When the Flyers named Chuck Fletcher to replace Ron Hextall as GM, the buzzwords were “a bias for action”. Team CEO Dave Scott and President Paul Holmgren had grown tired of Hextall’s patient approach and wanted to see the team take steps forward. A lot of fan assumed that meant Fletcher faced a mandate to step in and start making moves.
To be fair, the Flyers did make moves immediately after removing Hextall. Prior to Fletcher being named GM, the team fired assistant GM Chris Pryor and assistant coach Gord Murphy and named Rick Wilson as Murphy’s replacement the day Fletcher was officially hired, and named former Minneosta Wild assistant GM Brent Flahr to a similar role soon after. Then came the removal of head coach Dave Hastol after a disastrous road trip, with Scott Gordon moving up from the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
Assuming that Gordon stays in place for the rest of the season, the only action left is to make roster changes. At this juncture, I’m hoping that Fletcher’s bias for action is to put up a “For Sale” sign and get ready to be active in the summer.
The Flyers currently sit at the bottom of the Metropolitan division. They’re ten points out of the last wild card spot and 11 points out of third place in the Metro. The average number of points to make the playoffs the past three seasons in the East has been 96 points. To get to that point, the 15-17-5 Flyers would need to go on a 28-12-5 tear, and even that doesn’t guarantee a playoff berth. Even more daunting that the number of points they have to make up, is the sheer number of teams they would have to leapfrog. According to www.sportsclubstats.com, the Flyers have a 2.2% chance of making the playoffs.
The situation being what it is, Fletcher’s first step should be to start clearing the brush that Hextall seemed to love to allow to collect on the edges of his roster. There has always been a surplus of veteran presence and “good guys” who were marginal NHLers that both Hextall and Hakstol seemed to overvalue. These marginal veterans haven’t played horribly, at least for the most part, but they are known quantities. A guy like Dale Weise isn’t suddenly going to morph into Rick Tocchet. Andrew MacDonald isn’t going to transform into Marc-Edouard Vlasic after we sing Auld Lang Syne to welcome 2019.
Even if Fletcher can’t trade these guys away (and who knows, because Hextall apparently shot down an offer from the Edmonton Oilers for Brandon Manning last season per Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli), he can waive them or use other means to clear them off the roster and give some youngsters with two or more years of AHL experience longer looks at the NHL level.
After that, Fletcher should start looking at selling off the pending UFAs, such as Wayne Simmonds, Michael Raffl, Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth. Simmonds’ play hasn’t really come back to form after battling a mess of injuries last season, Raffl is a good bottom six winger and given the rash of goalie injuries, there may be a market for one or both of the Flyers veterans as insurance for a contender.
It certainly won’t make Flyers fans happy to see this being yet another wasted season. But at this juncture any moves made in an effort to squeak into the 2019 playoffs would be highly unlikely to have a positive impact on that goal, thus would be a waste of assets. However, if Fletcher uses the rest of this season as a window to evaluate youngsters and has an aggressive summer, the Flyers could easily avoid the hole that Hextall being asleep at the switch this past summer dug them, and use a good start in 2019-20 to springboard them back to the playoffs.
It’s even possible that bringing up players such as Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Philippe Myers and Taylor Leier actually improve the Flyers in the short term. That could be an added benefit of waiting until the summer for bold action.