Since he took over as Flyers GM last December, the one word that could best be used to describe Chuck Fletcher’s tenure so far would be Meh. His performance last year falls somewhere in the range of average to below-average.
Although the trade of Dale Weise was lauded by many of the Philadelphia fans because he finally got rid of such a bad contract, if you look at the trade as a whole. it wasn’t a great deal for the Flyers. All that really happened was the Flyers got a bunch of bad contracts back in exchange for having unloaded Wiese to the Canadians.
When all was said and done, all Fletcher got back for Wayne Simmonds was Tyler Pitlick and a fourth-round pick. Granted, Simmonds performance has been steadily declining over the last couple of years. But when you look at what comparable players got back in return at last year’s trade deadline, the Flyers should have been able to get a little bit more back for Simmonds than they did. The fact that the New Jersey Devils are paying him five million dollars this year shows that there are some in the league who still believe he has something left to give.
Fletcher was again praised when he bought out defenseman Andrew MacDonald. It’s kind of curious though that he received so much praise for that move. Flyers fans have been counting down the days that the team would finally be rid of that Albatross of a contract. But as a result of the buyout, instead of being completely free and clear of McDonald’s 5 million dollar annual salary after this season, they will be paying him for an extra year. The Flyers could have easily buried MacDonald with the Phantoms of the AHL and then been completely free and clear of his contract after this season.
So far this season, Fletcher hasn’t done anything catastrophic ( although I think the Kevin Hayes signing has a good chance of being just that) like trading away a young player like Morgan Frost or Joel Farabee for a veteran in his late twenties or early thirties. But, at the same time, he hasn’t made any moves like the Rangers made by signing Artemi Panarian, quite possibly the best left wing in hockey, or like the Devils made in signing flashy defenseman PK Subban. Both of whom are impact players.
What he did do though was add three average players with high salaries who while they may improve the team slightly this year, in my opinion they will not be enough to even get the Flyers into the playoffs let alone help them to make a deep run. And in the case of Kevin Hayes, could have serious long-term implications because that signing could both block young players in the Flyers system from coming up and his seven million-dollar salary could keep the Flyes from spending in free agency.
Fletcher seems to have placated the ownership group and a certain segment of the Flyers fan base who were thirsty for action by making so many moves. But most of his moves were moves that were either moves made just for the sake of making a move, (the Weise deal)or moves that won’t really move the needle all that much. As the old saying goes, sometimes the best moves are the ones you don’t make.
Not all the moves Fletcher has made have been bad ones though. Here is a list of both the good and bad moves Chuck Fletcher has made since the end of last season.
The Good. Hiring Alain Vingeult.
I thought former coach Dave Hakstol got way too much of the blame for this team’s up and down performances over the last four or five years. That being said though, after the Flyers had gotten blown out by the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-0 the Saturday after Thanksgiving last year, it was clear the Flyers needed a coaching change.
Alain Vigneult has a vast amount of head coaching experience and brings a solid resume with him to the Flyers. He has won the Jack Adams trophy for NHL coach of the year, he has won the Presidents Trophy for finishing with the best record in the NHL for the regular season, and he has brought two different teams to the Stanley Cup finals. With a pedigree like that, the players will be more apt to listen to what it is he has to say and they are more likely to buy into his system.
The Bad. The Draft
This is another one where Fletcher and assistant GM Brent Flahr have received a lot of praise in many circles. And it is something I find kind of curious because I thought his draft was average at best.
A lot of the pundits thought he made a brilliant move when he traded down in the draft and picked up an extra second round pick and still got “his guy”. There were some who praised the move because they said that this is exactly the type of move that former GM Ron Hextall, a GM who was known for his prowess at the draft, would make.
There are a couple of problems with that though. Number one. When Hextall was making moves like the one he made in 2016 where he traded down from 18 to 22 and picked up two extra draft picks and was still able to draft German Rubstov, someone who was ranked as a top 15 Prospect, a move just like the one that Fletcher made in this past year’s draft, the Flyers were at a different stage of their development.
