There was a lot of buzz on Twitter when the Flyers announced that GM Chuck Fletcher would hold a press conference Wednesday morning.
It started with an innocuous tweet from Bill Meltzer:
Have heard thst Chuck Fletcher will hold a state of the team press conference within the week. Date and time TBD.
— Bill Meltzer (@billmeltzer) January 23, 2022
This came mere minutes before my post saying Flyers fans deserve to hear from the organizations executives, in which I mentioned Fletcher would likely speak in one of the three days after the game in New York.
Elliotte Friedman then went on his 32 Thoughts podcast and spent a good 13 minutes minutes talking about the Flyers on the Jan. 24 episode, where he mentioned this impending press conference.
It lit Flyers Twitter ablaze. The fans were out with the torches and pitchforks. I was getting DM’s from fans begging me to ask Chuck all the hard questions that allegedly no one else would ask.
I politely responded to each of them that press conferences are a show 95% of the time, and aren’t meant for the “gotcha” questions or to make anyone look bad – subjects or questioners – but that the info gleaned from a press conference is what is used to gather the real answers in more private conversations between the two sides. I’m still not convinced that they believed me, but…
Anyway, it should be pointed out that this wasn’t a press conference that Fletcher was making himself available for just because his team was in the midst of an historic losing streak. No. He’s the type of GM who likes to offer quarterly updates to the media.
His last press conference was after the 20-game mark. This would be the mid-season one. It was held a couple games later than the actual halfway point just because of how the schedule fell.
The 60-game mark happens to butt up against the trade deadline, so I would expect the next one of these to occur on March 21, and then again, a few days after the season concludes on April 29.
Nevertheless, the winless streak combined with the sharp decline in attendance, and the built up anger and frustration of the fan base, almost made this seem as this was some kind of ‘Come to Jesus’ presser, when in fact it was no such thing.
That said, we were all surprised when Flyers Chairman Dave Scott joined Fletcher at the dais.
My first notion was that this wasn’t the right forum, that he should have done something separate from Fletcher first, and then have Fletcher speak on a different day.
As it turned out, Scott made the right call joining this presser. He sat there for the entirety of it and took the questions we fired at him.
Were all his answers what you wanted to hear? No. But, neither were Chuck’s. Nevertheless, he deserves credit for facing the music.
Below is the transcription of the entire Press conference. I’ll take it question by question (I’ll combine the opening statements together) and tell you what my take is on each response, and maybe try and read between the lines on a few of them.
Yes, this will be long, but hopefully, it’ll be informative. I purposely waited until Wednesday night to write this and publish it for Thursday morning so that we all had time to digest what was said, and I had an opportunity to speak to a few folks privately afterward to get a better sense of what was being said and what the next steps might be for the floundering franchise.
So, without further ado…
(Courtesy Zack Hill, Philadelphia Flyers)
Dave Scott, opening statement
“I’ll start. Good morning, good to see everybody. I just want to say a few words before we get into the Q&A. I don’t want to sugarcoat this. From where I sit, we’re in a terrible spot right now. I can tell you I’m angry, I know our fans are more than angry and the whole organization’s angry. We’re sick of losing. We talk about this every day, we’ve got to figure out how to right the ship. We have a winning culture going back to Ed Snider, which was really instilled in all of us and it’s something I think about a lot lately. When we talk about winning, it’s not just a winning record. It’s winning the Stanley Cup, being a contender. That’s really where we want to go, that’s who we want to be. As I look back to the start of the season, had high hopes, really had high hopes.
I went back and looked at some of my comments from last fall. I think Chuck made some smart moves, I think we put a really strong roster together. Unfortunately, it didn’t pan out for us. If you were to ask me what our No. 1 challenge is today, it’s injuries. It’s not an excuse, but it’s our reality. I can tell you I read that medical report every day, open it up and cringe a little bit. The last time I looked at it, we were 10 just at the NHL level. Ten injuries.
The good news is I think some of that will come back to us. We’re at the halfway point in the season, we’ve got some time. But I can tell you everybody in this organization is waking up every day and really thinking about what we can do to improve this team.
Chuck and I talk daily. It’s been a good partnership – the front office support, the coaching staff, really all of our hockey people, we’re all thinking long and hard about it.
I just want to address our fans for a second and really just say I’m sorry, you deserve so much better than what we’re dealing with right now. This isn’t what anybody signed up for. I can tell you we’re determined to right the ship here and get it right and looking forward to the future.”
Chuck Fletcher, opening statement
“I just might add one quick thing I guess a little bit off that topic. I just think it’s really important that we commend and congratulate Keith Yandle on an incredible accomplishment. To play that many games in a row, particularly in that position, going back for pucks, you’re getting hit, you’re blocking shots, the COVID era, it’s just remarkable that he was able to not only play that many games, but I think he’s one of the leading scoring defensemen during that time period. It’s an incredible accomplishment and certainly one bright spot in a pretty tough time right now.”
SCOTT: “That was nice, and seeing Mayhew last night was another.”
FLETCHER: “Yeah. Yeah.”
