The Philadelphia Flyers held their first real media availability of the summer on Tuesday morning. General Manager Chuck Fletcher and Assistant GM Brent Flahr sat down with the media to discuss all things offseason.
The Flyers are in a tricky spot this offseason and need changes to be made. Fletcher was peppered with questions about everything from the Seattle Expansion Draft and NHL Draft to free agency and behind-the-scenes improvements.
There was a lot to dig into from the press conference. Let’s get right into it.
Seattle Expansion Draft: “I think our list is pretty straightforward”
Chuck Fletcher and the Flyers don’t have many difficult decisions to make with the Expansion Draft. The protection list, as we projected last month, only has a few small question marks around it.
Fletcher discussed the Expansion Draft in a similar vein:
“We have our expansion draft list put together. If we make moves between now and then we can adjust it, obviously, but we have a pretty good idea of what we want to do and who we’re going to protect and who we’ll make available,” he said.
“Your goal is always to do the best thing for the organization and our case here now I think our decisions had pretty good unanimity of what we wanted to do when we had our pro scouts in town,” Fletcher continued. “I think our list is pretty straightforward.”
While the list is “straightforward,” Fletcher hasn’t yet officially informed any players that they’ll be exposed in the Expansion Draft.
“I haven’t officially informed them. I’ve had conversations with a few of them. Several conversations with a couple of them about the likelihood of it; about what we’re trying to do and why,” he said. “Again, as we get closer to Saturday, whether it’s Friday or Saturday, I will reach out to some of the players for sure to give them a courtesy heads up. Things could still change so I don’t want to jump the gun too much. I think a few of them are aware of what our position is and we’ve had good conversations.”
One of those players that Fletcher likely had “several” conversations with is Jakub Voracek. Voracek is likely also one of the players that are aware of the Flyers’ position, as Fletcher said. It was reported over the weekend that the Flyers will make a “legit attempt” to move Voracek this offseason, and his contract is the main reason for that.
Jakub Voracek and James van Riemsdyk likely to be exposed
Fletcher talked about how the flat cap is complicating things for teams close to the cap ceiling. High-salary players are harder to move in trades and therefore easier to expose to Seattle.
“I think right now with the flat cap it’s difficult to move players with high salaries in general,” he said.
“I think you’re always trying to make decisions for protecting the players you feel you need to protect for the short- and long-term good of your franchise. I think generally speaking in this environment, it goes without saying that it’s difficult to move money right now. Cheaper contracts are probably more valuable in that sense.”
Given the fact that cheaper contracts are more valuable, the Flyers may try to steer Seattle toward one of their higher-salary players like Voracek or James van Riemsdyk.
Will Fletcher make a side deal with Seattle?
Fletcher is open to offering Seattle a sweetener or making a side deal to influence their decision.
“We’ll probably take guidance for them if there’s something that they think would make sense for them and would make sense for us. My expectation is we’ll submit the list and whether they’ll be conversations after we submit the list or not time will tell.”
The Flyers are “certainly comfortable submitting the list and having [Seattle] select a player,” Fletcher said. However, he’s “indicated to them if they have ideas on something else they want to accomplish to let us know.”
We’re still over a week away from the Expansion Draft and Fletcher is playing a bit of a cat-and-mouse game. He doesn’t want to show his hand, understandably, and he should be open to all options.
Seattle taking James van Riemsdyk or Jakub Voracek would clear some cap space for the Flyers and Fletcher may prefer that. However, if Settle Kraken GM Ron Francis is asking for too much in a deal to nudge them toward one of those two, Fletcher will deal with it. One of the “more valuable” cheaper contracts that may be available to Seattle is Nicolas Aube-Kubel.
Voracek and JVR are still the players most likely to be selected by Seattle, simply because there won’t be many top-six forwards exposed, but Aube-Kubel (and others) are still on the table as well.
When it’s all said and done, the Seattle Expansion Draft could go a long way in determining the Flyers’ path this offseason. If the Kraken take JVR or Voracek, the Flyers will have that cap space free. If they take someone like Aube-Kubel, Fletcher will have to aggressively work the phones to move one of them to get that cap space.
Luckily, Fletcher and other GMs across the league have already been on the phones quite a bit this offseason.
Fletcher working the phones: “We’re all speaking with each other”
It was reported –– and later said by Chuck Fletcher himself –– that the Flyers were aggressive last offseason, but nothing came to fruition. Well, Fletcher is apparently being aggressive again this summer. However, he’ll have to land a big fish or two instead of settling for the likes of Erik Gustafsson.
