VOORHEES – It came as no surprise when Flyers new general manager Chuck Fletcher said he believes he’s been given the tools to build a champion.
Now he just has to use them properly.
He’s been around the game long enough to do just that.
Fletcher has become wiser by enjoying success at times and making mistakes at others.
At Wednesday’s press conference at the Skate Zone to formally introduce him, Fletcher (hired by president Paul Holmgren and Comcast Spectacor CEO Dave Scott on Monday) said the learning process for him began way back at the start of his nine-year stint with the Minnesota Wild.
Fletcher planned to make a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks.
“My first season in Minnesota, we were looking for a veteran defenseman to come in,’’ Fletcher told the assembled media. “We were also looking to dump a little payroll.
“So I came up with this brilliant idea of trading Nick Leddy to the Chicago Blackhawks, who had been our first-round pick the year before. We picked up a veteran defenseman in Cam Barker.
“(I thought) it was genius. I got under budget and I added a veteran ‘D.’ And I traded away a young defenseman (Leddy) who might never play. . .’’
Fletcher smiled. “How’s Nick Leddy done?’’
Well, he won a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2013 and is now considered the No. 1 defenseman on the New York Islanders.
“What I learned from that is, there wasn’t a process,’’ Fletcher said. “By that, we’ve evolved a lot more. There are certain inputs you have to look at before you make a decision. I made a terrible decision. You learn from those things.’’
Although the 51-year-old Fletcher has been given a mandate to move things along quicker than Ron Hextall appeared to be doing, the new man is not going to be making hasty decisions (a la Leddy).
“The first order of business is to look for in-house solutions,’’ he said. “I think you have to give people a chance – players, staff, everybody.
“If we can get this going in the right direction, maybe we don’t have to go out and be aggressive. But if things aren’t working and we aren’t getting traction, I think you have to look at every angle.’’
One thing he doesn’t want to do is give up on a young player too early, like he did with Leddy. Especially to accelerate the process to serious contention in the NHL.
“I’m definitely going to have the power to hopefully not make bad trades,’’ Fletcher said. “Dave and Paul were clear in the interview process, there were no demands to make A, B or C.
“All three of us believe this is a playoff team, a quality team and we have to get better immediately. You’re trying to win in the present, also win in the long-term. You have to be prudent about it.’’
Hextall, said Fletcher, did do a good job in assembling talent.
“This is as deep a prospect group as I’ve seen,’’ he said. “There are a lot of good pieces here. I think this is a favorable situation to walk into. It’s a strong foundation of talent. I’m very fortunate to walk into this.’’
Having salary cap space should be helpful.
“The NHL and the cap system, you have to build your team through the draft,’’ Fletcher said. “That has to be the core of your team. There’s no other way to do it. You just can’t go out and buy 20 players. Hopefully that homegrown talent believes in your identity, believes in your culture.
“As you build up that base of talent, you start to look outside to see how you can supplement and complement those players wherever you feel there’s gaps and holes. I believe you need all three phases (draft, trades, free agents) to build a championship team.’’
Without question, Fletcher believes he’s heading into a job that has a lot of promise.
“The cupboards are full,’’ Fletcher said. “There are a tremendous amount of prospects.
“There’s everything here to be successful. That’s our goal, that’s what we’re going to do. It’s set up for success.’’
Fletcher appreciates that he’s been hired to resurrect the pride and relevance of a storied organization.
“It’s an iconic brand, a historic franchise,’’ he said. “You look at the original six teams in the NHL, they’ve been around a long time and you put Philadelphia right with them.’’