Chuck Fletcher Has Got to Go

Flyers Press Conference
Flyers Press Conference /

I’ve been actively following Philadelphia sports teams since I was 10 (1989), but had always been a fan. It was around 10 that I really started paying attention. I remember loving players like Mike Schmidt and Randall Cunningham, Charles Barkley and Tim Kerr. But since the Flyers were on PRISM (remember that channel!), I didn’t get to see them much until that channel went away.

This was the beginning of the Eric Lindros Era. Since then I’ve been hooked to this team. I loved players like John LeClair, Rod Brind’Amour, Simon Gagne, Rick Tocchet, Dan McGillis, Scott Hartnell, Wayne Simmonds, and Claude Giroux.

And throughout my life, it always seemed that, more than my beloved Phillies and Eagles, that this would be the team that would win a championship first. They were always loaded with talent. They were almost a guarantee to make the playoffs every year. They always needed that one piece to get over the hump or they always ran into the one team that just got hot in the playoffs and had the Flyers number (Buffalo Sabres, Tampa Bay Lightning, NJ Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs).

But still, you had the belief that next year is going to be our year. This was not the sad, insane belief that Dallas Cowboys fans have, but real faith that we will put it together next year.

And throughout the 90s and 00s, the team would inch closer and closer to the Valhalla of hockey and lift up Lord Stanley’s Cup. They would trade good players, but replace them with others. Some signings didn’t work out, such as getting the shell of what once was Peter Forsberg. Other players, like Kevin Hatcher or Jeremy Roenick, were solid, but just couldn’t bring a championship home. But still, the faith was there.

Bob Clarke, as GM, was trying to rebuild the Broad Street Bullies. It’s not surprising, since that team won two cups and went to two others. He also built a successful squad in the 80s that lost in the cup finals to the Oilers. But after the lockout in 2005, Clarke had built a team that would’ve been great in 2004. New rule changes made the Flyers slower as an emphasis was placed on speed.

Clarke’s replacement, Paul Holmgren, took over in 2006. He quickly resurrected the club and brought them from the depths into Stanley Cup contenders. They had a young core of players, like Giroux, JVR, Jeff Carter, and Mike Richards. He traded for Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell. He then boldly traded Carter and Richards in an effort to get Iyla Bryzgalov.

While Bryz was a bust, the trade would net the Flyers Jakub Voracek, Simmonds, Sean Couturier, and Brayden Schenn. Trading JVR, who didn’t gel with head coach Peter Laviolette, for Luke Schenn, didn’t work out so well.  But even when they were salary cap strapped, you had the feeling that we were getting closer.

When Holmgren was fired, the Flyers hired Ron Hextall. That was in May 2014. It’s been seven seasons since Hexy took over as GM. They’ve been to the playoffs three times; twice under Hexy and once under Chuck Fletcher, going every other year before missing two years in a row this year.

To be fair to Fletcher (don’t worry, we’ll get to him), much of the Flyers mess started under Hextall. Hextall drafted Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny but also Nolan Patick and Morgan Frost. He traded away Brayden Schenn for two first rounders. Under his tenure, the Flyers did not sign any top name free agents, except for JVR’s massive five year deal which they’ve been reportedly trying to unload ever since.

Hextall’s management of the team might have been more complicated by the fact that he stood by coach Dave Hakstol, who it was clear the team did not respect. As the Flyers floundered, both Hextall and Hakstol were canned.

Which brings us to Fletcher. He took over in December 2018 and began to shake things up. He traded Wayne Simmons for nothing. Acquired Kevin Hayes and then overpaid him on a massive seven year deal. Fletcher at the time admitted that Hayes was overpaid, but you gotta pay a lot to get a quality center. He also made trades for Justin Braun and Matt Niskanen. They missed the playoffs that first season, but pieces were laid down for the future.

The next season, under new head coach Alain Vigneault, the Flyers were on fire, only tempered by the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. They were the hottest team in hockey up to that point and returned to the bubble playoffs on fire. They dropped a tough seven game series to the New York Islanders in the second round. It was expected they’d return the next year to the playoffs. They haven’t been back since.

Niskanen retired, putting the defense into shambles. During the 2020-21 season, Fletcher kind of stood pat, not making any major moves either in the free agent market or the trade market. Before the start of last season, he traded Shayne Gostisbehere, who fell out of favor with AV to Arizona with a second round pick for nothing.

He traded Robert Hagg, a first rounder, and a second rounder for Rasmus Ristolainen and immediately made him our second highest paid defender on a five year deal. Voracek was dealt to Columbus for a change of scenery trade for Cam Atkinson.

Patrick and Phillipe Myers were dealt for Ryan Ellis. Then, as the Flyers were floundering, Giroux and trade assets were dealt for two draft picks and Owen Tippett. In the meantime, Scott Laughton was signed to a five year deal that overpays him as well.

To be fair, I will admit here that I do not know the inner workings of the Flyers organization. I don’t know what notes he’s been given from higher ups. I don’t know or see the things he does. But there are certain things I can see.