“The phones have been busy,” Fletcher said. “I’ve been receiving calls, I’ve been making calls. We’re all speaking with each other.”
While the phones may be busy, there hasn’t been much action. The fact that we’re still early in the offseason has a lot to do with that, and that’s compounded by the looming Expansion Draft.
“Every team is in a little bit different spot. For some teams, they can acquire a player now and it doesn’t impact their list that much. There’s other teams that would much rather wait until after the expansion draft to make a trade to upgrade their club,” Fletcher said.
The Flyers are likely in the latter group of teams. They have their “straightforward” protection list set for the Expansion Draft and a trade now may complicate things.
“A lot of chatter,” Fletcher said. “But from our standpoint, we certainly aren’t going to be making a trade today or tomorrow unless something unexpected breaks right now.”
While the Expansion Draft may be delaying some action, it doesn’t change the ultimate goal of the offseason.
“This summer to me is similar to every summer, every offseason. The goal is to be as competitive as we can next year and yet we want to make sure we keep a large quantity of future assets that can continue to help us get better as we move forward,” Fletcher said. “We’re looking at everything.”
An exciting two weeks for Fletcher and the Flyers
Fletcher spoke about the “exciting time” that the Expansion Draft, NHL Entry Draft, and free agency is and will be.
“It’s an exciting time in a sense that with the Seattle Expansion Draft. With the flat cap. You might see maybe a few more trades, a few more hockey trades, throughout the week,” he said. “The draft is always an exciting time.”
It should be a whirlwind couple of weeks.
“I think it’s just the timing of everything between the Expansion Draft, the entry draft following that a few days later, and then the start of free agency,” Fletcher said. “We have all the big events that may involve player movement really happening within literally a 10 or 12-day period.”
The Expansion Draft is July 21st. The NHL Draft begins with Round 1 on July 23rd. Free agency opens on July 28th. As those events happen, the action around the NHL should pick up exponentially.
“Over the next two weeks, my guess is when the majority of player movement that happens this summer will take place.”
After that, there won’t be as much out there. By August 1st the large majority of moves will already be made.
“Once you get past the first day of free agency, the amount of players that are available and amount of cap spaces that available will probably be much more limited,” Fletcher said. “I think there’s pressure in the sense that if you have moves that you want to make, this is when you got to try to make them.”
Will Chuck Fletcher use or trade Flyers’ 13th overall pick?
The Expansion Draft next Wednesday night will open up activity and the NHL Draft next Friday night should be a hotbed for potential moves.
The Flyers currently hold the 13th overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. If they want to be a contender in “win-now” mode, they need to trade the pick. But the Flyers aren’t set on that just yet. That could be in order to not show their cards and keep leverage, or they could legitimately be split on the decision.
Nevertheless, the Flyers should be able to use the 13th pick to acquire a high-quality player. Either in the draft or in a trade.
“It’s a really good asset,” Chuck Fletcher said. “If we use our first-round pick to select a player obviously we’re going to be able to draft a high-quality player that’ll help us. But yet, because it’s a high asset value, we have to explore what we can do with it.”
Fletcher is “more willing to look at moving it” in an offseason like this. Not only are the Flyers in a position where they need a few roster upgrades, but the COVID-impacted seasons make the draft even more uncertain. Some players didn’t even play last season. Others played, but teams may not have scouted them as they usually would.
“If there’s some way we can help our team not just in the short term but over several years, over the longer term, and it costs me the first-round pick –– If I can get that type of asset I’ll certainly look at doing it.”
Fletcher isn’t set on moving the pick for a certain position, though. If he trades the pick, it’ll just need to be a player that helps the franchise move in the right direction.
“If you’re going to move the 13th overall pick either by itself or as part of a package, you better be getting a really good player that can help you for a few years,” he said. “I’m not sure that it has to be position-specific, but certainly, you want to make sure you’re getting a good player that can help you in the short and long term.”
“It was just ridiculous how many goals we gave up last year”
The Flyers were the worst defensive team in the league last season. They allowed a league-high 197 goals in 56 games for an average of 3.52 per game. This came on the heels of one of the Flyers’ best defensive years in recent memory when they allowed 191 goals in 69 games, just 2.77 goals per game.
That starts with goaltending and defense, but Fletcher knows that it’s not just one thing.
“I think there’s been a lot of focus on the blue line. To me, the number one priority is our goals against. It was just ridiculous how many goals we gave up last year. That goes back to everything,” Fletcher said. “Goes back to the coaches having a great training camp and using the practice time early in the season to reinforce our systems and our structures. It’s our goaltenders playing better. It’s our defensemen playing better. It’s our forwards managing the puck better.”
