When Chuck Fletcher took over as general manager of the Flyers back in November, 2018, he inherited players who came to Philadelphia as far back as 2006.
That included three regimes headed by Ron Hextall, Paul Holmgren and Bob Clarke, the gentleman who drafted Claude Giroux some 15 years ago.
Any GM will tell you it takes time to put his mark on a franchise and so it’s been with Fletcher. Over the past two and a half years he’s been almost painstaking in gathering new players through trades, drafts and signings.
But it wasn’t until these past two weeks that Fletcher really started to remake the Flyers in his image, so to speak.
By adding three veteran defensemen – Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen and Keith Yandle; a goalie – Martin Jones; and a pair of forwards – Cam Atkinson and Nate Thompson (who’s back for a second tenure in Philly), Fletcher has brought in a number of “his’’ players.
Going back a couple years, Fletcher’s first significant move was to hire a proven winner, Alain Vigneault, as head coach and adding veteran assistants Michel Therrien and Mike Yeo, who were former head coaches.
He signed center Kevin Hayes to a big free-agent contract, showed faith in young goaltender Carter Hart (a Hextall draftee) by promoting him to the NHL at 20 and more recently re-signed Scott Laughton to a multi-year deal when the talented center could have walked away through free agency.
It also should be noted Fletcher deserves credit for signing veteran defensemen Justin Braun and Matt Niskanen, although as we all know “Nisky’’ decided to retire after one season, much to many people’s chagrin.
All that said, the Flyers keep looking more and more like a Fletcher team each day. You have a Fletcher No. 1 draft pick, Cam York, knocking on the NHL door, and several more prospects progressing nicely.
So, in October, when Philadelphia takes the ice for the 2021-22 season, these really aren’t going to just be your Clarke-Holmgren-Hextall Flyers anymore.
Let’s face it, it was time for a change. A veteran such as Jake Voracek had been here for the better part of a decade. There hadn’t been much postseason success over that span, so a change of scenery probably did both him and the Flyers some good.
Same with Shayne Gostisbehere. No doubt he has great talent but it just wasn’t a good fit anymore on the Flyers. Time to move on.
A guy like Atkinson is someone Fletcher can get fully emotionally invested in. Like Hayes, Atkinson was someone handpicked by Fletcher to be an integral part of this team. That’s not to say Giroux, Sean Couturier, James van Riemsdyk, Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov aren’t fully connected to this team – it just means new blood brings a certain inherent energy with it.
“I think we needed to add more people to it and get some different people in that hadn’t been here for a while,’’ Fletcher said. “Niskanen did a lot of that. Kevin Hayes has brought some different dynamic to the team and obviously Justin Braun, Brian Elliott, and different guys over the years. I thought we were young in places last year. We let some veteran players go and lost some veteran players. We replaced them with kids. Frankly, I think it was too much to ask of certain players and of the group as a whole. It was less a reflection of the inability of the leadership group and more reflection on the fact that I didn’t provide enough leaders for the group. That’s what I mean that we needed to change that. We needed to bring in a different dynamic, bring in more voices, some different voices to complement what we have here.’’
The key words there are “different dynamic.’’ Longtime Flyers fans who sit in the Wells Fargo Center night after night will tell you the team has the raw talent but it didn’t have experienced personnel to execute the plan.
Consider this: The six players Fletcher has brought in via postseason moves (Ellis, Ristolainen, Keith Yandle, Atkinson, Thompson, Jones) average over 31 years of age. What you see on the ice this time around probably will be a smarter, more confident squad capable of making good decisions.
There’s a sense the Flyers want to get things moving back in the right direction in a hurry. How much of a role team owner Comcast in this recent dust-stirring is uncertain but it’s clear the future is now. Fletcher has installed a number of key components with his name attached to them.
And so there can be no more excuses. It’s Fletcher’s team at this moment and he will bear responsibility for its future.