Take: Kudos to Scott for coming out and directly saying all the things here in his opening statement that needed to be said. Saying things like he’s angry and that he’s sick of losing and apologizing to the fans, telling them they deserve better than what the franchise has been giving them was an absolute necessity and he nailed it. 100 percent. He even reference the winning culture of Ed Snider and how that they needed to get that back. This was a leadoff home run for Dave. Fans might say this was disingenuous, but saying that would be unfair. If he didn’t say what he said, fans would criticize him for not saying anything. He did what he needed to do right off the bat.
I felt Chuck could have found a time later in the presser to congratulate Keith Yandle. It’s deserved, sure, but he has been a bit of a lightning rod for fans and the only streak the fans care about is the winless one. It was just an awkward place for this.
We could have done without the Gerry Mayhew reference, Dave. He’s just an AHL guy who scored a goal in the 13th consecutive loss. Nothing to get excited about. It was almost a home run trot where you missed touching home plate. Fortunately you didn’t wax poetic there.
Q: What is the status of Sean Couturier and Ryan Ellis and do you expect them to play again this year?
FLETCHER: “I think they’re both working hard. I think it could go either way with both players. There’s a chance that they could come back this year and there’s a chance that they will need procedures that will take them out for the rest of the season. We’re trying to do everything we can to avoid surgery in both cases. Yet, having said that, the most important thing for me, my direction to the players and to the medical staff is at this point, we have a long road ahead of us this year. Let’s get these guys right for next year. If that allows them to get healthy this year and play, great, but the focus has got to be on their long-term health. Speaking with the doctors and our medical people, we do not feel these injuries are career-threatening at all. But they certainly could be season-threatening as we all have seen.”
Take: Fletcher doesn’t really want to see these guys back this season. What’s the point? He even said it in his response. “Let’s get these guys right for next year.” There’s no doubt that’s the best course of action. The only caveat is maybe, MAYBE you want to see Ellis play 15-20 games with Ivan Provorov to see if it improves Provorov’s game which has declined greatly this season. Otherwise, there’s no reason to risk further injury to two core players for the 2022-23 team.
Q: Where do things stand with Claude Giroux as far as waiving his no-movement clause?
Fletcher “I spoke with (Giroux’s agent) Pat Brisson yesterday. We speak two-to-three times a month generally. We have a few other clients of his on our roster, so I have a very good relationship with Pat and I think a great relationship with G.
“I think the best way to put it, first of all, I think Bob Clarke is probably the best player in franchise history. Once we get beyond Bob Clarke, there’s been some great players: Billy Barber, Bernie Parent, (Eric Lindros), Simon Gagne, Brian Propp, you could go on and on. I think Claude is certainly right in that group. Eric Desjardins, I shouldn’t forget him. He’s right in that group, he’s one of the best Flyers to ever play. He’s our captain, he’s been our best player this year. Nobody cares more about the Flyers than he does.
“I think we have to recognize what we’re dealing with here, he’s a franchise icon, his jersey’s going to be in the rafters, to me he’s a Hall of Fame player. Claude has a no-move (clause) in his contract. Ultimately that’ll be his decision. We’re at the halfway point, we’re two months to the trade deadline. I guess the best way to put it is we’ll continue to have conversations and ultimately a decision will have to be made one way or the other. It’ll be Claude’s decision.”
Take: Chuck doesn’t want to start this clock yet publicly. And everyone is in lockstep with that. That includes Giroux and Brisson. He knows there are salary cap implications for any team trying to trade for Giroux and that starting that conversation now, will bring less of a return. Together, Fletcher and Brisson will work through a list of teams that Giroux would be willing to play for and find a deal that makes the most sense for the Flyers. A lot of people have mentioned Colorado. I’m not as convinced of that. I think he could go to Minnesota (who has the cap room) or St. Louis (to play for former coach Craig Berube). I also expect the return to be substantial. Two draft picks, including a first rounder. A current NHL player and a prospect. It may seem like a lot for a rental, but Giroux is likely going to be the best player available at the deadline, so Fletcher will have competitive offers. And yes, Giroux already has a list. It’s just not public.
Q: Is this an indication that at the deadline you will be in rebuild mode where you will look to move veteran guys and the team gets a makeover?
FLETCHER: “Everything’s on the table. We’re going to try to aggressively retool here. The trade deadline typically, as you all know, the teams that are clearly going to make the playoffs are often looking to add guys on expiring contracts. The teams that aren’t making the playoffs have a chance to maybe add some future assets whether they’d be draft picks or prospects. You do get the occasional hockey trade at the trade deadline, but we’re at the 43-game mark, right now we’re really focused on trying to win some games and get better. The math is daunting, so in view of that, if this continues, then clearly we’re going to look to do what we can at the trade deadline to improve this team going forward.”
Take: Yes. The Flyers will look to trade. Probably all of their UFA’s (we’ll get to Rasmus Ristolainen later). Grioux, Martin Jones, Derick Brassard, Justin Braun, even Yandle and Nate Thompson might be in play, if he can get back healthy by then. Could other players go too? Yes. But it’s more likely that Chuck lays ground work for trades of players who may still be under contract so that he can wheel and deal just before or at the draft this summer. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two of Travis Konecny, Provorov and Travis Sanheim are discussed and eventually moved.
