Just win, baby.
That was the iconic slogan Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis once employed to inspire his NFL team.
And, if we can fast forward a few decades, it might be the one Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher utilizes as his team heads into the 2021-22 season.
In so many words, Fletcher knew it was time to make some changes – big changes – with the idea of getting back into Stanley Cup contention as quickly as possible.
Both he and former GM Ron Hextall had taken a patient approach to developing talent, and keeping a leadership group in place, during a period spanning nearly a decade.
However, that strategy hasn’t really proved successful.
So rather than continuing down that path, Fletcher decided to make some radical moves, topped off by Saturday’s trade of star player Jake Voracek to Columbus in exchange for Cam Atkinson.
In previous transactions, Fletcher brought in experienced veterans such as defensemen Ryan Ellis and Rasmus Ristolainen with the intention of getting the Flyers back on track in a hurry.
“We just can’t keep bringing the same players back,’’ Fletcher said in a media Zoom call after the conclusion of Saturday’s NHL Entry Draft. “And expect different results. We had to make changes this year. The players we added I would call high energy, competitive people. How often have we talked about our slow starts over the past two or three years?’’
In other words, the Flyers had to change their collective personality.
“We need some juice, we need some energy,’’ Fletcher said. “We need to change the mood in the room. It’s nothing against the players we had here before, it’s about trying to create a new group, a new leadership group. New chemistry. All these guys, besides being good hockey players, bring a lot of those qualities, bring experience and professionalism to our roster.’’
It was obvious to just about anyone who watched a Flyers game that there was a palpable disinterest in competing at a high level. Hitting was down, as were blocked shots. Special teams were horrible. There just didn’t seem to be enough commitment.
To management’s credit, it literally pinned none of the blame on head coach Alain Vigneault and his staff.
“We had a very disappointing season last year and we never seemed to get going,’’ Fletcher said during an interview on NHL Network. “It seemed to be a malaise, almost, over the team all year. At the end of the season, we sat down and we really broke down our team. We just felt we couldn’t bring the same group of players back and expect different results.’’
So hitting the bricks were Voracek, Shayne Gostisbehere, Phil Myers, Nolan Patrick and Robert Hagg.
“We’ve been very aggressive, trying to get ahead of the free-agent market, trying to make us better,’’ Fletcher said. “As a team that’s tight to the (salary cap) we had to move some money. So far we’re very pleased with what we’ve done. Frankly we needed a change. We brought in some players who bring energy, skill and will certainly change the dynamic of our team going forward.’’
Now let’s see if the makeover has the desired effect.
>Backup goalie for Hart?
It doesn’t sound like Fletcher is interested in bringing back Brian Elliott as a backup for Carter Hart.
If so, where will the search lead? Probably a free-agent signing, which could happen as early as Wednesday.
“Carter’s clearly our goalie of the present and the future,’’ Fletcher said. “But this is going to be a very difficult schedule this year, an 82-game schedule with the Olympic break, it’s a little bit more compressed than a normal schedule. We have a lot of back-to-backs, tough road trips just like every other team. It will be hard for anyone (goalie) to play more than 50 games. We’re looking for a guy to come in and push Carter, be a good teammate but compete to win games for our team.’’
There are some experienced pending free agents out there.
“That,’’ Fletcher said, “will be our focus for the next three or four days.’’
Fletcher said he expects Hart to bounce back after a disappointing season.
“We played poorly,’’ Fletcher said. “We weren’t very good. We gave up too many chances. Our forwards didn’t do a very good job up the ice, our ‘D’ didn’t do a good job and our goalies didn’t stop enough pucks. We were brutal defensively, there was no other way of putting it. As Carter improves, our team will get better. He’ll make the adjustments he needs to make. We expect him to be a very good goalie next year.’’
Fletcher said he expects to have defenseman Samuel Morin signed to a new contract in the next few days. . .With third-line center Nolan Patrick traded away, who might be in a position to claim that job next season? Scott Laughton is one candidate. Or. . .”I’m not sure we’ll have the cap space to get into those types of players (via free agency),’’ Fletcher said. “I think we have some internal candidates that we’ll look at.’’
The GM was asked if Claude Giroux will return as captain next year. Fletcher answered in the affirmative.