General manager Chuck Fletcher failed so sensationally in the free-agent and trade markets this week that it may actually put the Philadelphia Flyers back on track.
Fletcher is either a genius in trying to tank without saying it — thus putting the Flyers in a great position for the very deep 2023 draft — or he is so bad at his job that he has constructed a team that, on paper, will be irrelevant for the third straight season.
The offense and defense look just as bad as last year’s disaster, one in which injuries played a major factor.
Fletcher is gambling that having centers Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes for a full season (hopefully) will make the Flyers much improved. And that injured defenseman Ryan Ellis will be able to return and play a majority of the games.
Good luck with that.
How does this happen?
Fletcher, who somehow didn’t clear suitable cap space in the last seven months, failed to land a star player, left winger Johnny Gaudreau, who wanted to return home.
When is the last time an elite player, a six-time All-Star, a dynamic forward who was topped in points by just one NHL player last season (Connor McDavid), had the desire to sign here as a free agent?
Fletcher said he simply didn’t have enough cap space, and he would have had to move players he wanted to keep in order to get the needed room.
Yep, general manager have to make tough decisions that they don’t always like. The good GMs get it done.
And, so, here we are. With a roster that is too slow. With the once-proud franchise having no identity. With new coach John Tortorella wondering what the heck he got himself into.
But there were some positives to come out of this Fletcher-created mess.
For one, the Flyers should be near the top of the draft board next year and have a shot at drafting a generational player, speedy center Connor Bedard.
For another, there was Fletcher’s admission Wednesday that the kids will play a lot this season.
Yes, it would have been nice if the Flyers added more quality prospects over the last few days, but it is what it is.
The Flyers will use the the upcoming season to experiment with players, which is good news for Morgan Frost, Noah Cates, Owen Tippett, Wade Allison, Tanner Laczynski, Cam York, and Felix Sandstorm. And maybe even Ronnie Attard, Tyson Foerster, Isaac Ratcliffe, Egor Zamula, Linus Hogberg, Samuel Ersson, and Hayden Hodgson.
“The kids need a chance to play; they need a chance to earn a spot,” Fletcher said. “As an organization, we need to see where they’re at, so we know what we have going forward.”
Cates, Tippett, Allison, and York look like locks to be regulars this season, if healthy. And Frost is probably close to a lock.
Laczynski could earn a regular spot with a strong training camp.
Veterans will mentor
Veterans Couturier, Cam Atkinson, Hayes, James van Riemsdyk, Travis Konecny, Justin Braun, Ivan Provorov, Scott Laughton, Travis Sanheim, and Ellis (if healthy) will mentor the youngsters.
“Our expectations are we’re going to be a much more competitive team next year by stabilizing (things),” Fletcher said.
Added Fletcher: “We’re bringing in a new coaching staff. We’re fixing some things off the ice to help, and, hopefully, avoid some of the repeats of last year.” (Former San Jose assistant Rocky Thompson is reportedly coming on board and will direct the power play.)
The Philadelphia Flyers are coming off a season in which they lost nearly 500 man-games because of injuries or illnesses, a season in which they had the second-worst record in franchise history.
“We want to get to a spot where we have a relatively healthy group of players that are playing the system, playing hard, defending better and giving ourselves a chance to win every night,” Fletcher said. “That’s what I mean by stabilizing.”
Or maybe stabilizing is the code word for tanking.