Courtesy Zack Hill, Philadelphia Flyers
Q: Has it reached a point where major changes have to be made and it’s more of a rebuild approach?
Fletcher: “Look, I don’t think there’s any question we need more top-end talent. Claude Giroux is our best offensive hockey player, he’s 34 years old, he was drafted 16 years ago. We have some good young players. And some of those young players, their career arc is still going to play out. But we do need more top-end talent, there’s no question. We’ve tried to address that a bit the last few years, adding some players with some skill sets that we need. We just have to continue to chip away at that. But I do believe there’s a group of players here that can be part of a winning core. But we definitely need to add more pieces and that will be the focus going forward.”
Q: Is the only way to get that top-end talent to bottom out and get high draft picks?
FLETCHER: “The easiest way to get top-end talent is through the draft, historically that’s been proven year after year. Bottoming out? I don’t think that’s what we feel we need to do. I do believe we have good pieces. Realistically, players like Couturier and Ellis are going to come back at some point. When they come back, we’re a significantly better hockey team. But we need to take advantage of the opportunities that we do have in the draft, we have to look at trades and you can always supplement your roster through free agency. Look, we need more top-end talent and the draft is the easiest way. But we’re not going to trade all 20 players on our team and try to get 15 picks every year. I don’t think that’s the right approach.”
SCOTT: “Let me just add, too. I don’t really see this as being a 3, 4, 5 year rebuild at all. I don’t think Chuck does, either. We have a pretty good core, I think it really starts with a healthy Coots and (Kevin) Hayes, (Joel) Farabee, we’d love to have Ellis back. We’ve got a core group to build on. I think as we look at the reality of it, two, three pieces we’d be great. Maybe a little more.
“But the core is good. We’ve just got to get healthy. Our job is to make sure Chuck’s got all the resources he needs to make this a success, and he does. I can tell you, everything’s on the table. We’re looking at the front office, we’re looking at the coaching staff which we have been. Our players, investment. Whatever we need to do to improve this team. But I don’t see it being a 3, 4, 5 year thing. We should get this thing right, we should be in it next year.”
Take: This was a wild combination of answers. Chuck openly admits that the best place to get high-end talent is through the draft. Of course it is. Hit on your picks, develop your players properly, let them grow in your system, and they are yours for awhile. But, he’s also right that bottoming out is not an option. The Flyers don’t want to wait 10 years (See: Colorado Avalanche). Hell, Scott doesn’t even want to wait three, four or five. He’s ready to go back at this next season! Now, everyone is going to freak out by this. Everyone is going to think, “it’s more of the same,” and I get that. But, it doesn’t have to be. The Flyers are projected to have about $14 million in cap space going into next season. That could go up depending on if the cap goes up slightly. In addition, a trade of another salary and potentially buying out the last year of James van Riemsdyk’s contract, could get the Flyers close to $20 million under the cap. And there are some really good players who could hit the open market next season. Sign a couple of them, make a hockey trade with one of the aforementioned players still under contract, and get a player or maybe two who will be useful next season through trades at the deadline, and all of the sudden, you’ve flipped over half your team in one off season and maybe can compete. All this while likely landing a top 5-7 pick in the draft this season. Chuck and Dave are right. There is talent here you can build around without bottoming out. The question is, can Chuck get the job done? Hearing Scott mention talking about front office changes and coaching changes makes you think Fletcher is going to have a new voice working with him in some capacity. And the Flyers are going to pursue a coach that can motivate this bunch. But man, if they fail they risk making things even worse before they can get better. It’s a gamble, but one probably worth taking.
Q: With coaching, if you have a guy who’s been in the top 10 in wins in Alain Vigneault and he couldn’t get this back on track, Mike Yeo has experience… what kind of coach are you looking for to steer this back in the right direction?
SCOTT: “I think I’ll let Chuck answer that. I think it’ll be a long-term move, and we’ll have a lot of good options. Now, we feel Mike’s holding a very difficult hand. I’m proud of him. He shows up positive every day, but as we look longer, I don’t know, Chuck? We’ve got some good options if we’re thinking about long-term.”
FLETCHER: “Yeah. We’ll see how the rest of the season plays out here. The best time to make those decisions is in the summer, the offseason, when you’re not burdened with the daily grind of games and practices, so you can objectively look at what you need to do as a team.
“Mike’s been dealt a tough hand. He’s doing the best he can. I’ve actually seen progress in some areas in terms of neutral zone, defensive zone. We’re giving up less. Unfortunately, right now, it seems like we make some egregious, big mistakes at the wrong time, and right now we aren’t able to generate enough offense to overcome those. But we’ve seen progress, and we’re going to have an opportunity here. We only have two road games, I believe, between now and March 10, we have a lot of practice days, we have opportunities to hopefully reintegrate some of the injured players back into the lineup.
