VOORHEES – Even though the Flyers interviewed as many as seven candidates for their vacant general manager position, president Paul Holmgren kind of knew which hopeful ultimately would get the job.
That’s because Chuck Fletcher already had an inside connection to the Flyers, having worked for Bob Clarke when Clarke was general manager of the Florida Panthers back in 1993.
It was Clarke who gave Fletcher his first job and even allowed him to negotiate and draw up some contracts.
As the old saying goes, it’s not always what you know, it’s who you know.
“He (Clarke) was up (from Florida last week) so I asked him to stay a few days,’’ Holmgren related after Wednesday’s press conference at the Skate Zone to formally introduce Fletcher as new GM. “I love talking hockey with Clarkie, there’s nobody better.
“He loves the Flyers, that’s all he cares about. He spoke well of him (Fletcher). You could probably quiz a hundred hockey people and you can’t find one bad word about Chuck. You heard him talk today, he’s smart, he’s got a good way about himself.’’
Having a Hall of Fame father, Cliff, who helped mentor Clarke in his transition from player to GM with the Flyers back in the mid-‘80s, didn’t hurt Chuck either.
All that said, Fletcher still had to interview well last Thursday and Friday when he arrived in Philadelphia.
Besides that, there weren’t a lot of worthy, unemployed GM candidates out there.
“You look at his (Fletcher’s) draft record, it’s a tremendous record,’’ Holmgren said. “He mentioned that one bad trade (Nick Leddy) but he’s made a lot of good trades, a lot of good free-agent signings over his career.
“It’s hard to find a better student of the game (a Harvard grad, no less). I’m excited that we were able to get him.’’
The Flyers only needed a week to find their man and Holmgren said there was a reason for the shortened timetable.
“It was important to move quickly just because we do have a lot of hockey left,’’ Holmgren said. “We want to get back to the business of winning hockey games.’’
While Fletcher might sound a bit like Hextall in his philosophy, Holmgren said there are differences.
Would that be better collaboration with advisors and scouts?
“You heard Chuck speak,’’ Holmgren said. “Chuck probably uses his people more entensively (than Hextall).’’
Fletcher gave the impression he wants to see how the team plays under his watch before making declarations about he status of coach Dave Hakstol.
“I spent time with ‘Hak’ yesterday and again this morning,’’ Fletcher said, “about what we want to do on the (upcoming five-game) road trip.
“He’ll get tired of me. I’m around all the time. Again, I think you have to give people a chance to show how they’re going to work with you. It’s easy to have opinions on the outside. But I think when it comes to making a decision on the future of a coaching staff, I think you better have a little bit more specific information than you have right now.
“I want it to work, I want it to be successful with this group. It’s not threats or anything but if we don’t have solutions in-house, we’ll look outside. There’s no timetable for that. Right now, we’re just starting.’’
Contract status of Simmonds, Provorov
Fletcher commented on the status of Wayne Simmonds and Ivan Provorov, both who are in the final year of their contracts (Simmonds unrestricted, Provorov restricted).
“I’d like to get to know these players and talk to them, see where they’re at and see where things fit here,’’ Fletcher said. “I definitely plan to reach out to the agents very quickly. When the time is right, we’ll get to the contracts. Who knows when there will be a fit? But we’ll keep pushing.’’
There’s been a lot of speculation that Fletcher will look outside for help in the goaltending department.
“Five goaltenders, 25 games. . .there have been some performance issues. Clearly there’s been some instability in goal,’’ Fletcher said. “I think if we can get some guys healthy, perhaps that could be an antidote to that, get some consistency back. We have a lot of runway left here. We have an opportunity to find a way to push and make the playoffs.’’
Thoughts on Carter Hart
Highly regarded goaltending prospect Carter Hart has brought up debate as to whether he should get a shot with the Flyers this season. He started off slowly with the Phantoms in his first pro year but has played better of late, including a win over the AHL defending champ Toronto Marlies.
“I can’t remember 20-year-olds who have played in the NHL,’’ Fletcher said. “It (the NHL) is a tough league. Carter is doing well, played well against the Marlies. He’s going in the right direction. We hope he’s going to be a very good goaltender in the National Hockey League but I really believe goaltenders need seasoning.
“Again, whether that means two months, four months, a year. . .I wouldn’t want to bring him up now. He’ll tell us by the consistency of his play when he’s ready.’’
Sports science, analytics still key
Fletcher has seen what Hextall added to the Flyers in terms of diet/nutrition, fitness (including a new workout facility) and the development of an analytics department.
Will Fletcher continue on that path? How important does he feel that side of the game is?
“I think it’s all critical,’’ he said. “I felt we built a pretty good analytics department in Minnesota. That was part of the process. I think Ron built a really good sports performance department here. It’s in a good place.’’