VOORHEES, N.J. – When a team resides at the bottom of the standings and is looking up at almost every team halfway through an NHL season, there are no quick fixes.
Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher, mindful of his team’s current franchise-worst 13-game (0-11-2) winless streak, publicly admits this team is going to need what amounts to stitches, not band-aids, to stop the bleeding.
So, with the blessing of Flyers ownership, he’s going to take another shot at upgrading personnel, be it trade, draft or free-agent signing.
“Everything is on the table,’’ Fletcher said during a midseason press conference at the Flyers Training Center. “We’re going to aggressively try to retool here. The trade deadline, the teams that are going to make the playoffs often are looking to add guys who are on expiring contracts. The teams that aren’t might have a chance to add some future assets.’’
Count the Flyers in the latter group since they are almost already out of playoff consideration.
“The math (for possible postseason consideration) is daunting,’’ Fletcher said. “If this (losing) continues, we’re going to do what we can at the trade deadline to improve this team going forward.’’
Fletcher joined the Flyers after the firing of Ron Hextall in November, 2018. The Flyers failed to make the playoffs that season and if they are home in April this year, that will make three misfires in four seasons.
“I don’t think there’s any question we need more top-end talent,’’ Fletcher said. “Claude Giroux is our best offensive player and he’s 34 years old. We have some good young players and some of them their career arc is still going to play out. But we do need more top-end talent.’’
Fletcher added upwards of 10 new players last summer and apparently the rebuild is far from complete.
“We’ve tried to adjust the last few years,’’ he said. “Adding some players with some skillsets that we need. We just have to continue to chip away at that. I do think there are players here who can be part of a winning core. We definitely need to add more pieces and that will be the focus going forward.’’
Fletcher has been in the NHL in some capacity since 1993. This season has to be one of his greatest disappointments.
“We fully expected to be a competitive team,’’ he said. “And we haven’t been. Injuries are part of it but other teams have had injuries and been able to get through it. This is probably the biggest disconnect I’ve ever felt between what we should be and what we are. I’m on the guy in charge, that falls on me. I’ve been through tough stretches but this is the toughest stretch I’ve ever been through and the biggest disappointment.’’
On Tuesday, Fletcher announced Mike Yeo would remain interim head coach for the remainder of the season.
However, after that, the future is wide open.
“We’ll see how the rest of the season plays out,’’ Fletcher said. “The best time to make those decisions is in the summer when you’re not burdened with the daily grind. Mike’s been dealt a tough hand, he’s doing the best he can. I’ve actually seen some progress in some areas. We’re just making some egregious mistakes at the wrong time. Right now we’re not able to generate the offense to overcome those.’’
>Ellis, Couturier updates
Defenseman Ryan Ellis and center Sean Couturier have both been on injured reserve for lengthy periods. Fletcher mentioned there is no timetable for either’s return. He also said both might have to undergo what amounts to season-ending surgery, although neither injury appears to be career-threatening.
“I think it could go either way with both players,’’ Fletcher said. “There’s a chance they could come back this year, there’s a chance they could need procedures that will take them out for the rest of the season. We’re trying to do everything we can to avoid surgery in both cases. At this point, we have a long road ahead of us this year, let’s get these guys ready for last year.’’
Ellis has only played four games this season; Couturier has been out for the better part of a month.
Fletcher said he speaks with Giroux’s agent, Pat Brisson, two to three times a month to talk about the player’s expiring contract and what the future holds. There’s lots of speculation over whether Giroux will waive his no-movement clause if the Flyers continue to falter and want to move him at the NHL trade deadline on March 21. If he’s not traded, Giroux can become an unrestricted free agent in July.
“He (Giroux) is one of the best Flyers to ever play,’’ Fletcher said. “Nobody cares more about the Flyers than he does. He’s a franchise icon. His jersey is going to be in the rafters; he’s a Hall of Fame player. But he has a no-move clause in his contract and hopefully that’s his decision. Ultimately it’s his decision.’’
>Progress for prospects?
“We do have some good young players,’’ said Fletcher when asked if he believes there is enough progress shown by prospects in the development system. “We’ve doubled the size of our development staff. It’s like gardening, you plant seeds in the ground and it might take a year or two to see the fruits of that.’’
The Flyers have also doubled the size of their analytics department, which should allow for better tracking of players on a daily basis.
>Praise for Yandle
Fletcher commended defenseman Keith Yandle for setting a new ironman mark for NHL consecutive games played with his 965th on Tuesday night.
“An incredible accomplishment,’’ Fletcher said. “To play that many games in a row, particularly in that position – getting hit, blocking shots, the COVID era. It’s just remarkable, not just play games but be one of the leading scorers for defensemen over that time period.’’
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