Even though this time of year is supposed to be about holiday cheer and goodwill toward men, the question was bound to come up.
Just how secure is the job status of Flyers president and general manager Chuck Fletcher?
After all, under his watch the team has missed the playoffs the past two seasons and it’s starting to look a lot like (another Christmas reference?) a third.
Midway through a press briefing at the Flyers Training Center on Thursday, Fletcher had to chuckle when someone bold enough to put forth that query chose this time and place.
The exact question: (Coach) John Tortorella implied this (rebuild) is going to take time, meaning a few years and this is a results-oriented league – is there concern on your part that you won’t be around to see the rebuild you want to do?
“No, I don’t worry about that stuff at all,’’ replied Fletcher, who on Saturday will mark the fourth anniversary of his hiring by the Flyers. “I talk to (Flyers governor) Dave Scott all the time. . .a couple-hour meeting yesterday about everything. The different possibilities that can happen as the season goes forward.
“We’re on the same page.’’
It should be noted when Fletcher took over from the fired Ron Hextall back in 2018, the team was not exactly sailing along in the standings.
By the 2019-20 season, Fletcher had turned things around. After the pandemic hit in March, 2020, the Flyers went on to win the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and in the playoffs got within a game of the conference finals.
For a variety of reasons, the Flyers couldn’t sustain the momentum from that unexpected run.
From that lack of success comes the rumbling and grumbling.
“Look,’’ said Fletcher, “I understand the business. My focus is on doing what’s right for the team going forward. Maybe it’s finally winning a game after the 10-game losing streak but just the way the numbers are starting to trend, getting some guys back, I think we have a chance to be a competitive team.’’
Of course, much of the speculation about Fletcher’s standing originates on social media and the hot rumor involves former Flyers star Daniel Briere, who serves as a special assistant to Fletcher at the moment.
Tortorella speaks glowingly of Briere, even going so far as to say he has “a brilliant hockey mind;’’ adding it’s someone he really likes talking hockey with.
Boy, if that doesn’t stir up the rumor mill, what will?
In the middle of last season, as the Flyers were struggling with a franchise-record 13-game winless streak, Scott would give Fletcher only a luke-warm endorsement. Asked about that, Scott came back with “right now, Chuck’s my guy. I feel like I’m personally surrounded by good hockey people.’’
Since then, Scott has declined various requests for interviews.
Fletcher believes the culture has begun to turn around with the hiring of Tortorella. Even though the team just suffered through a 10-game winless streak (tied for second-longest in franchise history), there appear to be some positive signs.
“The vibe in the room is so much different than last year,’’ Fletcher said. “I talked to Scott Laughton on Tuesday and I said, ‘Scott, how does this compare to last year when we went through those streaks?’
“He said ‘last year, we kind of knew no one was coming back. We were fractured a little bit in terms of how we were playing.’ You just didn’t have a lot of optimism.’’
Now, at least everyone seems to be on the same page, even if the results don’t necessarily reflect a stronger esprit de corps.
“They believe they can compete every night,’’ Fletcher said. “It’s a good group right now. It’s actually fun to be around them. I’m excited to see if we can be competitive and what does that mean?’’
If the Flyers do get most of their players back (the most important being Sean Couturier), stay healthy and still don’t make the postseason, then all bets might be off.
Meanwhile, ownership appears to be playing a game of wait-and-see.
For now, the silence is deafening.