The covid age has made many things weird, even taking parts of two Flyers hockey seasons down strange turns. I say this to acknowledge that General Manager Chuck Fletcher has been swimming in uncharted waters for a substantial amount of his tenure, after taking over for Ron Hextall in December of 2018.
A midseason take over, a global pandemic and an expansion draft does not provide the steadiest foundation to plan, build and execute. As of Gostisbehere clearing waivers, it is hard to see the logic or the end game in the moves Fletcher has made, individually or in concert.
The acquisition of Niskanen may have been just as important as signing Kevin Hayes, and it is evident in the Flyers play this season. Niskanen had rather pedestrian playoffs, starting poorly and getting better as the Flyers advanced, but it was not a performance that screamed retirement.
This circumstance is beyond Fletcher’s control and he can’t be held responsible for a players decision, but it is a hole that he has stilled failed to fill. This one domino was the catalyst for a series of actions he would make.
This was a strange move on its surface. After losing the more defensive minded Niskanen, signing the offensive minded Gustafsson made little sense. Particularly when Gostisbehere, a player with the similar strengths and weaknesses, was having trouble cracking the lineup.
Fletcher was sure to point out that he did not see Gustafsson as a replacement for Niskanen, nor even similar types of players, but I am not sure if that makes the situation better. Bringing in Gustafsson was like buying a new sound system for a car while ignoring two flat tires, acting as if upgrading the stereo will allow the car to be drivable. The signing was surprising and a bad use of resources that failed to address roster shortcomings.
It appears that this experiment is over, at least for now. It was odd to ask a player who has spent the last decade dedicated to learning how to play defense, to switch to wing, which is exactly what Fletcher asked Morin to do. It made so little sense that I did not believe it, and thought it was a cagey way the team could carry a seventh defensemen. But I was wrong, Morin played all his shifts as a winger when he was originally up with the Flyers.
Morin scored his first NHL goal last week against the Rangers while prowling the blueline as a defensemen, and that was a thrill to see. But the whole strange transition to wing, and its reversal seem to serve no purpose. What did it accomplish? How did this benefit the team? For these questions there are no obvious answers.
Maybe I was vested in Mark Friedman as a fan, perhaps it an overreaction from generations of Scottish frugality, but losing Friedman on waivers really bothered me. It is hard to say if they were over Friedman and ready to move on or if it was a miscalculation in interest from other teams, but either case is less than good.
Friedman may not amount to much of a force in the NHL, but losing an asset, one that had clear value to the Penguins, for nothing is not a way to build a winning franchise. I can’t imagine the circumstance that would prevent Fletcher from exploring a trade, but it failed to happen.
In the end, Gostisbehere was able to clear waivers and remain with the Flyers. If he was in the long term plans, why expose him to waivers? This roster flexibility sought by management could have been achieved by sending Gustafsson to the taxi squad. Some argue that losing Gustafsson to waivers is throwing away attractive tradable commodity, and they have a point.
Then why not trade Gustafsson, grab an asset in return, and eliminate the need to waive Gostisbehere all together and still get the needed flexibility?
While he has not been the offensive dynamo of years ago, Gostisbehere has had a solid season and is still an elite option for the powerplay, which is something a contender should have an interest in. But yet there was not a single taker for him. That is a rather damning indictment of the value of Gostisbehere and his contract represent, namely not one teams are remotely interested in.
Him clearing waivers saw a portion of the fan base relieved that he was still a Flyer, but it is fair to wonder if the Flyers are please with that result
What Is The Front Office Trying T Do?
Looking at what has been done by management this season, I can’t find much of a cohesive strategy for growth or improvement. Gustafsson’s acquisition and Morin’s move to wing did not really address any need, pressing or otherwise. Neither seemed to particularly strategic or move to make the team better in the long term. It looks like a roll of the dice, rather than a calculation to make the team better.
As far as Friedman and Gostisbehere are concerned, there may be an underlying pattern. Is it possible that Fletcher was trying to rid the organization of players he did not want? This is fine in and of itself, there are only so many players that can be under contract. And GM’s sometimes need to part ways with players who are no longer in their plans, but why give away what can be sold?
The loss of Friedman and then gambling Gostisbehere on waivers makes me question Fletcher’s ability to manage, grow or even preserve assets. The Flyers seem to overpay in trades, and make roster moves that serve the moment. It is a focus on the immediate that harkens back to the Holmgren era.
It is worth pointing out the Holmgren method left the team with wretched contracts with past-their-prime players and a depleted farm system. The Flyers have just passed that part of their history, and fans should not be eager to relive it.