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The Trials and Tribulations of Chuck Fletcher

(Heather Barry Images, LLC)

Today marks the 5th trade deadline with Chuck Fletcher as the Philadelphia Flyers general manager.

When Fletcher entered as Flyers GM in December of 2018, the Flyers were in a long term period of disconnect and mediocrity. The core players of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, and Sean Couturier had been together with the team since the 2011-2012 season.

Veteran players such as Andrew MacDonald, James van Riemsdyk, and Jori Lehtera were brought in to help build a veteran presence for the young players that former GM Ron Hextall hoped would be major contributors to the team in the future. Those young players included Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Shayne Gostisbehere, Oskar Lindblom, Scott Laughton, German Rubtsov, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, Morgan Frost, and the two players set to be the future faces of the franchise for years to come: Former 2nd overall pick Nolan Patrick and young goaltending phenom Carter Hart.

Other miscellaneous pieces were in and out over the seasons Hextall was GM, as it normally happens in sports. Fletcher was brought in to stabilize the franchise and take that next step to contending for a Stanley Cup.

Fast forward 5 years later, and the Flyers are in a worse position than they were when Fletcher arrived, with barely any success during Fletcher’s time as general manager. In these 5 seasons, the Flyers made the playoffs once, and they won only one playoff series. Out of the 19 players listed before on that 2018-2019 team, only 8 remain on the main roster today. Many of the players Hextall had drafted have underperformed, but are still on the team.

How did we get here? What specifically happened that made such a promising future crash and burn into a franchise that seems to have no direction? Where do the Flyers go from here?

These are the Trials and Tribulations of Chuck Fletcher.

2018-2019 Season

The Beginning

In late November of 2018, the Flyers announced that General Manager Ron Hextall had been relieved of his duties after being with the team since May of 2014. Less than a week later, the Flyers announced that longtime Minnesota Wild GM and New Jersey Devils senior advisor to the general manager Chuck Fletcher would be taking control of the franchise. Fletcher wasted no time making his impact felt.

In his opening press conference Fletcher stated “I certainly have no intention of making a coaching change tomorrow. I’m going to meet with Dave [Hakstol] and we’re going to try and work together and push.” Fletcher stuck to his work and did not fire Hakstol the next day, he only fired him less than a month later.

It seemed that Fletcher was gearing up for the 2019 offseason. With plenty of cap space to sign not just the teams restricted free agents, but upcoming unrestricted free agents, along with the hiring of new head coach, the Flyers were going to be aggressive and try to start contending.

2019 Trade Deadline

Before the 2019 offseason began, Fletcher was in charge of gearing up for the offseason by selling at the deadline. Flyers fan favorite Wayne Simmonds was on the last year of his contract in Philadelphia, so Fletcher decided to trade him to the Nashville Predators for Ryan Hartman and a 4th round pick. What seemed to be a decent return at the time, as Hartman was a young player with upside along with a pick, didn’t even last the offseason in this new regime.

2019 Offseason

Fletcher went into the 2019 offseason with three things that the fanbase wanted: Sign a head coach, re-sign RFAs Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov, and sign a high level free agent at a position of need. Fletcher went out and did exactly that. He started by signing veteran head coach and 2 time Stanley Cup finalist Alain Vigneault. Fletcher then went out and traded a 5th round pick for the signing rights to Kevin Hayes, and then signed Hayes to a seven year deal worth $50M.

With two of the three major wants fulfilled, the only thing that was left was re-signing Konecny and Provorov. In mid-September, Fletcher finally broke through and signed Ivan Provorov to a six-year $40.5M deal. Not even a week later, Konecny was signed to a six-year $33M deal.

Fletcher also made some trades this offseason, trading for Justin Braun, Matt Niskanen, and Tyler Pitlick while getting rid of Radko Gudas, Ryan Hartman, and a 3rd-round pick. With the roster set, eyes were set on the 2019-2020 season, which no one in the world could’ve seen coming.

