The Flyers have put themselves in just about an insurmountable position at this point in the season. Through 43 games they have struggled to just 36 points, placing them 30th out of 31 NHL teams and just one point ahead of the lowly Ottawa Senators. If we’re going off last year’s Eastern Conference playoff teams, 97 points was the cut-off to make the second season, meaning the Flyers would have to amass 61 points over their remaining 39 games if that same cut-off were applied to this year. I don’t think I’m bursting anyone’s bubble when I say that doesn’t appear to be in the cards.
Therefore, given these more than dubious odds, one would logically assume it would be time for new GM Chuck Fletcher to transition into a seller mode; begin to transition away from players without a future in the organization and bring along those with potential to make an impact as soon as next season. With players such as Philippe Myers, Mark Friedman and Nicolas Aubé-Kubel banging down the door to the NHL, Misha Vorobyev playing significantly better since his demotion to the AHL and Carter Hart seemingly beginning to settle in at the NHL level, it would make sense to have these players make the jump to the NHL and begin their acclimation now so they can hit the ground running to start the 2019-20 season. And let’s not forget that tiny fact that all three of Paul Holmgren, Dave Scott and Chuck Fletcher have spoken about making moves to improve the team.
So what exactly is Chuck waiting for? I have a few theories in mind.
Working the phones
It’s possible Chuck has been working the phones to try and make a deal. In fact, I think it’s a certainty. What that deal(s) is, I couldn’t say; I’m not nearly important enough to have sources. The point is I’d be shocked to hear he isn’t looking to make a move, or several moves to shake up this roster. Therefore, he may be waiting for one or more of those moves to come to fruition before he makes any in-house changes. I will say that while I do believe Fletcher is speaking with teams around the league, I wouldn’t expect an earth-shattering trade to occur any time soon. Generally, moves like that happen in the off-season when there aren’t immediate ramifications on the standings and potential playoff position. It’s difficult to make a blockbuster trade and have a seamless transition in-season. I find it much more likely that a minor deal or two is made, including a possible trade of UFA-to-be Wayne Simmonds at the trade deadline, than a true shake-up of the roster.
“Too early” to fold on the season
I realize in the intro I explained how slim the odds were of this Flyers club to make the playoffs. I’m not going back on those odds. The odds are considerably poor. That said, Chuck Fletcher is the new guy here. He’s the new boss, but he’s still the new guy. He may not want to convey a sense of giving up or folding on the season, because to the players, there’s still half the season left to go. Front office members may see this season for what it is, but the players (even though it may not always appear this way) don’t want to quit. Not only is it not likely in their nature as a professional athlete to quit – they wouldn’t make it to this level if they believed in quitting – but imagine giving up on a season with 47. 5% of it left to go. It would be absolutely miserable to play 39 games with that mindset. If for no other reason than to make the second half of the season somewhat tolerable, the players can’t afford to throw in the towel at this juncture. With that in mind, it’s possible Fletcher just wants to keep some semblance of competitiveness in this team until it’s a near certainty the season is over. That could be the trade deadline at the end of February, it could be when they’re mathematically eliminated; the way things are playing out, those scenarios may happen around the same time. But technically, the season is only slightly more than half-way through. For that reason, it may be about a month too early to make large-scale changes.
Doesn’t want to make the team better this season (Stealth tank)
Chuck Fletcher will never openly admit this – and frankly it’s a stretch of a theory anyway – but it’s worth discussing. The young players in the AHL that appear to be ready for a look in the big leagues are pretty good, fam. I’m not saying they’re future superstars, but I think it’s more than fair to assume Myers, Friedman, Aubé-Kubel and Vorobyev have more talent than the likes of Andrew MacDonald, Christian Folin, Jori Lehtera and Dale Weise. For crying out loud, Jori Lehtera hasn’t played since December 15th and is implicated in a cocaine ring in Finland. I’m pretty sure the aforementioned youngsters could make a greater impact than their grizzled veteran counterparts. But maybe their impact would be too great. Maybe they’d make this team too much better, to the point that they’d effectively take themselves out of the Jack Hughes/Kaapo Kakko sweepstakes. The Flyers do need to (or at least, should want to) give these kids a look in the NHL before this season is over. This isn’t even taking into account former first round pick Samuel Morin, who is due to return to action at some point next month. With him no longer being waiver exempt, he absolutely needs to get games in the NHL this season, as you don’t want to lose him for nothing without seeing if he can at the very least contribute to some degree. Fletcher needs to see if these prospects will be players he can pencil in or consider for his 2019-20 NHL roster. He just may want to make sure this team is more firmly in the running for a top two pick in the draft before he starts bringing these youths to the NHL.
I have very little doubt Chuck Fletcher has been up to his neck in potential deals and call-ups and waive options since he took over as GM. And as a diehard fan, I can certainly appreciate the frustration from the fanbase at the lack of change to date, and even apathy regarding the season as a whole. But it is important to keep some perspective. The Flyers are a mess. Any large scale moves at this point in the year will not do much more than raise the interest level for a small stretch of games. As maddening and exasperating as it may be to hear, the prudent thing to do is to ride this out; slowly start folding kids in and sell off some minor pieces – in addition to Wayne Simmonds – at the deadline. Changes are coming. The pipeline is bursting with young talent, the team is facing decent odds (knock on wood) to land a top two or three pick in this summer’s draft, and the they’ll have plenty of cap space to go after the cream of the crop in free agency.
Changes are coming. They just may not be coming right now.