Chuck Fletcher has received a lot of criticism recently from fans for the team’s poor play, and the Philadelphia Flyers general manager faced the music on Wednesday afternoon. He held his annual midseason press conference to discuss the state of the Flyers and give updates around the organization.
While the press conference didn’t have any quotes that will make viral headlines, there were quite a few telling quotes throughout the presser.
First and foremost, Chuck Fletcher discussed his aggressiveness and the Flyers’ need to “get the right mix” moving forward. Those were a few quotes worthy of their own article. Check that one out first.
Here are five more quotes worth revisiting:
“With young players, there’s going to be ups and downs”
One of the Flyers’ main issues this season has been the regression of their young players. Almost all of the Flyers’ younger players have taken a step back this season. Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers have both been inconsistent, Ivan Provorov hasn’t been great on the top pair, and the young forwards –– outside of Joel Farabee –– haven’t taken that step forward.
All of those things have resulted in the Flyers underperforming as a team, but Chuck Fletcher isn’t worried about the long-term futures of the young players.
“With young players, there’s going to be ups and downs. I think we recognize that. Certainly, some of our young players haven’t played to the same level that they played last year. I think long term, a lot of these players are going to be good players in this league for a long time.”
The Flyers are in what should be a good position with their veteran core still producing while their young prospects are hitting their prime. But that hasn’t brought the results they hoped for this season.
Still, the Flyers have nine players aged 24 or younger that have played in at least 21 games this season –– 10 if you add in Connor Bunnaman with 17 games.
Four of those nine players are forwards with the potential to play in the top-six –– or at least the middle six –– in Joel Farabee (20), Nolan Patrick (22), Travis Konecny (22), and Oskar Lindblom (24). Three of them are top-four defensemen: Philippe Myers (24), Travis Sanheim (24), and Ivan Provorov (24). One of them is the future of the franchise in net, Carter Hart (22).
Eight of the nine key young players have taken a step back this season. Either that is a problem within the organization, which Fletcher doesn’t seem to think it is, or it’s the uniqueness of this shortened season and condensed schedule. Teams aren’t able to practice as much and they’re playing an unusually large amount of games in a short time period. That shouldn’t be an excuse, however, since all teams are dealing with the same situation.
“Be careful over-analyzing the results of the season”
This 2020-21 NHL season is unlike any other. The NHL scheduled 56 games in less than four months, with multiple teams having games postponed due to a global pandemic. There is limited time to practice or even rest.
“I think it’s a year that you have to be a little bit careful though in over-analyzing the results … Long-term, there’s been different challenges this year that you normally don’t face. Some players have handled it better than others. Some teams have handled it better than others.”
Chuck Fletcher doubled down when asked again about it, considering that everyone in the league is dealing with the same thing.
“As I said, I think certain teams have handled it better. Certain players have handled things better than others. I think there is a massive mental and emotional challenge this year … There are certainly some players that are not at the level they need to be at and are not in a good place in some different ways. There’s probably a little bit more to their play than what everyone realizes. I think we’ve just got to be a little bit careful over-analyzing some of these young players that have shown to be good players in the past. My expectation is that they’ll find that path again.”
There is definitely some truth to what Fletcher is saying. Some teams have been able to roll with the punches and perform. Other teams, like the Flyers, have gotten caught in a tough schedule and are reeling. It’s not an excuse, it’s just a matter of fact.
Fletcher will likely receive a lot of flack for this quote, but it makes sense. In a normal season, coaches and players know what they are dealing with. It is a six-month, 82-game grind with all teams going through ups and downs. This season, the lows are lower and the highs aren’t quite as high.
The Flyers shouldn’t be excused for their poor play –– everything going wrong at once isn’t just a matter of happenstance ––, but the organization shouldn’t give up on players either.
“It’s a hard position. I believe in Carter.”
Carter Hart has been one of the young players that is taking the hardest hits this season. Through 21 games, he is 8-8-3 with a 3.85 goals against average and .875 save percentage. That’s quite the drop-off from a 2.42 goals against average and .914 save percentage last season.
Hart’s confidence has taken a hit this season and everyone knows it.
“Confidence is a funny thing. It’s a results business. Sometimes you are not getting the results, it’s hard to feel you are on top of your game. Carter is a young guy. He had some success last year. This year, he hasn’t played at the same level. There’s no question that he’s struggled, particularly this month.”
