Chuck Fletcher has been here before. It’s a darkroom. The only light available to him is a crack in the cement foundation to the left of him. A streak of light beaming across the cold floor, casting a soft glow on the words he etched on the wall across from him. He looks up upon what he has created. It only repeats itself in his waking days until the leaves begin to fall again.
It reads like a hollow message, rattling around in his head ever since the math was made right. Ever since the Philadelphia Flyers were destined to see another team lift the Stanley Cup. Another year without tasting the sweet dew out of the stainless steel bowl and another year contemplating what went wrong. The answer to that question really is only to be left unanswered until we see the team next year and can determine if it’s any different.
But for Chuck, the answer might just be one that he already said less than two years ago.
It might seem like decades — a time before we wondered if an entire plague is going to take over the planet — but that other life involved offseason trade rumors and trying to think what the damn Flyers need to get over the hump. To turn their rollercoaster performances into some semblance of consistent contention.
The answer to that — for Fletcher, trapped in his dark and damp room — came in the form of trading a fifth-round pick for the signing rights of Kevin Hayes. A “good if it pans out” move; Fletcher sent that measly pick to the Winnipeg Jets to be able to talk to Hayes (and eventually sign him) before any other team could whisper sweet nothings in his ear.
To even bolster his summer more and get ahead of everyone else, Fletcher made the trade as the Stanley Cup Final was going on, hours before the drop of Game 4’s puck. And just 15 days later, still weeks before the hellish gates of free agency opened, Hayes was locked in to being a Flyer for the next seven years.
Now warping through the time blackhole known as the last 18 months, the Flyers and Fletcher are in the exact same place with the exact same problem and can possibly fix everything by doing the exact same thing.
Reportedly, the Carolina Hurricanes are letting top free agent defenseman Dougie Hamilton talk to other teams ahead of the opening of free agency on July 28, opening the possibility of an extremely rare sign-and-trade this summer. That move would give the receiving team an extra year of Hamilton’s services, maxing out at the eight-year contract that is only reserved for teams re-signing players. As horrifying a long-term commitment is — even outside of hockey fandom — Hamilton is about to turn 28 years of age and this hypothetical maximum contract will take him through his age 35 season.
Even without the sign-and-trade, Fletcher can possibly pull the same move off as he did with Hayes and try to get his signing rights for a draft pick or two. It will certainly cost more, as Hayes was already traded away as a rental and not seen as an integral part of the Jets’ future, but the possibility for the Hurricanes front office to get something back in return for Hamilton and not letting a top defenseman walk away for nothing, is most likely attractive for them. So really, why not if you’re Chuck?
For the entirety of last season, it was either excuses (like Matt Niskanen retiring) or just a downright disappointment coming from the blue line. No one can really say any defenseman had a good season for Philadelphia, which is why Fletcher was reportedly hopping around the market looking for long-term additions before the trade deadline. Unlike other teams looking for some key additions, the Flyers really are ready to make a deep run for the next couple years if they can figure out who the hell works well together at the back.
No one really needs to go into great detail why Hamilton is a very good defenseman, but, like, c’mon he’s a offensively-minded, right-handed blueliner that can make passes like its nothing and drives play exceptionally well. He’s “above-average in every important aspect of the game” and is just an extremely loveable personality. Someone that can just bring happiness to this grey, dead, lifeless Flyers blue line that is full of potential but no one guaranteed to always be there. Consistency is an issue but Hamilton just oozes out good seasons like they are nothing.
He will be one of the most, if not the most, coveting free agent this summer and to get a jumpstart on any campaign to help get the Flyers to their next level, is worth any middling draft pick. Fletcher has done it before, so please, just do it for a player that can make your team so much easier to cheer for.
No matter the cost, getting a player like Hamilton on your team is worth the contract and worth the shuffling of other contracts as well. Please.