2019-2020 Season

This was the season where the Flyers looked like they were taking that next step. After a hot start, they hit their annual west coast skid, which made fans think it would be more of the same. That was not the case. They went on a tear and went 14-4 in the months of February and March. The team was playing their best hockey at the end of the season, hoping to stay hot and enter the post season as the first seed in the metro. Fletcher made trades to fortify the bottom 6, adding Derek Grant and Nate Thompson. They were also doing all this without Nolan Patrick, who had been sidelined all season with head injuries, and Oskar Lindblom, who was diagnosed with cancer midseason. Things were looking great. Then the world stopped.

COVID-19 and the Bubble

The COVID-19 pandemic seemed to derail the season the Flyers were having. The best season the Flyers have had since 2011-2012 was being taken away from the fans. Thankfully the NHL was able to restart the season in the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles. The Flyers swept the round robin tournament to win the number 1 overall seed in the Eastern Conference. They won their first round series against a Carey Price-led Canadiens team, only to lose in Game 7 against the Islanders the following series. Things didn’t end the way that the Flyers and the fans wanted it, but the groundwork was set for the future of the team for the upcoming years, or was it?

2020 Offseason

This was a very quiet offseason for the Flyers. They re-signed their key RFAs to reasonable deals, and the only major difference in the roster was Matt Niskanen retiring and the Flyers signing Erik Gustafsson to fill that hole. Nolan Patrick was set to return from a frustrating season filled with injuries, Oskar Lindblom was set to contribute in his first full season since being diagnosed with and beating cancer, and the Flyers looked to be set as the same team as the year before. This was a team that showed promise of being a contender for a long time. That did not happen.

2021 Season

After a hot start beating the Penguins big twice in the season of the “MassMutual East Division”, things quickly spiraled. None of the Flyers came close to their production in 2019-2020. Sean Couturier got injured within the first couple games. The Flyers defense looked lost on the ice. COVID ran through the team. They got embarrassed on national TV against the Bruins at Lake Tahoe. Alain Vigneault had to play Sam Morin and Mark Friedman, defensemen, on the wings on offense. They lost a game 9-0 to the New York Rangers. Carter Hart was benched at one point. Oh and they still did not stink enough to get a good pick in the NHL Draft, ending up with the 14th pick.

Murphy’s Law hit the Flyers hard, everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and that was Fletcher’s saving grace. By coming close to the playoffs while also having everything go wrong, Fletcher seemed to think they were a very short ways away from going back to the playoffs. Fletcher decided to do something about it during the 2021 offseason, and boy did he make some moves.

2021 Offseason

This was the offseason where Fletcher tried to fix the problems that the Flyers had, only for it to blow up in his face. At this point the fanbase was split on what to do. Some wanted the Flyers to completley blow it up and gain assets and cap space to try and rebuild. Others wanted a quick fix, basically wanting the meme where Phil Swift put some Flex Tape over a leaking hole. Fletcher went with the latter.

First in the offseason was the Seattle Kraken Expansion draft. right as the roster freeze for the draft took place Fletcher made a blockbuster trade, trading Nolan Patrick and Phil Myers to the Nashville Predators for star defenseman Ryan Ellis (Patrick was then flipped to Vegas for Cody Glass in the same transaction). Many thought that Fletcher would make a deal with the Kraken for them to take James van Riemsdyk or Jake Voracek to open up future cap space. That didn’t happen, as the Kraken took Carsen Twarynski and the expansion draft was over.

Chuck then continued his trade mode, making three more major trades before free agency opened up. The first trade that was made was trading Shayne Gostisbehere, a 2nd round pick, and a 7th round pick for –. I’m not kidding, — is what the Coyotes put on their trade graphic when announcing the trade. Fletcher basically paid the Coyotes 2 picks to take Gostisbehere’s contract.

Chuck wasn’t done, and he swung big again trading away the 2021 first round pick, a second round pick, and Robert Hagg for…Buffalo Sabres draft bust Rasmus Ristolainen. Fletcher didn’t stop there and finished his major trade barrage with the definition of a hockey trade, trading Jake Voracek to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Cam Atkinson.

The new-look Flyers entered free agency looking for a backup goalie and another center or two, and got both right when free agency started. Nate Thompson returned to Philadelphia to take over the 4th-line center position, while Derick Brassard entered as the 3rd-line center. Fletcher then signed aging and struggling goaltender Martin Jones, and he also signed veteran defenseman Keith Yandle to a one-year deal.