“As we look ahead here, the goal is to win some games the rest of the way, stabilize here, become a better team. But I can’t state enough how important the next few months will be for some of our young players. It’s just not realistic to go out, as I mentioned earlier, to reinvent the team. You can’t replace 20 players every year. We have some young players up right now that are getting an opportunity right now to play in the NHL, probably because of injury, we also have some young players that are in the American League, we have a couple young players that unfortunately are injured, but over the next eight weeks, this is an unbelievable opportunity for these players to show what they can do, and show us.
“Maybe some of the answers to what we’re looking for are here in-house, and that’s what you hope. That’ll certainly be one of the areas of focus here as we go forward.”
Take: O.K., so not surprisingly, the current coaching staff is done at the end of the season. Dave basically put that out there. Chuck really didn’t want to take that hot potato once Dave passed it and immediately switched to the players and talked about using the remainder of the season as an evaluation period. Nevertheless, the Flyers will pursue a new coach in the offseason. From what I’m told, Dave Scott wants a name – like a John Tortorella – while Fletcher may want to go in a different direction – like Jim Montgomery. It’s also worth waiting to see how things play out in St. Louis. Unlike the Flyers, the Blues have a hard budget, and they are only willing to pay so much for a coach. Craig Berube’s contract is up, and after winning a Stanley Cup, he wants to get paid. I’m hearing St. Louis may not be willing to meet his demands. Which will make for an interesting soap opera of it’s own – what if Berube wins another Cup with the Blues – they almost HAVE to pay him, no? But what if they don’t, and like Barry Trotz did after he won the Cup in Washington, heads for greener pastures, with green the operative word. Is it worth waiting to see how that might play out? I would. Ultimately, I don’t think St. Louis will let him walk away, but it does happen, and I’d keep an eye on that first and foremost before any other option is considered.
Q: Dave, how concerned are you about the dwindling attendance and what message do you have to the fans out there?
SCOTT: “When you’re not winning, you don’t have a good product on the ice, it’s going to impact attendance. We’re feeling it, I’m feeling for the fans. You’ve got team performance, you’ve also got COVID protocol. Philadelphia’s very tough with its vaccination (requirement), that’s impacting attendance. It’s impacting the Wings, it’s impacting the Sixers. It doesn’t help the cause. But bottom line is we have to get better, we have to figure out how to win games.”
Take: The first part of this answer is spot on. The second part… not so much. The 76ers are NOT struggling to put butts in seats. They rank second in the NBA in home attendance, only to the Chicago Bulls. Now, they aren’t filling over 20,000 seats a night. This is tickets sold. But they are easily getting about 6,000 more fans per night, if not more, attending their games than the Flyers, so COVID and the vaccination requirement only holds so much water – and really, not much at all. This is where Dave and his team need to look at how to mend the relationship with their fans. I asked about this later.
Courtesy Zack Hill, Philadelphia Flyers
Q: Chuck, you just brought in a new assistant, was there a reason why there was such a delay from when the others left to now?
FLETCHER: “Just part of the process. We spoke to some different people who were offered an opportunity to come in and coach for the rest of the season with no promises beyond that. I’m actually very thankful for John Torchetti coming in, to be honest with you, helping Mike and (me) right now, I think it’s great. Some people aren’t interested in two-month opportunities, to move away from their family with no promises. But it took a little bit of time. We’d just gone through a stretch of eight games in 13 days, where you’re literally just trying to make sure you have enough time to make the right decision.
“John’s a lifer, this is a man who I’ve worked with before. He’s technically very savvy, he’s run power plays, he’s run PK, he’s been an interim head coach, he’s coached in the American League, coached in the ECHL, coached in Russia. He’s done everything. I think he’ll really help Mike and the coaching staff and the players.
“Part of what I mentioned earlier is that we have a handful of players that are in the NHL right now that maybe typically wouldn’t be, and so we’re also in addition to preparing for games and trying to win games, you’re also developing in the NHL, which is not a usual thing. John’s great at that area. So we appreciate him coming in and offering to help us.”
Q: Following up on that, is he in COVID protocol now?
FLETCHER: “Yes, he is. That kind of sums things up right there.”
SCOTT: (laughing) “It’s the usual.”
Q: Do you know his status? When he’ll be cleared?
FLETCHER: “(We) grabbed him at the airport, and two hours later, he was in COVID protocol. You can’t make this stuff up. Hopefully he’ll be a candidate to coach Saturday. It’s kind of right around that.”
Q: Will he run the power play?
FLETCHER: “That will be up to Mike. Mike can address it. I think he’s looking at a different way. He’ll certain lighten Mike’s workload. Darryl (Williams) and Nick Schultz have done a great job, too. But this is adding one more guy with experience – a guy who will really help this situation by having more hands on deck.”
Take: I mentioned this on Twitter after the hiring was announced, and Fletcher confirmed this – Torchetti is doing him and Mike Yeo a favor by coming in for a few months. Is it conceivable he can be considered to stick around after that? Sure, but it’s unlikely, because if you are hiring a new coach, they’ll likely want input into their staff. I do know the Flyers were keen on former Colorado Avalanche and Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Adam Foote, but considering the uncertainty of the Flyers coaching situation, mutually agreed the timing wasn’t right. Don’t be surprised though if the Flyers don’t revisit that possibility as part of a new coaching staff moving forward.
