Chuck Fletcher has shown he can put together a team which can get within one win of getting past the Eastern Conference semifinals.
On the flip side of that coin, the Flyers general manager can also be held responsible for missing the playoffs two straight seasons, including a dead-last finish in the Metropolitan Division this past season.
Which brings us to the 2022-23 NHL season, just a few months away.
Expectations have to be measured, mainly because Fletcher seemingly has done very little to improve a roster which finished with an embarrassing minus-87 in plus/minus goals analytics.
There was a lot of buzz in the media leading up to the start of free agency that Fletcher was in the hunt for a big-name, big-scoring forward, with Johnny Gaudreau’s name being mentioned most often.
But even before Gaudreau made a surprising decision to sign with Columbus, Fletcher made it clear he was never in the JG “sweepstakes,’’ instead opting to put his assets into two defensemen – a trade for Tony DeAngelo and the free-agent signing of Justin Braun, who returned after a brief stint with the New York Rangers.
So the question is this: If Fletcher’s belief that the hiring of coach John Tortorella, the possible healthy return of Sean Couturier, Ryan Ellis, Joel Farabee and Kevin Hayes and bounce-back years from key performers such as Ivan Provorov are enough to get the Flyers back into contention, should the GM be held accountable if that plan fails?
A lot of the Flyers’ fan base seems to think so and don’t think for a moment the beancounters at team owner Comcast aren’t paying attention.
With attendance at the Wells Fargo Center sagging and low TV ratings reflecting that indifference, Flyers governor Dave Scott must be wondering what has to happen to regain followers’ trust.
At midseason, Scott declared Fletcher was his guy, “for now.’’ Some of that might have had something to do with Fletcher’s spoken intention to execute an “aggressive retool.’’
But the only eye-opening moves so far were the buyout of the final year on the contract of popular, inspiring forward Oskar Lindblom and the trade for DeAngelo.
There was a lot of speculation in public forums that Fletcher might try to trade away the final year of James van Riemsdyk’s $7-million contract but that never really gained any traction.
If the Flyers were to miss the playoffs for a third straight season – something that’s been done only once in team history (in the early ‘90s, when the team failed to make the postseason five straight years) – would Fletcher’s job be in jeopardy?
It doesn’t sound like ownership is ready to give up on Fletcher just yet but it might be safe to say that Tortorella will be the GM’s last coaching hire if things don’t get turned around in the upcoming campaign.
On his own behalf, Fletcher made it clear he has faith in his program, now going into it’s fourth full season.
”Right now, as an organization, the most important thing that we have to do is stabilize,’’ Fletcher said after the bulk of the free-agent frenzy had ended late Wednesday afternoon. “We’ll be a much-improved team. We’ll be a competitive team.
“A lot of things that we really struggled with last year, I feel we have a chance to be considerably better at, whether it’s our goals against, our structure, our penalty kill, and our power play, in particular. Those are areas we’re all going to attack. We added some good quality kids in the draft.’’
It sounds like Fletcher is trying to keep his future options open by saving money.
But will he be around long enough to take advantage of that scheme?
“One important thing that I think we’ve also been able to do is we have not expended big dollars on long term, so we still have some flexibility as we look forward,’’ Fletcher said. “Depending on Ryan Ellis, if that continues to not be a quick process, then we’ll have the ability to get into some dollars, potentially during the season that we can continue to look to fill some holes.’’
Flyers fans, frustrated by only one playoff series win in the past 10 years and only four trips to the postseason over that span, justifiably have their doubts.
Can you blame them?