk. Vegas was able to use fear to influence other GMs into trades that appear mind-boggling. They used these moves to become an instant winner and used these picks to jumpstart their future

Columbus traded a first and second-round pick in exchange for the Knights selecting William Karlsson, who went on to score 40 goals. Florida traded Riley Smith if the Knights agreed to take Marchessault, in essence, trading a 20-goal scorer to ensure the departure of a 30-goal scorer.

If Columbus and Florida won the gold and silver metals for bad expansion draft trades, Chuck Fletcher, then the Wild’s GM took the bronze. He traded Alex Tuch in exchange for Vegas selecting Erik Haula while getting a conditional third-round pick in return. Haula would go on to score 32 goals in the regular, while Tuch had a solid first season, scoring 15 times and continues to look like a real force at center ice. The similarity between the 2017 Wild and the 2021 Flyers is enough to make me very uncomfortable.

In what was a difficult situation for Fletcher, the Wild stood to lose defensemen Dumba, or one of the forward trio of Staal, Grunland, or Niederreiter.  Dumba would have been the toughest loss for the roster to absorb while simultaneously reopening old wounds from the unpopular Brent Burns trade.

Losing one of the forwards would have been less difficult, but each was a key contributor for the Wild. Fletcher made things worse for himself and the Wild by failing to adopt the right perspective and to mitigate the situation.  In this case, the cure was worse than the disease.

Fletcher was so certain of his roster he was insistent on not changing it, and paid a heavy price to do so. His belief in the roster led to a “boxed in” thought process where he fought the prevailing current expansion, rather than working with it.

Fletcher perceived the worst case was losing Dumba for nothing. It would have been a blow, but this should situation not have been a surprise. Rather than engaging in the extortion that was the expansion hot stove, why not proactively trade Dumba?  Imagine what kind of player a package including Dumba, Tuch, and Haula could bring? Instead, Fletcher in essence traded Tuch and Haula for Dumba. That destroyed value for the Wild.

While Fletcher’s track record is worrisome, it must be acknowledged that things are different from 2017 for Fletcher. Where Fletcher inherited most of the Flyers, the Wild was meticulously built over a decade to fit his vision. Fletcher should be far less emotionally vested.

This season’s Flyers’ have a puncher’s chance at the cup, the 2017 Wild were one of the favorites. Fletcher likely has roster moves he would like to make and may see the expansion as something that deprives him of trading chips or something that opens possibilities. This may make him more willing to deal prior to expansion day.

Making a bad situation in expansion much worse was part of his undoing with the Wild, but he now has another opportunity. Only time will tell if he, again, attempts to buy his way out, or if he adopts a proactive approach, attempting to get value for at-risk assets prior to expansion. It should be an interesting five months, and we will get the answer on July 21.