Q: How much has the lack of development of young players put you in this position where you can’t compete on the ice?
FLETCHER: “Well, we can’t compete. Certainly, right now, we’re not competing. I think I would argue, you know, I think on Nov. 20, we had a .600 points percentage. So I don’t think our process was great. I don’t think we were playing the right way, meaning we didn’t have the puck enough. There were certain things we wanted to change. But we were hanging around a playoff spot. So I think this team, right now, obviously, everything’s going wrong. I get it. It’s unacceptable. We’re working at it every day.
“But we have some good young players. I mean, sometimes young players don’t develop because they’re not talented enough. And sometimes they don’t develop because you don’t put enough resources in. I can tell you that thanks to Dave, we doubled the size of our development staff last year. And it’s a little bit like gardening. You plant seeds in the ground. It might take a year or two to see the fruits of that.
“We’ve invested a lot of money in every area, including player development, in the last few months. We’re doubling the size of our analytics department. We just named Alyn McCauley director of player personnel, and we’ve added to our pro staff, we’ve added to our amateur staff. We’ve overhauled our strength and conditioning department last summer.”
“So this is my third full season here. We’ve made an awful lot of changes, in many cases adding to the existing staff. We’ve massively increased our budget. And hopefully, as we go forward here, we’re gonna have personnel in place to make sure that we properly develop every player that we draft.”
Q: But is the talent there?
CF: “I mean, that’s a pretty broad question. Joel Farabee? Absolutely the talent’s there. I mean, we can go through player by player, it’s no different. When you draft, some players hit, some players don’t hit. And, you know, we, as I mentioned earlier, I think there’s no question we need more top-end talent. But we have a lot of good hockey players. We have a pretty good core here. And time will tell.
“My first draft here, and I say that just because I wasn’t in the room when it happened for a lot of these past drafts. I can tell you I’ve read all the reports from our scouts from 2014 on. I know what everybody felt. I know where we were right, where we were off. But I wasn’t in the room when these decisions were made because there were certain players when they were picked.
“From 2019 on I can tell you, the first player we took was Cam York. We drafted him because we really felt we needed another puck-moving defenseman, a guy that could retrieve and help on the power play. Kind of one of these modern-age, new-aged defensemen. He’s 21 years old, he’s already making an impact on our team. Our second- and third-round pick from that draft are still in college. The 2020 Draft, 2021 Draft, obviously it’s hard to tell.
“So I can tell you this. I believe our scouts do a hell of a job. And you know, I like the process we have in place, and I believe we will be able to find good talent going forward.”
Take: This was Chuck doing a much more subtle version of Bob Clarke. But he’s basically saying the same thing – he wasn’t in the draft room when his predecessor Ron Hextall made certain picks for the Flyers, many of whom in the higher rounds, have not hit. And while you aren’t going to hit on every one, you’re batting average needs to be a lot higher in rounds 1 and 2 then the rest of the draft. There were too many misses between 2014-2018 that are impacting the team now. The players that Chuck and his group have drafted, since 2019, will impact the Flyers either positively or negatively from 2022-2025, so there’s a wait-and-see element there. But, he’s insisting that all the changes that were made to the staff and building up resources and investments made in the modern game of hockey should start to pay dividends sooner rather than later. I’m not completely bought in on that notion – that a massive analytics department will be able to develop formulas to accurately determine the output of an 18-year-old kid when he grows into his body and plays as an adult in the NHL – but I’m willing to see if works, despite my skepticism.
Q: Dave, in the meantime, while the retooling process is taking place, what can the organization do to try and bring fans back and be excited about the direction of the team going forward?
SCOTT: “Yeah, I mean we have to continue to communicate with our fans. Valerie Camillo runs the business side there. And we’re trying to do everything and more. Another area we’re investing in. But, you know, my job, again, is to provide Chuck and Valerie with resources. And I’m — that’s what I’m doing.”
Take: Yeah, this was my question, and no, I didn’t love the answer. I didn’t like that Dave mentioned Valerie – almost as if this is her responsibility. He mentioned that it’s an area the organization is investing in – which I assume is fan engagement. But, without specifics, I can’t doubt anyone for being skeptical to this answer. If he’s providing Valerie the resources needed, here’s a suggestion – tell us what those resources are going to? What programs? How are you intending to improve fan engagement and excitement? I’m curious, of course, but so are the fans. We’d love to hear it. Let me know if you want to outline it, and I’d be happy to share it with the masses.
Q: With multiple players getting injured, coming back and then getting reinjured, should you look at your medical staff and whether you are taking a wrong approach to injuries and it’s hurting the team?
FLETCHER: “Yeah, well, clearly we do that at the end of every season. And, again, we’re kind of midstream here. So it’s difficult to have that full season autopsy that you normally do. A lot of this stuff, we’ll have to do at the end of the year where we’re going. But clearly, it’s an area we’re going to look at.