Adding one player isn’t going to magically make the Flyers one of the best defensive teams in the league. It’s going to need to be a team-wide and organization-wide effort.
External additions are definitely important, but the players that will return for next season are just as –– if not more –– important.
“We’re gonna need to look at upgrades to our roster, there’s no question,” Fletcher said. “We’re also going to need the players that are returning to play better, in particular without the puck, and structurally we’re going to need our coaches to get our players back in that structure and reinforce the systems.”
Nearly everything went wrong for the Flyers last season and Fletcher needs to address that.
“It’s not just one thing that led us to fall from seventh in the league defensively to the bottom of the pile but you have no chance to win in this league unless you’re at least in the top half of the league defensively,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do.”
Fletcher didn’t shy away from taking the blame either.
“It’s not just one player that’s gonna turn it around,” he said. “It’s everybody, starting with me that has to be much better this year. That has been conveyed to everyone in the organization.”
Fletcher also revealed that there have been some internal personnel moves made over the past two months. We know that Ian Laperriere is the new head coach of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, but that’s just the start.
“We’ve made a lot of personnel moves that we’ll announce in short order. We’ve spent two months doing this stuff so we’ll have a lot of changes to announce in the near future,” Fletcher said. “We’ve worked pretty hard at that. I think we’re in a pretty good position going forward.”
Fletcher knows Flyers have to be much, much better
Fletcher took over the reins from Ron Hextall in December 2018. Hextall started the Flyers’ rebuild in the mid 2010s and it was up to Fletcher to take that next step.
Fletcher helped the Flyers take that next step in the 2019 offseason with a few additions. However, the Flyers fell flat on their face last season.
We can’t be sure which Flyers team is the real one. They were one of the best teams in the league from November 2019 to March 2020, but one of the worst for a large majority of 2021.
The COVID pandemic impacted every team in different ways, and the Flyers struggled more than most with it. But that’s not the only reason the team struggled.
“It’s hard to say for sure what caused some of our young players to not play at the same level. The pandemic would be one logical reason. Maybe expectations for some of them coming off a strong year and just assuming you’ll be able to come back and do the same thing. I do think it certainly is a reason to give pause. I think some of our young players, at least in my opinion, are better than how they performed last year. I think you need to be a little bit careful overreacting to one year, especially one year as crazy as last year was. But yet we know they have to be better. We have to be better.”
“Last year was unacceptable”: Will off-ice improvements lead to on-ice results?
One bad season isn’t going to cause Fletcher to change course, however, even with how poorly the Flyers played at times last season.
“I think we just want to be careful here. We’ve worked hard as an organization for the last seven or eight years to add and draft and develop a lot of young layers,” Fletcher said. “It’s kind of been the focus of the franchise going back to 2014 probably. You gotta be a little bit careful that you don’t change course and start moving by good young players that maybe struggled for a little bit last year. We have to find a way to make them better. We have to get better and we’ll work very hard at that.”
There is still a path to success with some external additions –– as well as much-needed internal improvements. Fletcher and the Flyers have focused on those internal improvements so far this summer.
“We’ve spent, probably get into this later on in the summer, but we’ve spent an awful lot of time this summer looking at our staff, our structures, and I think we’ve made some really meaningful changes and improvements to how we do things. Not just from a coaching standpoint, but from a development standpoint. A scouting standpoint. A data standpoint. I think we’ve put a lot of time and effort this summer into fixing some things off the ice that we think will lead to better on-ice results. We’ve looked at everything.
“Last year was unacceptable,” Fletcher continued. “It’s been a busy offseason behind the scenes and I’m really happy with some of the moves we made. Now we have to find a way to get better on the ice. That’ll be the focus from here on out.”
Fletcher may be happy with some of the moves they made, but it won’t really matter unless they actually help the on-ice product. The Flyers can do whatever they want internally and behind the scenes, but that needs to be shown outwardly as well. The Stanley Cup isn’t awarded to the team that makes the most behind-the-scenes changes in an offseason.
But Fletcher knows that as well. He’s working the phones and can’t have another lackluster offseason. In his first offseason, he stepped up to bring the Flyers the additions they needed to win their first playoff series since 2012. Last year, he stood and watched as opportunities passed him by, only to end up with Erik Gustafsson to help replace Matt Niskanen.
This offseason will be a make-or-break summer for Fletcher and the Flyers.
“There’s going to be hopefully some exciting additions to our club over the next couple months and probably a few moves around the league that you normally wouldn’t see because of expansion and because of the flat cap. We’re going to continue to try to make moves that make us better and we know we have a lot of work ahead of us and we’ll do the best we can.”
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