Chuck Fletcher brought up the names of some pretty good goalies that struggled early in their careers as well.
“You look back at a young Carey Price at the age of 22, Connor Hellebuyck, Marc-Andre Fleury, just going through some names. All of those great goaltenders had some ups and downs early in their career and had some tough seasons. It’s a hard position. I believe in Carter. I believe in his talent and I believe he will be a very good goalie for this franchise for a very long time. Clearly right now, he’s not on top of his game.”
It’s reassuring to remember that Hart is only 22 years old and is already in his third NHL season. Most goalies are lucky to start their career by the time they are 22 years old. Hart should end up being just fine, but it was worth noting that Fletcher brought up the team’s save percentage as one of the reasons for their decline this season.
“Obviously this year hasn’t been anywhere near like last year in large part because we are 30th in the league in goals against and 31st in save percentage. We’re giving up way too many goals. Last year, we defended well as a five-man unit and we had strong goaltending. This year, we’re not defending well as a five-man unit and our goaltending has not been at the same level. That’s what I see really from last year to this year. Our goal now is to get back and defend better.”
Not a lot of things have gone right for the Flyers this season. It has all added up to being out of the playoff picture in the second half. The team has mostly pointed to needing to play better and execute after losses, but there hasn’t been much talk of the goaltending. Fletcher even mentioning that the Flyers are last in the league in save percentage is notable. It’s a situation that the Flyers shouldn’t be in given the talent that they have, but they are.
“We aggressively looked at a lot of options this offseason”
One of the reasons that the Flyers are in fifth place is their defense. Their team defense has been poor, but it all starts on the back end. Fletcher didn’t adequately replace Matt Niskanen in the offseason and he’s paid the price.
“Matt was a great player for us and clearly, we didn’t fill the void. That type of player is difficult to find. As good as Matt was for us last year, it’s a pretty massive variance in the goals against. It’s a team-level effort right now. Again, we’ve had nights where we’ve defended really well. That’s what we have to get back to.”
Niskanen was essentially replaced by Erik Gustafsson. Fletcher also likely expected the young defensemen to take a step forward, but we’ve already been over their regression.
Gustafsson wasn’t the only defenseman the Flyers tried to acquire this offseason, though. Fletcher said that he was aggressive in looking at options, but nothing came to fruition.
“Well, we aggressively looked at a lot of options this offseason. Certainly, our cap situation was not helpful for adding significant dollars without moving significant dollars. We looked at a lot of different things, and this is what we ended up with. I think I said to somebody earlier, I don’t think I ever spent more time on the phone than I did this offseason. For various reasons, things didn’t break our way, the way we had hoped. It’s a flat-cap era, and most teams are not looking to take on any money or any term right now. To add a player with dollars, you have to subtract the same amount. Those types of trades are a little more difficult to make.”
There are pretty good signs that Fletcher wants to make this team better. Between this quote and Fletcher talking about being aggressive in-season and needing to get the right mix, something should happen before the deadline. Even if it’s just a depth or rental addition.
Let’s end this on a positive note.
“I think both Oskar and Nolan are getting better”
Two of the Flyers’ key young players that missed last season for different reasons are making strides this year.
Chuck Fletcher praised both Oskar Lindblom and Nolan Patrick. The two forwards have been more active in recent games.
“Oskar went through a very difficult process with chemo and battling cancer. I think he’s getting better and better. He’s getting his timing back. I think with another full summer, I think he will be even better next year. He’s starting to win more battles. He’s starting to get to the right spots on the ice. He’s making a few more plays. We’ve seen a lot of progress with Oskar. Same with Nolan. It hasn’t been reflected in the stats necessarily, but I really liked his game recently. I thought he played really well on Monday night. I thought he created some chances. Last night, I thought he was on pucks. He was skating and he was working. I think both of them are getting better.”
The Flyers didn’t make any forward additions in the offseason. Instead, the in-house Lindblom and Patrick are making an impact.
Lindblom is getting back to his game recently with three goals in his last four games, and also his first career fight.
Patrick has higher expectations due to his status as a No. 2 overall pick, but he’s been better recently as well. He’s been moved down to the fourth line, but he’s been thriving there.
You can watch Chuck Fletcher’s full press conference here.
Photo: Heather Barry Images