“We’ve had conversations with the doctors. I don’t know that players have come back too soon. Um, you know, there’s been a little bit of bad luck, I guess. A couple of these injuries are a little complicated where the player feels pretty good and then gives it a try and something can re-aggravate it. So, well, look, certainly it’s been tough. And you’re right. There has been re-occurrence in a couple of cases, and that’s something you want to avoid.
“So, again, as I said, everything’s on the table. We’re definitely going to look at it. Just, in-season here, there’s only so much you can kind of do in the moment. But the questions are being asked, and certainly we’ll dig into it as we go forward.”
Q: Is there a line in the sand point, with Couturier and Ellis that you decide NOT to try to get them back this season and to just get the surgery so they’re ready next season?
FLETCHER: There’s an element of that, but I think the biggest element is just what’s best for the player. I mean, in a lot of cases, surgery should be the last resort. You’re not rushing to have guys get surgery. If there’s a way to allow the player to heal without surgery, that’s what we’re exploring. But, you know, ultimately, your hope is that if surgery does happen that it doesn’t impact next year. We’re not at that point with either player. But the driving force behind everything we do right now is doing what’s best for the player and try to get them back without surgery if we can avoid it.”
Take: This is a tricky question. I know it’s easy to question the medical staff or the training staff when players re-injure themselves in a place where a previous injury took place or one in a spot where they recently recovered. Hayes is the most damning, because his injuries did seem to recur with non-contact. Ellis, Couturier and Brassard are all in the same general vicinity. But some guys have just had bad luck. Farabee’s shoulder injuries both occurred on awkward hits into the boards, You can’t pin that on the medical staff. Ditto Wade Allison suffering an ankle, an elbow and now a knee injury. Sometimes, you just get a bad break. This is not meant completely absolve the Flyers of anything as far as injuries, but it’s also a reminder that we are talking about professional athletes playing a contact sport. Sometimes, shit happens. You just have to accept that.
Q: Chuck, how do you evaluate the Rasmus Ristolainen trade at this point, and moving forward?
FLETCHER: Well, when we traded for him — look. Clearly, I paid a big price. I recognize that. It’s difficult to get physical defenseman, never mind physical right-shot defenseman. There were other teams that were offering similar type of packages to ours. And we had the highest pick, so we got him. And I recognize we paid a big price. I mentioned earlier, we need more top-end talent. I also think we need, you know, some bigger, more competitive people, too. You look at that game last night. The Islanders are a big, heavy team, and we had our hands full. So we need to do a better job in competing in that area. As we go forward, Ristolainen can certainly be part of the six-man defense core and bring an element that not a lot of people have.
“The goal when we traded for him was to keep him. And obviously, he’s a pending UFA. He will control a lot of that discussion, and we’ll work with his representation to see what makes sense.”
Take: The Flyers want to keep Ristolainen. I’ve been told that. But, they also want him to be a bit more affordable than he and his agent seem to be requesting. The Flyers will likely let this one play down to the last minute, like they did with Scott Laughton last season, and then will either decide to trade Ristolainen or sign him. So, the ball is in Rasmus’ court here. He can choose which path he wants to take.
Q: Danny Briere was a candidate for the GM job in Montreal. Do you see him taking on a bigger role in management here?
FLETCHER: “Yeah. We’ve had a lot of good conversations with Danny and certainly during the process when he was interviewing with Montreal, we were communicating a lot. Brent and I were trying to help a bit. It was a great opportunity for Danny. But Danny, obviously he’s been president of the Maine franchise. A couple years ago, in the 2020 draft, Danny looked at a lot of the potential first-rounders and worked with Brent on kind of that area we were looking at when we drafted Tyson Foerster, so he’s been involved then. He’s been involved with player development this year. He’s been on the bench with Lappy. I think moving forward here, he’s gonna have a much bigger role in hockey ops.
“He’s a guy, to me, great, obviously knows the game, played the game, great personality. Very good evaluator of players and I think there’s a lot he can add to our group. Again, he has been involved in a lot of the decisions. He’s sat in pretty much every big meeting we’ve had the last two years. So I’ve enjoyed working with him and hopefully something that can transition to even a bigger role with us going forward.”
Take: Danny’s even doing some amateur scouting now. They’ve pretty much turned him into the Hockey Ops Swiss Army Knife, which is great. I expect Briere to get a big title with responsibility. Whether he’s an assistant GM, the GM of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, or even some new title combining multiple jobs, like Assistant Director of Player Personnel. The Flyers were afraid they were going to lose him to the Canadiens. They’re thrilled they didn’t and now realize he needs a bigger role so some other team doesn’t come in and swoop him up .
Q: In terms of talent evaluation, what was here before [at the end of Ron Hextall’s tenure]? Is it tough to come up with creative ways to work on roster considering some player or prospect limitations?
FLETCHER: “That’s the job of every general manager. I came here, accepted this job. I knew the pluses and minuses, every team has them. I can just tell you… I’ll just go back to the drafts we’ve had since I’ve been here.
“If you look at what we’ve tried to do, I think Cam York, we really felt we needed another defenseman that could move the puck. I still think that’s one of the areas of our game that we need the most work on. Our retrievals, our transition. We don’t get out of the D zone quickly and cleanly enough for my liking and we defend too much. It’s hard to score goals when you’re defending.
