Even for a franchise that’s seen more than its fair share of heartbreak, the failure of Chuck Fletcher as Philadelphia Flyers GM over the past four years — by his own doing as well as circumstances outside his control — seems unprecedented. Now, as the Flyers sink like sediment to the bottom of a murky river, all that’s left to decide is when exactly the clock will strike midnight for him.
Take the Kevin Hayes benching and healthy scratching this week as just the latest prime example. In his first summer as Flyers GM, Fletcher made his biggest splash with Hayes, first by trading assets in order to acquire his rights and then by locking him up with a $50 million contract. The idea was to stabilize the team and buy time for the young players in the organization to develop and eventually form a core with the right mix of youth and experience to make this team a contender. I even acknowledged that it was an overpay at the time, but perhaps a necessary one.
Point the usual fingers if you’d like. Poor drafting and development. Being dealt a bad hand by the previous regime. But no matter your feelings on the matter, people have to be judged by results. Fletcher and this front office just haven’t delivered. Why would anyone trust them to usher this team through the rebuild — or whatever they want to call it — that is so desperately needed?
Chuck Fletcher’s fruitless tenure as Flyers GM will soon be coming to an end
Kevin Hayes is just the most glaring example at this exact point in time. There’s the trading away of Shayne Gostisbehere for literally nothing, and then the subsequent decisions to bring in Rasmus Ristolainen and extend him, throwing good money after bad. This was followed by a similar move, although not as egregious, to trade for Tony DeAngelo a year later. Frankly, Fletcher’s transactional missteps are too numerous to list in a single article.
Yes, I believe that Fletcher made some of these moves due to ownership pressure. And injuries, as well as the pandemic, have absolutely crushed the team that he’s tried to construct. But you can only be a victim of circumstance so much. Running a team is hard, as Chuck himself told us, and yet other people can make it work. Fletcher has even found a way for low-level moves like claiming Lukas Sedlak and Kieffer Bellows off waivers this season to blow up in his face. After a while, you get the feeling — fair or not — that nothing can possibly go right as long as he is running this team.
You have to wonder how involved Fletcher will be in any potential trading of James van Riemsdyk, the Flyers’ most valuable commodity at this year’s deadline. Will he actively be the one working out a deal, or is he now simply a conduit through which other forces inside this organization complete any transactions?
He very well could be a GM in name only through the rest of this season until ownership mercifully ends his tenure and looks elsewhere for a solution. Allowing Fletcher to run things next summer would imply that the organization trusts him to shape the team for several years to come, and I simply couldn’t believe that to be the case.
I wouldn’t expect any kind of notable moves by the Flyers for the rest of this regular season, aside from the trading of JVR and perhaps Justin Braun and/or some other veteran player. They will not be able to move Ristolainen or anyone with significant money attached to them, both due to in-season salary cap constraints and the fact that they simply should no longer trust Fletcher in matters of any magnitude. It’s a sad state of affairs, knowing that your team has zero chance to improve during the current season. But this is where we are.
Many people around these parts are calling for Fletcher’s head on a daily basis. But, really, what point would that serve? Hate Flyers ownership as much as you want, but they are shrewd businesspeople. There is no doubt that they are doing their homework right now as to who and what they want post-Fletcher. They’re not going to fire him and then enter the offseason without a plan. I think. The Fletcher-era Flyers have me so screwed up as a fan that I even have to attach a caveat to that sort of statement nowadays. Up is down with this franchise, it seems.
Gritty only sells so many tickets. The product on the ice needs to get much better, and perhaps that comes immediately in the form of draft lottery luck this spring. More likely, it will have to be a group effort, with the Flyers finally managing to put together the right pieces to restore the franchise to legitimacy and then ultimately contender status.
Step one: Muzzle Chuck Fletcher for the remainder of his time in town. It’s not all his fault, but we’ve seen more than enough. Let this season play out, and then get serious about fixing this broken franchise. Hiring John Tortorella last offseason was just the first step in this plan, and perhaps that will be the lone saving grace of Fletcher’s tenure — restoring accountability and hard work. Much more talent will be needed, however, if the Flyers are to eventually flourish.