Chuck Fletcher, the former general manager of the Minnesota Wild, has joined the Flyers at an extremely important time for the organization. Unlike his first few seasons with the Wild where he focused on building the team for the future, there will be a clear focus from the get-go on making the current team more competitive. However, it’s at that point during his tenure in Minnesota where things began to go downhill. Well, maybe not go downhill, but certainly stagnate.
While Fletcher had gathered draft picks, selected a good amount of then-future NHL talents, and made one of the biggest two-player free agency splashes in NHL history, there just wasn’t enough good done in the following years. In an article on the SB Nation Wild site, Hockey Wilderness, they lay out what went wrong in what they refer to as phase III, or rather, lack thereof.
The issue with Fletcher’s plan was that it simply didn’t have a Phase III. The well-executed first phases got Minnesota back into legitimacy and raised the expectations surrounding the team. But once it got to that point, there simply wasn’t anywhere else for Fletcher to steer the organization, as he clearly had no interest in moving on from any of the guys that had gotten him through Phase II and still had upside. Plus, he had dished out too many long-term veteran contracts to be able to significantly improve the roster. So once Phase II was completed, Phase III was essentially to hope that Phases I and II—plus tinkering with a vast variety of individual pieces—were executed so flawlessly that they alone were enough to deliver a championship to Minnesota.
Interestingly enough, that’s the path down which many felt Ron Hextall was taking the Flyers. Rather than addressing team needs, it felt like he was just going to hold out hope that this young core he built through the draft would wind up being enough to take the team all the way. While there’s been a lot of ... interesting ... things coming out of the organization surrounding his departure, his firing was at least partially due to his higher ups not believing that the team he built over the last four years was good enough to get the job done as is.
That’s not where the resemblance of the two situations ends though, in-fact the similarities go much further than that.
An eerily similar roster
On paper, the 2018-19 Flyers look an awful lot like the 2013-14 Wild. That young core in Minnesota also had an older counterpart, which we’ll call the “veteran core.” That veteran core consisted of a 28-year old Ryan Suter, 29-year old Zach Parise, 30-year old Mikko Koivu, and 30-year old Jason Pominville. There’s a reason that might feel a bit familiar to you, as the Flyers current veteran core consists of two 29-year olds, James van Riemsdyk and Jakub Voracek, and two 30-year olds in Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds.
I know what you’re thinking; two teams having four very good players right around 30 years old isn’t odd — but that’s just the beginning. Dig a little deeper into each team’s young core and the parallels grow stronger.
The ‘13-14 season saw the emergence of both Granlund and Nino Niederreiter, the latter of which being acquired in a trade with the New York Islanders in the off-season prior, and the debut of a then 19-year old Dumba. Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon continued to show promise, while Charlie Coyle had his first 30 point season in his sophomore campaign. Fletcher will now be joining a team that has a similar young core, also built around a top-5 pick at forward, and a top-10 pick on the back-end.
The wildest part of all might be that the ‘13-14 Wild ended up using five different goaltenders that season — one of which being Ilya Bryzgalov, who the Flyers are still paying to this day — the same number of goaltenders that the Flyers have used this season thus far. That season also just happened to be year five of Fletcher’s tenure in Minnesota, just as this was year five for Hextall. They had both built just about the same team in the same amount of time.
So to recap, that’s two teams that had a veteran core of four, five young players (six if you include Marco Scandella and Robert Hagg, who could make or miss the future core lists depending on who you talk to) who look to be integral to the team’s future success, and a goaltending situation that can be accurately be described as a mess all occurring in year five of a general manager’s reign. It’s as if Fletcher has gone back in time, this time with the knowledge of how this story ended for him the first time around.
Learning from the past
The first thing for Fletcher to address is the goaltending situation — something he successfully did for the Wild when he acquired Devan Dubnyk four months into the 2014-15 season — because while Carter Hart may be the goalie of the future, this team cannot afford to waste seasons while they still have their older, veteran core intact. With Dubnyk in the fold, the Wild were shaping up to be a real threat in the West. However, Fletcher’s lack of NHL-level trades, and the few he made not turning out the way one would hope, led to disappointing finishes; something he’ll obviously be looking to avoid in Philadelphia.
Following the Dubnyk trade, he went on a two year stretch where the only NHL players he added via a trade were Sean Bergenheim, Chris Stewart, Jordan Leopold, and David Jones. Not exactly the biggest names out there, and three of them, Stewart being the outlier, were traded for in what would be their final NHL season. No disrespect to those players who were generally fine given the role they were expected to play, but that’s two full years of not adding a single player that moved the needle at all. Of course, you can’t ignore the Eric Staal signing smack dab in the middle of that stretch, he clearly moved the needle, but it’s not often that you will end up signing a first line center to a contract with a $3.5M cap hit. Simply put, a repeat of those two years here would be nothing short of unacceptable given the amount of cap space and assets he has to work with.
This is his chance at a redo, and here’s to hoping he makes good use of it.