“Cam York is a guy I think can really help in that regard. If you look after that, trying to find some creative offensive players. We drafted Bobby Brink. Undersized guy. Tremendous heart. Competitor. Hockey sense. Tyson Foerster. Big shot. Trying to find … we don’t have enough shooters in my mind, part of the reason we got Cam Atkinson. Trying to find some shooter-scorers instead of guys trying to make plays all the time. He’s a guy that can complement our group really well and even last year, with Tuomaala. I traded our first-round pick, but Samu is a guy that if he hits, he’s got quickness, the shot, and the offensive skill. He’s got things he has to work on to play. But we’ve tried to add some talent, some guys that have a chance to hit. Even some of our later picks.
“Not every player makes it, but we’re trying to find talent and I think every team in the league is trying to do that. And yet, we also need some big, physical guys, too. So there’s a balance. But we’re pursuing that. We’ll continue to pursue that and we’ll continue to work with this group.
“We have some good young talent on our team. Kids like Farabee amd Konecny, those are two of the better young forwards in the league. Lots of skills. I’m hopeful Morgan Frost can continue to take a step. He’s a young man, I think the last three games have probably been his best. He’s still a work-in-progress. But coming off missing a whole year, he’s a guy that has a chance to play and bring the skillset that we need. And then that’s, he’s one of the players that has a great opportunity here in the next couple months to impress upon us and maybe be a part of the solution next year so we don’t have to buy one more player in free agency.
“So there’s parts here that we’re hopeful about and we’ll just continue to grow the group.”
Take: Again, my question. Again, not really answered. But this time, Chuck did take us on a journey and identified how his own drafting process works, and talked about some elements that are still missing from the team. You can rest assured that these are the types of players he will be looking for – another swift, puck moving defenseman, some more heavy, physical forwards and guys who will shoot the puck. I would say those aren’t just draft targets, these are also targets for trades and free agency. It was also, I believe, one last chance for Morgan Frost. He’s definitely played better the last three games, but otherwise hasn’t been good. It was interesting to hear Chuck say, hopefully he can show us the improvement we need so we don’t have to buy him a replacement in free agency. But man that sounds like a fingers crossed proposition. The spotlight will be on Morgan. If he doesn’t impressive enough, the Flyers will move on from him.
Q: Dave, there’s a perception among a segment of the fan base, among some Alumni, that the current organization is too disconnected from Ed Snider era. How do you see it? Do you sense that out there? Is it fair?
SCOTT: “I feel if you talk to people inside of the organization now, I think it’s been pretty stable for a couple years now, whether it’s on the business side. I’ve had Valerie Camillo, she’s in her fourth year. She’s a terrific executive. She’s built a great team. Chuck’s been here now just about as long, I guess about the same time. So no, I think if you ask anybody in hockey ops, they would say nothing’s changed. Talk to the old timers, people that are still with the organization.
“I think if you’re on the outside looking in, maybe you’re hearing some things and seeing it differently. But with that said, you can always make it better. I want it to be a family atmosphere. I don’t think it’s changed. I mean, I’ve been living it for … I’m in my ninth season here. We just try to build on what Ed started. I will say this, Comcast has been the same terrific partner to me that they were to Ed. Comcast has been in this thing for 26 years, the controlling partner.”
Q: Is Comcast committed to keeping the Flyers? No plans to sell?
Scott: “Absolutely. No. No (plans to sell). We’re headquartered here. We have a lot of sports content throughout the company and this is something that everybody gets excited about.”
Q: With another coaching change likely at the end of this season, at what point do you look above that, at your management structure? At your GM and his staff?
SCOTT: “I mean, right now, Chuck is my guy. We’re trying to build around that. Strengthen our front office as much as we can. But we’ve made a lot of positive changes that way. I’m excited about that. I feel like, personally, I’m surrounded by great hockey people. We’ve got our four advisors (Bob Clarke, Paul Holmgren, Dean Lombardi and Bill Barber). We’ve got Chuck and his staff, Brent Flahr. We’ve got deep bench of talent on the hockey ops side. I feel like I’m not lacking anything at this point.”
Take: While the “Right Now” is going to be the words most people focus on, it does seem like Dave is being sincere that he is committed to Chuck as the GM. But, I have a feeling there is something being left out here. Could the Flyers go to a structure similar to what they have in Pittsburgh with Brian Burke and Hextall? Or the same as the Phillies with Dave Dombrowski and Sam Fuld or the Sixers with Darryl Morey and Elton Brand? I would not be surprised if that is a thing later this season or in the offseason.
Q: Chuck, have you ever had a season like this before?
FLETCHER: “It’s been a disappointing season. We’re in a tough conference. It’s a tough league. Our goal was to be in the playoff hunt and be a good hockey team. We haven’t been. There have been a lot of factors. Injuries are a part of it. But other teams have had injuries and they’ve been able to get through it.
“So it’s been extremely disappointing because this is the biggest disconnect I’ve ever felt in my opinion of where we should be and where we are. Obviously, I’m the guy in charge. That falls on me. Right now, we are what we are. My mindset is, now, there are going to be opportunities to get better. We have to take advantage of it. We can’t undo what’s been done.
