If Fletcher can repeat Minnesota goaltending miracle, that would be a good start

Chuck Fletcher

New GM Chuck Fletcher has already been portrayed as more on the same page with Flyers’ upper management than Ron Hextall was, but it’s important that he comes off as more than just a “yes man.’’

Fletcher made some bold moves when he was in Minnesota, especially when he invested nearly $200 million to outbid a number of NHL teams (including the Flyers) to secure two free-agent headliners: Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.

How much Minnesota ownership was involved in initiating that deal (and authorizing it) remains to be seen, but it was a somewhat radical transaction.

Yet, it’s some of the acquisitions that came in under the radar which might have really stamped Fletcher as a bit of a maverick.

Take for instance the trade he made to acquire goalie Devan Dubnyk on Jan. 15, 2015.

Dubnyk, a journeyman netminder who had played for (or been property of) four different NHL teams in exactly one year, was bouncing around like a pinball when the Wild came calling on Jan. 15, 2015.

Fletcher decided to send a third-round pick to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Dubnyk.

At the time, Minnesota was eight points out of a playoff berth.

All Dubnyk did was start an incredible 38 straight games, going 27-9-2 with a 1.78 goals-against average and .936 save percentage.

Dubnyk helped Minnesota tie an NHL record with 12 consecutive road wins (he started 11 of them) and the Wild breezed into the playoffs.

For his efforts, Dubnyk received the Bill Masterton Trophy (for dedication and perseverance), plus he finished third in the Vezina Trophy (best goalie) voting and fourth in the voting for the Hart Trophy for NHL MVP.

In other words, Fletcher has an eye for this sort of talent and saw something in Dubnyk that maybe others didn’t.

For his five-year career in Minnesota, Dubnyk is 144-78-22, with a 2.30 GAA, .921 SP and 20 shutouts.

The Flyers are hoping Fletcher can pull off some of these kinds of sleeper pickups with their team as well.

Philadelphia’s current situation with goalies and their constant injury problems (they’ve already used five this season) sounds a bit like the one in Minnesota back in 2014-15.

“We had lots of drama in Minnesota for a few years,’’ Fletcher said Wednesday at the press conference to formally introduce him to the media. “We had some really unfortunate situations with Josh Harding with an illness. We had a goaltender, Nick Backstrom, that had some injury problems. One year, Josh Harding tore his ACL.

“We had three different times we had to go out after we started training camp to find goalies to come in and stabilize the position. Sometimes it’s a tough position to figure out because there’s only one number one goalie in most places. There’s only one net. Inevitably, there’s somebody who’s a back-up that’s probably not playing as much as they want to. It’s often hard to figure out how good that goalie would be if we gave him more starts.’’

Fletcher did some good research before he made the decision to trade for Dubnyk.

“There is a little bit of hit and miss with projecting on goaltending,’’ Fletcher said. “Analytics is actually an area I think that’s starting to shed a little more light on to try to cut through some of the noise and maybe make some better projections on goaltenders. It’s critical to find a solution. With the salary cap going, how much of the cap do you want to allocate to goaltenders?

“It might be a position that you can lock down maybe for eight years. It may be a position you have to, maybe every two to three years, reinvent depending on cap and resources. It’s a great challenge. Again, we went through it in Minnesota a lot. I don’t think there’s any easy answers.’’

Enter Dubnyk, who pretty much solved Minnesota’s problems.

The Flyers have been trying to solve their goalie situation for the past 30 years. They think they have their savior in Carter Hart, but he’s probably a couple years down the road. In the meantime, Fletcher would be wise to try to find another Dubnyk.

“We looked at some numbers,’’ Fletcher said of the decision to acquire Dubnyk. “We felt if he played behind our defense in Minnesota, his numbers would have been dramatically better than where he played before. Minnesota’s a little better structured team, a little more established than where he had been in the past.

“We felt that there would be better numbers there. Our goalie coach had a good feeling, liked some of the attributes in his game. He had been playing real well in Arizona at that time. At that time in January, he was available, frankly. You had to do your work. You had to get lucky in the sense that he was available.

“Honestly, sometimes you feel like you’ve got a blindfold on here and you’re throwing a dart. It’s hard to know exactly how that player will be in your system with the pressures of the market and that sort of thing. With Devan, there was a lot of different factors that went into that from people liking him to some favorable numbers to having him be available.’’

With the health of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth likely to be somewhat of an issue the rest of the season, it might behoove Fletcher to tie on that blindfold and hope for a bull’s-eye.

Chances are team president Paul Holmgren and Comcast Spectacor CEO Dave Scott will become the willing “yes men’’ in any move Fletcher proposes.

What have they got to lose?

 

About Wayne Fish 1334 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.

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