Fletcher’s rebuild plan hinges on young talent

Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher
      VOORHEES, N.J. – Fans of the Flyers, including the all-important ticketholders, want to know more about the team’s “retooling’’ plan than just the details.
      They want to hear how fast the team is going to start winning and be fun to watch again.
      During Tuesday’s press briefing at the Flyers Training Center, general manager Chuck Fletcher talked about the hybrid of an aggressive/win-now approach as well as a long-term development program.
      “It’s a little bit of both,’’ Fletcher said. “Young players are going to be a big part of it. If you look at last offseason for example. A lot of our young players were injured and weren’t in a position to compete. A critical part of what we do going forward whether it’s short-team success or long-term success will be integrating more youth into our team. I think we’re in a better position this year.’’
      No question, everyone from ownership to the fan sitting at home watching on TV wants to see a better brand of hockey in the very near future.
      After all, one of the reasons Fletcher was hired to replace former GM Ron Hextall in November, 2018 was partly because Hextall’s patient, long-range approach was moving a little too slowly to everyone’s liking.
      The GM said he understands everyone’s frustration. That’s the message he wants to convey to the fans.
      “We’re extremely disappointed with our season,’’ he said. “And we appreciate our fans sticking with us. I understand the season was beyond unacceptable. It was a devastating season. But we do have good pieces. In terms of patience, I don’t think we’re asking anyone to give us five, seven, 10 years. I do believe we have the ability to be competitive very quickly. The moves we make this summer will determine how quickly. I believe there are reasons to be optimistic but there are certainly challenges we still face.’’
      In some respects, the Flyers aren’t willing to just blow things up and start over again.
      “An aggressive retool to me is being aggressive in every area,’’ Fletcher said. “I think we already started it. We moved three quality veteran players (Claude Giroux, Derick Brassard, Justin Braun) at the trade deadline. We picked up Owen Tippett, a first-round (draft) pick, a third-round pick, a fourth-round pick. And we signed three of our unsigned college kids who could have been free agents this summer.’’
      Fletcher was asked whether he had a personal timeline in place to get the Flyers into serious contention when he took the job.
      “When I took the job, I was pretty aware of the strengths and weakness of the organization,’’ the GM said. “If you look at our age distribution chart, we had some high-end players that were approaching 30 or over 30, whether that was Giroux, (James) van Riemsdyk, (Wayne) Simmonds, (Brian) Elliott. Then we had a bunch of young assets, 23 and under. We didn’t have a lot in that 23-30 area. To capitalize on the last years of Claude and Jake being elite players, we would probably have to go outside. We still don’t have a lot in that 27-28-29 range. I knew it would take time for that group. That’s still our challenge, how do we build that core?’’
      Fletcher recognizes the Flyers have to get younger, faster. So he will be scouring lists of potential add-ons through trades and free agency. The GM is also hoping to have the services of top defenseman Ryan Ellis and first-line center Sean Couturier healthy again next season. That’s like adding two elite players to the roster.
      “It’s hard to acquire a top-two defenseman with a six-million dollar cap hit,’’ Fletcher said. “It’s hard to acquire a No. 1 centerman. You’re constantly doing what you can to improve your team, not only for the short term but the long term.’’
      >Flyers’ toughness level questioned
      Fletcher responded to Cam Atkinson’s contention the Flyers were too easy to play against this past season.
      “I think we did add some bigger players with some toughness this year,’’ he said. “I’m not sure toughness was an issue. When you defend all the time, you create problems.
      >Morin’s career over
      Fletcher said the career of defenseman Sam Morin, a former first-round draft pick, is over. Morin has undergone a pair of ACL surgeries and just hasn’t been able to overcome the damage. Fletcher said Morin will be offered a position with the organization if he chooses to stay in hockey.
      >Injury rehab process scrutinized
      Several Flyers, including Ryan Ellis and Joel Farabee, said they have come back from injuries too quickly this season. Fletcher said that issue is being addressed.
      “I’m going to sit down with our doctors and our medical staff in the next couple weeks,’’ Fletcher said. “And our strength and conditioning coaches here. Just a lot of questions – what do we do well, what are we not doing well? Are there things we can do from an injury prevention standpoint? We’re going to look at our entire structure.’’
      >Goaltending update
      Fletcher hopes to come to contract terms with goaltender Ivan Fedotov, who hails from Russia. The GM doesn’t expect to have any problems with getting Fedotov in for training camp in September, despite the situation in Ukraine right now. Fletcher said Fedotov is talented to compete for the No. 2 job behind Carter Hart next season. Fletcher said Felix Sandstrom took a “big step’’ this season.


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Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.