“First, we need to find a way to get a win. We need to take the temperature down. We need to get a good environment back around here so we can make objective, smart decisions.
“There will be opportunities to improve the team. There’ll be an opportunity for young players to show what they can do. We’ll have some time here to get this back on track. There’s no question. I’ve been through tough stretches other places. This is definitely the toughest I’ve ever been through – and the biggest disappointment.”
Take: This is a pretty straightforward and honest answer from Chuck. You can see it on his face. He is living this season and it’s affected him.
Q: Chuck you’ve mentioned injuries being an issue. Other teams have dealt with injuries. COVID was an issue with this team. Other teams have dealt with COVID. Why hasn’t this team been as resilient as you would have liked?
FLETCHER: “It’s a good question. With time, maybe we’ll be able to break it down and look at it. We’re in the middle of it right now. We still have half a season and it’s hard to do those type of analyses midstream. But there’s a whole host of factors. We had a pretty good record around Thanksgiving, although I don’t think we were playing to our ability. From that point on, it’s been a freefall. Certainly, again, we’ve had a lot of key guys out of the lineup. Some other players aren’t playing to their capabilities. It’s been tough. Right now, it’s a real tough stretch. I think we have 10 forwards out between Lappy’s team and our team. We’re relatively healthy on defense [but] we don’t have Ellis. We have our goalies. We’ve been decimated up front. We’re struggling to score goals. I still think we need to find ways to score more. Right now, we’re a little thin and certainly not generating a lot of offensive chances. There have been a whole host of reasons. It’s been the biggest disappointment I’ve been through.”
Take: Chuck could have rehashed the whole lack of organizational depth thing here, but didn’t. Because in reality, that’s the difference. Pittsburgh was without four centers and four defensemen for a stretch at the beginning of the season and were still able to remain a .500 team until they got healthy. That’s because they had the depth players to remain competitive and stay afloat while their starters recovered. The Flyers had no such thing. When you consider of the players being called up to fill roster spots on the third and fourth lines, the only ones drafted in the five year span between 2014 and 2018 have been Frost, who hasn’t been great, and Connor Bunnaman – who is what he is. The rest have been AHL lifers, or minor league free agents signed by Chuck. Instead, he took the high road here.
Q: Is it important, being out of the playoff picture to bring up some of the Phantoms guys and get them experience? Specifically, Egor Zamula, and do you weigh that against benching a Yandle, who obviously just set the record?
FLETCHER: “We have six Phantoms guys up here right now. On defense, ideally, players should develop in the American League until they’re ready. Egor is getting better, he’s improving. He’s a young man who needs to get stronger. Needs to get more experience. He has a huge role for Lappy. Lappy is doing a great job with the players down there. We don’t want to rush him. It may happen, but at this stage we want to be sure we are playing and rewarding the right people.”
Take: He’s not ready. Period. And frankly, there aren’t many other Phantoms who are. You might see a couple here and there pop in and out, but the Phantoms are not a good team either, mostly because they lack the talent you need to bounce up and play in the NHL when the big club needs you.
Q: Dave, a few minutes ago, you said Chuck was your guy. Why do you have the confidence that Chuck is the right guy to spearhead this?
SCOTT: “I like the way he’s built this organization. I’ve worked with some of the predecessors. I like Chuck’s style. I think he’s smart. He’s collaborative. I like what we did going into this season. On paper, it looked really solid. Look, injuries happen. No excuses but it did happen. I think we have more than anybody I’ve seen. He deserves a shot to really right this thing. I’m going to give him a blank check. We need to get this right. Whatever we need to do. I don’t want to wait. I want to deal with it now.”
Take: I liked this response from Dave, but man, that blank check line is going to make the rounds:
Dave Scott: "We're going to give a blank check, we're going to get this right…I want it right now." (Every agent starts looking for his phone number)
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) January 26, 2022
Q: Are you satisfied with where the team has been player development wise during your tenure here?
FLETCHER: “I thought we needed more bodies [on the development side]. We doubled the size of our staff. There’s no question we can do better. We’ve added some very good people. We already had good people. But it’s difficult when you only have two people handling 30-odd players, or whatever you have on your reserve list. In the American League, we had one assistant coach, now we have two. Bill Downey has taken on a bigger role. The more people you have, the more players you can touch. We want quality people and we do have good people. Kjell Samuelsson and John Riley have been here a long time, but they’re good development people. But you can only be in one place. You can’t be on the road with Ronnie Attard and with another player somewhere else. We doubled the size of the athletic staff and the development staff. We can do more that way. Get a lot more information. But, clearly, it’s a very big challenge. We’re in a pretty good spot right now and getting better.”
Take: Time will tell here. The Flyers used to be at the forefront of player development in the NHL, but have really fallen off the past seven years or so. It does take time to see the rewards of the changes Chuck has made on this front, so, we’ll see how players develop over the next couple years, but he’s right, having more people in touch with your prospects on a more regular basis makes for better development.”
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