VOORHEES – When a general manager uses words like “atrocious’’ to describe his team’s play, you know he’s clearly unhappy with the franchise’s current state of affairs.
So when Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher rolled that adjective out in what amounted to a state of the team address after Monday morning’s practice at the Skate Zone, heads turned.
With the Flyers almost hopelessly out of the playoff picture (14 points beginning Monday play), it’s only natural to wonder what Fletcher has on his mind as the Feb. 25 NHL trade deadline quickly approaches.
When asked about this, Fletcher was quite blunt.
He made it clear that the only player he would not consider trading is captain Claude Giroux.
Of course, Giroux has a no-trade clause written into his contract, so any potential movement would require consent from both sides.
That said, where does that leave Wayne Simmonds, Jake Voracek, Sean Couturier and other long-time veterans on the Flyers’ roster?
Fletcher wouldn’t confirm or deny that just about any player but Giroux would be fair game, given the right circumstances.
“I’m not trading Claude Giroux, that’s for sure,’’ Fletcher told assembled media. “We have a lot of good players here but I would never say never to almost anybody besides Giroux.
“Giroux’s got the no-trade and he’s our captain and probably one of the best players in the history of the franchise. So I don’t think that makes much sense. There’s a lot of guys that don’t make much sense either, but I can’t say never.’’
There’s a very good chance Fletcher will be active leading up to the deadline because, in a sense, this team as it is currently configured, has vastly underachieved.
It is coming off a 98-point season and a playoff appearance but has stumbled so badly that ownership felt a need to fire a general manager (Ron Hextall) and a coach (Dave Hakstol).
By the time Fletcher arrived, the Flyers had already dug themselves a deep hole.
Part of the problem has been the health of goaltenders (a franchise record seven have been employed so far). Another part has been horrible special teams, which have lagged at the bottom of the NHL rankings all season. And finally, the overall defensive play (forwards and defensemen) has been brutal. Too many goals allowed at too many inopportune times.
Because of all that, Fletcher is keeping an open mind as far as restructuring this outfit.
“Right now we’re not good enough,’’ Fletcher said. “We have to get better. We have good players, we haven’t been a good team, we haven’t defended very well. Our specialty teams have been atrocious, at least in terms of what the numbers say.
“I think we’re killing penalties much better. Our power play, you know it may sound goofy to say this, it’s been historically unlucky. It’s crazy the number of chances we’ve been able to generate and what we’ve able to convert on. It’s below any team I’ve ever seen in terms of bad luck. I do believe we have the talent there where that (luck) should turn and the power play should get better.’’
Fletcher made it clear he would not trade a high draft pick, etc., for a “rental.’’ But if he could get his hands on a player who might have some long-term value. . .
“Going forward,’’ he said, “whether it’s defensive zone play, our specialty teams, our goaltending, we have things we can do to improve this team pretty quickly. But clearly, we’ve dug ourselves a big hole for this year, so what I’m trying to do is talk to every team in the league and looking for opportunities. Whether it’s now, the summer, we need to find some pieces to improve our team.’’
Other subjects Fletcher discussed:
>The state of the goaltending: “We need to get everybody healthy. Brian (Elliott) is doing better. It’s been a tough go for him. He’s trying hard, he’s just had these lingering issues. He feels better, he’s back on skates, as of this morning he’s going to accompany us on the road trip (New York, Boston), he’ll be taking shots. Once you get back on the ice and you’re taking shots you’re obviously getting closer. Whether that means one week or two weeks, I don’t know. It’s still week to week. But he’s clearly made big strides the last two-three weeks. (Anthony) Stolarz (who will start vs. Rangers in New York on Tuesday) went down to Lehigh, played two games, played really well. He’s feeling good. (Michal) Neuvirth, just having a hard time getting him feeling right. He doesn’t feel right, lower body. I can’t even give you a prediction on that one. Alex Lyon has a groin pull, lower body. He’s day to day. I think we’re running out of goalies. (Mike) McKenna’s healthy. That’s all we have. We don’t have any other goalies.’’
>Simmonds contract negotiations (the GM and the agent have talked) and whether his play will impact an offer: “No, everyone is going to have ups and downs, but Wayne’s a good player. I don’t think he needs to prove anything to us. There are different factors you have to consider when you’re going to sign a player. We have lots of holes and a certain amount of money in which to do it with the salary cap. We’re just trying to balance everything and make the right decision, but certainly in a a few weeks I think it will be resolved one way or the other.
>Evaluating interim coach Gordon’s status moving forward: “Well, we’re working together every day, and I’ve been really impressed with the job he’s done. Scott, he’s very demanding, but he does it in a very professional way. He’s a strong communicator. The players know exactly what he likes and doesn’t like. He’s not afraid to take ice time away, and to give ice time to players that do the right things. I think that’s what you have to do, and I think the players respect that. No one’s confused as to what the expectations are, and he’s working hard. Working hard, again, on trying to give up fewer chances, how we defend. We don’t defend well enough, and he’s working at it every day. Habits, details away from the puck, positioning. I give him credit, and that’s going to pay dividends for this franchise going forward.’’
Fletcher said there’s a chance defensemen both Samuel Morin (recovering from ACL surgery) and Phantoms stalwart Philippe Myers may see action with the Flyers down the stretch. . .The decision to waive Dale Weise (he’s now with Phantoms) was done with the intention of helping him eventually find a “better’’ spot in the NHL. . .If the Flyers are out of the playoffs and the Phantoms are in, Fletcher expects goalie Carter Hart to see action with the AHL team. . .Fletcher provided no update on contract negotiations for Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny. Both are restricted free agents at the end of the season.