VOORHEES, N.J. – In nearly 55 years of hockey, the Flyers had never gone 13 games without a win – at least not until Tuesday night on Long Island.
The Flyers’ official colors are orange, black and white but right now they’re more like orange, black and blue, with upwards of half the team recently being either injured or slammed by the COVID pandemic.
So when Comcast Spectacor CEO/Flyers governor Dave Scott was asked about general manager Chuck Fletcher’s job security during Wednesday’s press conference at the Flyers Training Center, the answer was rather predictable.
“Right now, Chuck’s my guy,’’ Scott said. “We’re trying to strengthen his front office team as much as we can. We made a lot of positive changes that way. I’m excited about that. I feel like I’m personally surrounded by great hockey people. I don’t feel like I’m lacking anything at this point.’’
This comment was made after Scott opened the press conference by voicing his displeasure over a season going nowhere but down. If the Flyers fail to make the postseason, it will mark the first time since 1992-94 the Flyers have missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.
“I don’t want to sugarcoat this, from where I sit, we’re in a terrible spot right now,’’ Scott said. “I can tell you I’m angry, I know our fans are more than angry and the whole organization is angry. We’re sick of losing, we talk about this every day and we have to figure out how to right the ship. We have a winning culture going back to (team founder) Ed Snider which he instilled in all of us. It’s something I think about lately. When we talk about winning, it’s not just about a winning record, it’s winning the Stanley Cup. That’s really where we want to go.’’
Making the disappointment all the more greater was the optimism the Flyers expressed back in September after executing so many changes during the offseason.
“As I look back to the start of the season, we had high hopes,’’ Scott said. “I think Chuck made some smart moves, I think we put a really strong roster together. Unfortunately it didn’t pan out for us. If you would ask me what our No. 1 challenge is today it’s injuries. It’s not an excuse but it’s our reality.’’
Losing stars such as Ryan Ellis, Kevin Hayes and Sean Couturier for long periods of time probably gives Fletcher a bit of a pass. Injuries and illness are just things which can’t be controlled.
“I can tell you I read that medical report every day, open it up and cringe a little bit,’’ Scott said. “The last time I looked we were at 10 NHL level injuries. The good news I think is some of that will come back to us. We’re at the halfway point in the season, we have some time. But I can tell you everyone in this organization is waking up every day and really thinking about what we can do to improve this team.’’
As for the future, Scott indicated he’s not going to be a patient man.
“I don’t see this as a three-, four-, five-year rebuild,’’ he said. “We have a pretty good core. I think it starts with a healthy ‘Coots’ (Couturier), (Kevin) Hayes, (Joel) Farabee; we would love to have Ellis back. I think as we look at the reality of it, two or three pieces. . .maybe a little more. The core is good, we just have to get healthy. My job is just to make sure Chuck has all the resources he needs to make this a success. If we get this thing right, we should be in it next year.’’
If there’s one area where Scott might be feeling a little heat of his own it’s in the attendance department at the Wells Fargo Center. Gone are the days of sellout crowds for a building which holds nearly 20,000. Only about 15,000 have been showing up lately. Some of that is due to COVID restrictions but a 13-game winless streak doesn’t help either.
“When you’re not winning, when you don’t have a good product on the ice, it’s going to impact attendance,’’ Scott said. “We’re feeling it, I’m feeling it for the fans. Bottom line is, we have to get better, win games.’’
Any conversation pertaining to fans has to include the way things were when team Snider was around. Snider always made sure the fans “came first’’ when it got around to creating a family culture.
Are the Flyers still operating that way?
“If you talk to anyone in hockey operations, I don’t think anything has changed,’’ Scott said. “If you are on the outside looking in, maybe you’re hearing some things and seeing it differently. That said, you can always make it better. I want it to be a family atmosphere. I don’t think it’s changed. We’re just trying to build on what Ed Snider did.’’
Like Snider, Scott constantly thinks about the fans and that’s why he felt compelled to address that matter on Wednesday.
“I just want to address our fans for a second to really just say I’m sorry,’’ Scott said. “You deserve so much better than what we’re dealing with right now. This isn’t what anyone signed up for. I can tell you we’re determined to right the ship. I’m looking forward to the future.’’
A future which looks like it will, for better or worse, include Fletcher.