Fletcher trying to balance Flyers’ present with future

Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher on Thursday's press briefing. (PHOTO by Wayne Fish)

VOORHEES, N.J. – Here’s the conundrum facing the Flyers:

They want to end a two-year exile from the playoffs but they also sit in meetings planning what to do about developing talent this year, next year and down the road.

Can the two processes work together?

That’s the main question put forth to general manager Chuck Fletcher during a press briefing at the Flyers Training Center on Thursday morning.

“Last year at the end of the season we had a lot of injuries,’’ Fletcher said. “A lot of adversity. Our culture wasn’t right. We didn’t have a team identity, didn’t defend well.

“By bringing in ‘Torts’ (head coach John Tortorella), it was about re-establishing how we want to play. How we want to work, defend. We felt that was really critical to fix. We’ve gone about that. We’re starting to see some progress in that regard.’’

Earlier in the day, Tortorella said the “process’’ was not going to be completed overnight. He signed a three-year contract and it just might take that long to see this whole thing through.

With a 10-game winless streak still fresh in everyone’s memory, it seems a little ill-timed to be talking about progress but Fletcher does see some steps in the right direction.

“I’m seeing a lot of improvement in our defensive zone structure,’’ he said. “We’re giving up fewer shots five-on-five. I think the hope is to build that foundation and re-establish that identity. And we have to find a way to add more talent.’’

Tortorella also made a point of saying much of the closed-door discussions have centered on which players – young and old alike – figure into the Flyers’ future.

We’ve already seen the departure of veterans such as Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds. Perhaps more re-tooling has to be done.

“That’s what we’ve been speaking about since camp,’’ Fletcher said. “Who’s part of the solution? The thing with all the injuries up front (Sean Couturier, Cam Atkinson, James van Riemsdyk among others), it’s allowed ‘Torts’ to put some players in roles that typically they wouldn’t have.

“There are some players who are taking on a little more than they can handle right now. Over the long run that’s going to allow us to see who can step up and take on more, evolve, improve. As we go forward, that’s what we have to find out: Who’s part of the solution – young players, veteran players. And how do we go about getting better.’’

Losing Couturier (a second back surgery) and Atkinson (upper-body injury) have thrown a bit of a wrench into the Flyers’ plans to be borderline contenders this season.

“I thought we would be a pretty competitive team,’’ Fletcher said. “As we got into the season, I knew we were a little shorthanded up front. The goal has been what John and I had been speaking about. At least be a hard team to play against. Get our identity back. I think we’ve made strides in that regard.

“I don’t think anyone anticipates a 10-game winless streak. Now we’re getting a few players back. The last two games against the Islanders. . .two of our best defensive games by far. We defended well against a good Islanders team. I expect to be more competitive the rest of the way. We’re five points out of a wild card. We’ll see if we have the capability of staying in that race.’’

Fletcher said one of the main issues now is a lack of scoring. Getting Atkinson, Travis Konecny (right hand) and van Riemsdyk back should help in that department.

The loyal fans who buy tickets, watch the games on TV and buy merchandise sound like they’re getting a little impatient. There’s been only one playoff win in the last decade and that’s not much for a proud franchise with the second-highest points percentage in NHL history.

“We’ve worked at adding some young pieces over the last few years,’’ Fletcher said. “We’ve talked the last couple years about needing more high-end talent. We’ve certainly tried to address that through the draft.

“Knowing a couple years ago that Voracek and Giroux were getting older and you need some younger players coming into the system; you always want to compete, you always want to be the best team you can be. We’ll see how well these (young) players progress.’’

The gray area becomes what to do with a player such as defenseman Cam York, a 2019 first-round draft pick who was thought to be ready for the Flyers this season but has spent the entire campaign with the Phantoms in Allentown.

Meanwhile, Egor Zamula (who is a year older than York) has spent time with the Flyers and seems to figure in their immediate plans.

“York had a pretty good camp,’’ Fletcher said. “We figured getting the big minutes in Lehigh Valley would be better for him. There’s no rush to get these kids up here. The focus is to give them some stability, not yo-yo up and down. Just play and it will take care of its self over time.’’

>Ellis out for season

Fletcher confirmed defenseman Ryan Ellis (pelvic area injury) will miss the rest of the season. He played only four games with the Flyers last year before he went on long-term injury. “Ellis will not play this year,’’ Fletcher said. “I can confirm that. After that, I just don’t know.’’

>Injury update

Fletcher said van Riemsdyk is scheduled to be seen by a hand specialist in New York today. It’s been five weeks since the surgery on his fractured left index finger and the original timeline was six weeks for full recovery.

Couturier is scheduled to be seen by doctors on Dec. 12. “After that,’’ Fletcher said, “he will have another appointment in early January. We’ll know more after that.’’

Atkinson is now listed as day-to-day. “It’s something he’s dealt with in the past,’’ Fletcher said. “He was able to come back pretty quickly from it. This time it’s taken a bit longer.’’

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About Wayne Fish 1948 Articles
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.