First off, for as long as I can remember, this team has been stretched to the salary cap limits. This goes all the way back to Clarke as GM. Still, the team was competitive and knew how to stretch a dollar. When they had to get salary cap relief, they knew when to trade talent in order to save up to acquire new talent.

Under Clarke and Holmgren, you saw the team break the bank for players like Roenick, Hatcher, and Danny Briere. Heck, even Holmgren brought in an aged Jaromir Jagr with reasonable success…of course he let him walk for no clear reason.

But this team is drifting like a ship without a rudder. You can’t declare that you are strapped financially and then try to dump off big salaries, like JVR and wonder why you can’t get anything back in return. Johnny Gaudreau was going to be a free agent. Pretty much everyone saw this coming for the last few years.

He’d often say how much he loved the Flyers growing up. And yet, this team didn’t clear any space to get him, or any other top free agent. Why? This team is not a contender. They are no where near to being a contender, but they are content to watch other teams pass them by.

The Ellis trade helped jettison some dead weight, but strapped us financially. If it worked, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but Ellis was known to have injury problems. It’s not even clear if he’s coming back. The cost of him on this team is painful. Again, if he was able to play to his potential, it’s a win.

Ristolainen isn’t a bad player, but he’s not worth a first rounder. More importantly, he’s not worth the money he’s being paid. At this point, he’s looking as if he will be a second or third line defender. That’s too much for a bottom pair defender. To be honest, it would’ve been better to keep Gostisbehere, keep the draft picks, and if you don’t want him anymore, let him walk as a free agent or trade him at the deadline for a pick and pass the saved money onto a free agent signing.

I get the Tony DeAngelo trade. This one is not going to be a bust. However, making a trade like this so close to free agency helped the Hurricanes clear up a lot of money in order to get Brett Burns and Max Pacioretty for next to nothing. The GM of the Hurricanes, as well as the GM of the Lightning, have been very shrewd in how they maneuver players and contracts around. Fletcher does not give off that confidence.

I like Scott Laughton, but there is no reason a player who scores 25-30 points a year should be making $3 million. Provorov is a decent defender, when paired up with someone who is solid, but he should not be making almost $7 million based on his performance. I like Hayes, but he is overpaid and can’t stay healthy.

And next year, Travis Sanheim will be a free agent and JVR’s contract will be up. Maybe they are gearing up for a run at David Pastrnak, Nathan MacKinnon, Vladimir Tarasenko, or Jonathan Huberdeau. But I doubt that this team thinks that far ahead.

Fletcher’s press conference yesterday, talking about how they are happy with the depth pieces they got is infuriating and insulting. Again, to be fair, the Flyers were racked with injury after injury last year. Sometimes that happens. It sucks. Good teams can bounce back from an injury.

It’s hard to bounce back from eight injured players at once. But this team just gave up on AV. They kind of did the same the year before when they missed the playoffs and they were healthy. Either this team needs a good kick in the butt or they are not as good as we think they are.

Are we better defensively with the signing of Braun and the DeAngelo trade? Probably. Will we be better on the penalty kill? I’m not sure. Will we be better on the power play? With DeAngelo yes, but overall, not sure. This team still struggles to score goals and losing Oskar Lindblom, who has seemingly started to regain his scoring touch, doesn’t help.

This team desperately needed to score on the outside and power plays. That has not been addressed. Since losing Giroux, this team also struggles in the faceoff circle. That has also not been addressed.

The Columbus Blue Jackets have had good players on their teams for years. And they have never come close to winning anything. And now they have Patrik Laine and Gaudreau. We are becoming the Blue Jackets. We will have players on our team who are good, but this team will keep missing the playoffs, or at best be a first round out, for years to come.

Early this year, a poll conducted by hockey agents said that the Flyers were the third best team to direct their clients to. Among the reasons were the fact that they are a historic team, have great relations with alumni, great charity work, and really get involved in the lives of their players. We saw this recently with Lindblom as they donated money to his cancer charity after buying him out. But if these things are true, why have the Flyers been unsuccessful in landing top guys since Jagr?

I love this team with all my heart. I want to stay optimistic. At the same time, I am a realist. I do not see this team as being any better since the end of the season. Bringing back Justin Braun and the DeAngelo trade tells me not to expect Ryan Ellis any time soon. If that’s the case, they should’ve either bought him out or placed him on LTIR. And then we still could’ve had money to keep Lindblom and/or get another free agent.

Instead, we are standing pat with what we got. I’m not going to expect a lot from the Flyers this season based on where we are heading. For things to get fixed, we need to get rid of Fletcher. He has been snookered in quite a few deals so far and has backed himself into a corner when it comes to making other ones.

There are some teams out there with GMs that are wizards when it comes to making trades and free agent deals. It’s not a surprise that those teams consistently make the playoffs year in and year out. The Flyers have a lot of work to do, but first things first. Fletcher has to go. To sit back and watch as other teams in the division/conference get better each year is unacceptable.

Maybe there is a bigger picture that I am not aware of. Perhaps there are things I may not understand. But truth be told, I no longer have the faith required to believe that Fletcher can turn this team around.