No doubt the inability to move proven veteran and soon-to-be unrestricted free agent James van Riemsdyk at the trade deadline shifted Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher squarely back into the crosshairs of an increasingly disenchanted fan base.
Social media was lighting up shortly after the NHL trade deadline came and went at 3 o’clock Friday afternoon when it became clear Philadelphia couldn’t find a trade partner and would have to let JVR simply walk away this summer with no compensation.
Part of Fletcher’s masterplan is to get younger. As he pointed out the other day, a year ago the Flyers were the 30th-oldest team in the NHL. This year they were the seventh-youngest.
The failure to unload van Riemsdyk or other veterans such as Kevin Hayes, Justin Braun or even Nick Seeler would seem to throw another hurdle at that “get-younger” thinking. The only moves the GM made were trading Zach MacEwen (and getting a fifth-round pick back) and Patrick Brown (for a sixth-rounder).
Ultimately, Fletcher knows he’s only going to get so many kicks at the can. Continued failure will not work in a city with high expectations for its hockey team.
“I understand our fans are really disappointed,” Fletcher said during a post-deadline press conference at the Flyers Training Center. “The last two or three years there’s no question we’re been trying to be a competitive team.
“Two years ago, in the summer, we were trying to maximize the last year on (Claude) Giroux’s contract, compete for a playoff spot. Clearly I haven’t done that, haven’t done that job. We’ve had some devastating injuries, with (Sean) Couturier and (Ryan) Ellis and even (Kevin) Hayes, this year with (Cam) Atkinson.
“But that isn’t the only reason. We need more talent and that’s on me. So I get it.”
As for his job security, only ownership (governor Dave Scott of Comcast Spectacor) knows how much patience can be maintained.
“I’m not worried about my job,” Fletcher said. “Whatever happens with me will happen with me. That’s up to Dave Scott. But everything I do is doing what’s right for the Philadelphia Flyers and not taking shortcuts. That’s part of why we didn’t make any more deals today.”
Fletcher and coach John Tortorella both believe in a deliberate, well thought-out rebuild and they’re determined to stick with it.
“The deals presented to me were going not going to be good for the Flyers,” Fletcher said. “And last summer being more aggressive was not going to be good for the Flyers.
“Maybe in the short run it makes me look better. But we don’t want band-aids anymore. We want to build this the right way. We’re committed to doing it. Those are my words, my actions will have to back it up.”
Hindsight is 20/20 and Fletcher was crystal clear about moves he’s made and some he hasn’t.
“Last summer I think we were a little tepid,” he said. “We didn’t want to be overly aggressive in pursuit of talent because we did have some concerns about Couturier in particular. (Joel) Farabee had been hurt (neck surgery).
“So we put some kids on the team. We gave them that opportunity. As we go forward, we recognize we have to get more talent. And we are going to build it.”
Fletcher gives the impression he’s acting with a great deal of caution.
“You need to get value,” Fletcher said. “I had a lot of conversations, I essentially told teams we had our three pending UFAs (van Riemsdyk, Braun and Brown) and we’ll listen on anybody.
“There were some good conversations that could be picked up in the summer in certain situations. But the goal is certainly to get younger. But also making sure you’re getting fair value for the players you have. There were a lot of names in the market, a lot of sellers. There were a couple situations we looked at but they just didn’t make sense at this time.”
If Couturier and Atkinson can get healthy again and if a top prospect such as Cutter Gauthier can make the jump from college to the pros, things might look a little more respectable around here next year.
“Our goal isn’t just to gut the team or to get rid of players, it’s to make trades that make you better,” Fletcher reiterated. “Today is not the only opportunity to move players, you’re going to have an opportunity in the summer, you have an opportunity next year and there’s going to be opportunities to make good deals for those players.”
Maybe so. But next year a fourth straight season out of postseason play probably would spell the end for this regime, no matter how understanding the folks upstairs might happen to be.
Fletcher knows that is simply how the business works. The bottom line is the Flyers have to get better and, as he says, that’s on him.