With the offseason almost finished from the Flyers, and with all the assets Fletcher burned, it was supposed to be a prove it year for a lot of the players on the team. Ristolainen was on the last year of his deal, the Flyers filed for arbitration with Travis Sanheim who went on to sign a two-year bridge prove-it deal, JVR had 2 seasons left on his deal and was already being talked about as a trade chip, Morgan Frost was looking like an AHL player at best, and Ivan Provorov was looking to regain his composure with another defensive partner.

Everything looked set, then Fletcher decided to strike again. Right before the 2021-2022 season started, the Flyers signed two of their key players to long-term extensions. Sean Couturier signed an eight-year, $62M contract extension that would kick in at the beginning of the 2022-2023 season. Joel Farabee was also signed to an extension, six-years at $30M. With two of their core guys locked up for the foreseeable future, this season was officially do or die for Fletcher and the roster he constructed.

The 2021-2022 Season

Disaster isn’t even the correct word to use when describing the season the Flyers had. It’s like if they took everything that went wrong in 2021 and amplified it to the maximum. Rasmus Ristolainen was one of the worst defensemen in the league, Sean Couturier got injured (again), Ryan Ellis got hurt and then disappeared with little to no explanation on what the injury was and when he would return, Kevin Hayes was hurt multiple times throughout the season, the team had not one, but two separate 10+ game losing streaks, Alain Vigneault was fired and Mike Yeo was named interim head coach, and Dave Scott held a press conference where he didn’t even know one of his own player’s names.

Everything kept spiraling, but we kept being reassured by Fletcher all that everything was ok and that the Flyers were just bit by injuries and getting unlucky. The final nails in the coffin for the season came when Fletcher traded Claude Giroux, the longtime captain and one of the greatest Flyers of all time, andextended an extremely disappointing defenseman in Ristolainen to a 5-year deal worth $25.5M. Fletcher also traded Braun to the Rangers and Brassard to the Oilers for mid-round picks. This season seemed like it couldn’t get any lower for the franchise. Fletcher was trying to validate his previous moves and it was going to bite him later.

The Flyers finished with the 4th-worst record in the league and were in a prime position to get a good draft pick in the upcoming draft. If there was ever a time for Fletcher to start over and rebuild, it was now. What did he do in the offseason?

The 2022 Offseason

“We’re retooling Charlie.”

Three words that shook Flyers fans to their core. When talking to the media in the offseason, The Athletic’s Charlie O’Connor asked Fletcher about the dreaded R-word (Rebuild) and Fletcher looked appalled that O’Connor would even ask that, then dropped his infamous three word answer. And boy, did the Flyers retool.

The two best things that happened in the offseason were the NHL Draft, where the Flyers took Boston College stud Cutter Gauthier with the 5th overall pick, and the signing of head coach John Tortorella. Everything else from there was a disaster.

The second day of the draft, Fletcher burned through more picks, trading a 2nd round pick, a 3rd round pick, and a 4th round pick to the Carolina Hurricanes for the signing rights to Tony DeAngelo and a 7th round pick. Fletcher then made quick work in signing DeAngelo to a two-year, $10M deal. If you’re keeping track at home, that’s $10.1M in AAV that Fletcher used on Ristolainen and DeAngelo.

The Flyers were looking grim, and they were up against the cap. Fletcher had the opportunity to put Ryan Ellis on LTIR, or make a trade for JVR to free up cap space for a very special person, as this was the offseason all Flyers fans had been waiting for. There was a superstar free agent finally hitting the open market who had grown up a Flyers fan and openly stated multiple times how much he wanted to play for the team. If there was ever an offseason for retooling, the one where hometown kid Johnny Gaudreau was a free agent was perfect. Flyers fans were excited as there was no way Fletcher wouldn’t sign Gaudreau, right? RIGHT?

Chuck Fletcher went out and signed Nic Deslauriers to a four year contract with a modified no-trade clause. Justin Braun was brought back again on a one-year deal. Fletcher extended Sanheim to an eight-year, $50M deal. Ryan Ellis still was missing in action. Sean Couturier was hurt again. Bobby Brink got hurt. Cam Atkinson got hurt. Joel Farabee had neck surgery. And worst of all, Gaudreau signed with a Metropolitan Division rival in the Columbus Blue Jackets after Fletcher didn’t make any cap space. This was what we as Flyers fans thought was rock bottom. Then this season happened.