The Flyers were still in the process of building up their Prospect pipeline. So as a result, you want to make moves where you are picking up extra draft picks. At this point in their development, the Flyers prospect cupboard is now full. So they should be shifting their focus from picking up additional picks and focusing on prospects who can help them down the road to trying to draft impact players who can help them in the more near future.
They had a chance to do that very thing at this year’s draft. Cole Caulfield, someone who was rated as a top 10 Prospect going into this draft, and someone who is a dynamic goal-scorer which is something the Flyers desperately need, was right there for the taking not once but twice. They could have taken him with their original pick at 11. And even after they had traded down to 14, he was still available.
Instead the Flyers chose defenseman Cam York. His position alone means that he won’t be able to help the team for another three or four years with defenseman always taking longer than forwards to develop. Add to that the fact that York is a project. He is slight of frame weighing in at only 172 lb. And although he is a good skater when it comes to his quickness and his shiftiness , he doesn’t have great straight away speed. He also has a very below-average shot that needs some more velocity before he can graduate to the NHL.
Compare that to Victor Soderstrom, another defenseman who the Arizona Coyotes took with the 11th pick that they moved up to get from the Flyers. He is already making an impact for the Coyotes in exhibition games and there is some talk that he could possibly make their team right out of training camp.
The Flyers could have picked either Soderstrom or Caulfield, two players who could make an impact only a year or two down the road. But they instead chose a project like York who is another three or four years away.
One of the explanations you here as to why they might not have picked Caulfield was because of his slight frame. But that makes you wonder why then they picked Bobby Brink at 5’11 170 with their second round pick. He is a guy with great hands and a great shot but who’s skating needs big time work.
The Flyers already have too many guys on their team and in their system who have suspect skating skills. They desperately need a dynamic, goal scoring speedster like Caufield but they passed him up for a project like York. Then they drafted a very similar Prospect to Caufield in Brink in the second round who has a lot of the same skills as Caulfield but who can’t skate. This has the feel of the Flyers overthinking things and thinking that they outsmarted everybody in the draft written all over it.
The Good. Locking up Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny.
If the Flyers are ever going to contend for a Stanley Cup, both Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny will be vital cogs in achieving that goal. When you look around the NHL, teams have been having a lot of difficulty getting their young restricted free agents signed. Several key RFAs like Braydon Point, Charlie McAvoy and Mitch Marner weren’t signed until after their team’s training camps had started. With only about a week left until the start of the regular season, two key RFAs, Kyle Connor and Mikko Rantanen still remained unsigned. So it’s good that the Flyers were able to get their two young players signed before the start of their training camp.
The Bad. The Flyers don’t seem to be a tightly run ship.
When Chuck Fletcher has been asked about things like final roster cuts and what the Flyers opening night roster will look like, he doesn’t always seem very decisive with his answers. He talks a lot about there being a constant flow of players back and forth from Philadelphia to Lehigh Valley and vice versa. And how a lot of these moves are made necessary as a result of trying to stay cap compliant.
Not all of this is his fault. Part of the reason for some of the shifting around on the roster is a result of injuries to Nolan Patrick and Tyler Pitlick.
That being said, that doesn’t give the impression of a well-run front office. When moves are constantly being made between the minor league and NHL clubs, it doesn’t allow for continuity. And Fletcher has mostly himself to blame when it comes to these moves being made necessary in order to stay cap compliant.
It’s because of the moves he made like overpaying for Kevin Hayes and adding two veterans on the downside of their careers in Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun who make 5.75 and 3.5 million dollars respectively that caused the Flyers to be right up against the salary cap. It reeks of how this team was run when Paul Holmgrem was the GM.
I fear that Fletcher’s way of running the team is going to put the Flyers right back into the hole that they had almost dug themselves out of. Fletcher left the Minnesota Wild in shambles. So there’s no reason to believe he won’t do the same here.