Chuck Fletcher has a Minnesota bias. It’s an idea that we’ve been tossing around, positing as fact all off-season, but now that things seem to be quieting down, it seems an appropriate time to investigate this. Is this true? What exactly does this Minnesota bias entail? And how prominently is it presenting?
The first piece we might look at comes in the form of drafted players, and if they are or are not from the state of Minnesota. Easy enough. This year, the Flyers drafted a total of four American players, two of which (Bobby Brink and Bryce Brodzynski) are from Minnesota. And, as an added bonus, of the 11 invites to development camp this year, four are from Minnesota. And this just about lines up with Fletcher’s history—while he was the general manager in Minnesota, the team picked up a player from Minnesota at some point in the draft in just about every year, selecting 10 Minnesota-born players in nine drafts between 2009 and 2017.
But this bias doesn’t seem to just be limited to drafting players from Minnesota or playing in their high school system, we’re also seeing Fletcher bringing in players that he had in the Wild’s system while he was there with his AHL signings to bolster the Phantoms’ roster. There were 11 players signed (presumably) to join the Phantoms, and four of them are familiar names to Fletcher. Nate Prosser played (at least parts of) 10 seasons with the Wild, and three with their AHL affiliates, first with the Houston Aeros and later the Iowa Wild. Gerry Fitzgerald played two seasons with the Iowa Wild. Minnesota drafted Kurtis Gabriel in 2013, and he played for the Iowa Wild for four seasons, and played 16 games with the Minnesota Wild. Cal O’Rielly played one game with Minnesota, and two seasons with the Iowa Wild.
And then there’s the Flyers’ most recent move, if you can call it that, in signing Chris Stewart - who the Wild traded for during the 2014-15 season, let walk in free agency, and then signed prior to the 2017-18 season - to a PTO for this year’s training camp.
So, in short, there’s a lot of overlap between guys that played for Fletcher in Minnesota and who he brought in to help out or compete for a spot in different areas of the Flyers’ organization. And what are we supposed to do with this information? That part’s kind of tough. Because there is something to be said for making informed decisions and feeling comfortable bringing in players that you’ve seen a lot of and who you trust to be impactful pieces. That’s okay. But it’s a fine line between doing that and just bringing in Your Guys for… reasons. And that’s when we start getting worried, when a general manager gets myopic and privileges players he knows because he knows them, and potentially leaves better options on the table in favor of recycling the same old names. That’s when the product begins to suffer.
Do we think that Fletcher is in this latter territory? Not necessarily—indeed particularly the AHL signings seem to be good ones. But it’s worth remembering that Fletcher does seem to have this bias, it’s clear, and it’s a situation worth keeping abreast of. In hopes that he won’t end up letting this bias win out in the end.