Present Day

This season has been a disaster. The Flyers continue to be bad, but not bad enough to be a bottom five team in the NHL. More often than not this season the fans have been angry with the team. Frustration has been taken out on the front office, it has been taken out on ownership, and it has been taken out on some of the players as well.

With all of these problems coming to its boiling point, the last week of February/first week of March is when aggression from the fanbase, and lack of accountability from the front office, finally reached its peak.

First Fletcher finally used the word “Sell” in media availability after months of talking about how they were “only [blank] points out of a playoff spot with a lot of season left.” While Fletcher was parading playoff possibilities all season, Tortorella was giving the fanbase the REAL answers as to where the Flyers are. But now Fletcher was sending out the same message.

The Flyers are selling! So many teams need the pieces this year and the Flyers have them! Do you need a 2nd line forward? We have Kevin Hayes! How about big body goal scorer? Don’t worry there’s James van Riemsdyk! Want a top pair defenseman? Ivan Provorov is here! What about an offensive defesnman and power play specialist? I have one Tony DeAngelo you can have! Oh you just want a depth defenseman for playoff insurance? Here’s Justin Braun! Thin at goalie? Felix Sandström is the man for you! The trade deadline is today, Friday, March 3rd this year and almost all the big names have been traded, leaving Fletcher with many suitors for his players. There was PLENTY of time for Fletcher to make trades throughout the week!

Monday: Nothing. Tuesday: Nothing. Wednesday: Nothing. Thursday: Nothing.

Meanwhile teams have been trading first and second round picks like they’re worth nothing. So many players have been traded to teams the Flyers have been reportedly connected to. Many other lesser players than the ones Fletcher is trying to move have gone for a much bigger return that they should have, making Flyers fans wonder why Fletcher wasn’t making these deals. This is a failure on the part of Fletcher, waiting for the market to only be his players, but not realizing the longer he waits, the fewer and fewer teams will be active to negotiate with.

On top of everything, Shayne Gostisbehere, the player Fletcher literally paid multiple draft picks to get rid of, was traded FOR a 3rd round pick. With this lack of production from the front office already making fans irate, the Wednesday night home game was the night the absolute atrocities of this franchise were put on display.

On a somewhat nationally televised game against arch-rival New York Rangers (many people in the greater Philadelphia region were blacked out from watching for some reason), Rangers fans made the trip down I-95 and took over the Wells Fargo Center. A Rangers home game in Philadelphia was the final straw for the fanbase. Sports talk radio shows that normally don’t cover hockey laid into Fletcher, Dave Scott, and the franchise at a whole. Tortorella went on 97.5 The Fanatic and gave the most open answers about the state of the team:

“We’re pretty much nonexistent in the National Hockey League as far as respect. We need to earn the league’s respect.

“I think there was a ton of entitlement hanging around in our locker room, where really quite honestly you didn’t deserve that entitlement, you didn’t deserve that stature.

“We’ve gotta get a better product. You can’t do it with gimmicks and free stuff and try to bring people in that way…the way to get people in the building is win.”

Some strong quotes from the Flyers head coach.

The scariest part about this week though? Fletcher’s job seems secure.

Where do we go from here?

The Flyers will not be a relevant franchise for a long time. We as fans have to come to terms with that. The Fletcher regime has derailed this franchise and the future of this team for years to come. The Flyers’ ownership group, *cough cough* Dave Scott *cough cough*, needs to come to terms with this. As more reports are coming out that the front office is a mess with many different people in everyones ears, there needs to be a complete overhaul.

Selling the franchise is the best case scenario for the team. Sadly, the fans should not get their hopes up that that happens. The most realistic option is Fletcher losing his role as general manager; however, with a lack of urgency over the past couple of years, it seems that Fletcher doesn’t seem to be on the hot seat.

Fans need to continue to make their voice heard to make sure ownership understands the severity of their actions, because if they get let off the hook, nothing will change.

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