New general manager Chuck Fletcher’s opening press conference on Wednesday came with a bucket of water to dump on the idea that the team was going to come right out guns-a-blazing looking to make trades, which was the message that Paul Holmgren and Dave Scott had sent out to some extent in their media avaiability after the firing of Ron Hextall.
And maybe what Fletcher said was true, and the Flyers are going to take it easy for a while as he grows familiar with the system that’s been built prior to his arrival. But there are also some indications that the pedal may hit the metal sooner rather than later.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek recorded their weekly 31 Thoughts podcast this past Wednesday, releasing it the following day. They touched a bit on the Flyers around the 44-minute mark in the podcast, addressing the team’s willingness to make moves under Fletcher as well as a couple of other tangentially related topics.
Before we dive in here, a quick word: Friedman — arguably North America’s most respected hockey reporter — has stated before how much distaste he has for folks taking words that he just kind of tosses out there and treating them as gospel and hard rumors. So let’s try and make some pretty clear distinctions here in a set of quotes that sounds at times like actual reporting and at times like mere speculation.
With that acknowledged, let’s look at this piece by piece.
FRIEDMAN: The other one I think is really interesting is Chuck Fletcher, had his introductory media conference in Philadelphia today, and a couple of guys were telling me that [Ron] Hextall, as much as Hextall loved Wayne Simmonds — and he loved Wayne Simmonds — he was not willing to give him term. And now I’m curious to see [if] Chuck Fletcher, who I think also has a lot of time for Wayne Simmonds, does he feel differently?
The topic of what to do with Wayne Simmonds is one that’s been percolating around the Flyers for over a year now, as the long-time Flyer’s contract ends after this season and the team hasn’t agreed with him on a contract yet. In his post-firing presser, Hextall said that he and Simmonds “weren’t close” and were “a ways apart” on a new deal. The idea expressed by Friedman that term was a sticking point is not a hard one to believe; Simmonds is already starting to show signs of age, and while he should certainly be looking for a long-term deal, the Flyers would probably be wise to hold their ground and not give him too many years.
The part about whether or not Fletcher may be more open to giving Simmonds a long-term deal seems more speculative than anything else. But it does remind us that a decision on Simmonds is looming, and is one of the first things Fletcher’s going to have to focus in on as GM.
My guess is that even if the Flyers decide that they’re not going to reach a deal on an extension with Simmonds, Scott and Holmgren aren’t going to trade him, not after making a big deal about how the team needs to be better now rather than two or three years from now. I’ve always felt that the idea of “losing a player for nothing” is a bit overblown, particularly on teams that are facially contending to win games and make the playoffs right now, so it wouldn’t be too surprising to see them stand pat and let things play out for a bit longer.
But they may not, which brings us to the next point of the conversation, bolded emphasis mine:
MAREK: Fletcher comes in almost with ... it almost seems as if the job interview was “how aggressive are you going to be at moving players?”
FRIEDMAN: It’s funny, he came out on Monday night in Philly, he spoke to a couple of their beat reporters, I saw Sam Carchidi and Dave Isaac wrote about it, and he was saying, ‘no, you don’t ... I’m going to take my time with Dave Hakstol, I’m gonna take my time with the players and see what I’ve got here’. Meanwhile, all the other teams are telling me at the Board of Governors that the Flyers want to make big trades right away. So, I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going to happen there.
As mentioned there by Friedman, Fletcher came out both in his initial availability on Monday night and his press conference on Wednesday and stated — in, somewhat ironically, an almost Hextall-like fashion — that he wasn’t going to come right in and burn down the house. On its surface, that made some sense: you want the guy making the deals to know how highly he should value the pieces he’s moving in those deals before he goes ahead and makes them. And yet that apparently runs contrary to what Friedman was hearing this past week at the NHL’s Board of Governors meeting.
Let’s make a quick distinction, for those who may be unaware: the Board of Governors consists mostly of team owners and presidents, as opposed to the general managers that are typically the ones pulling the trigger on hockey moves. In other words, these are the people who consider Dave Scott their company.
Given that knowledge, we have to wonder just what the timing is on the moves that the Flyers apparently want to make. Is this what they’d been hearing for weeks or even months, prior to the Hextall firing? Is it what they were hearing that week from Scott himself? The team came right on out after Hextall’s firing and said “we need to get better now”, and Friedman reporting this does suggest that it’s something that ownership has been saying consistently.
Fletcher is apparently going to get some time to evaluate where things currently are on the roster and in the organization, and that’s likely for the best. But whether it’s in a few days, weeks, or months, it does feel as though ownership is going to demand some moves of him at some point in the not-too-distant future, potentially depending on whether or not the team itself can string together some more on-ice success.
Lastly, a minor anecdote about Fletcher’s hiring:
The thing that’s interesting there too is, I heard they interviewed Bill Zito by video conference, and also possibly Dave Nonis by video conference. So we all thought that this was Chuck Fletcher’s job — it really was Chuck Fletcher’s job. If they bring you in in person and they interview the other people on video, chances are you’re the favorite.
So yes, all of the reporting that suggested from the jump that Fletcher was the favorite to win the job was clearly accurate. Reading something like that, you worry a little bit that the team had its mind made up on this before it even got going, and if the Fletcher hiring doesn’t work out, there are going to be questions asked about this. Hopefully it does.