It’s that time again! With the season over for the Flyers and the player exit interviews done with, all that left was for Chuck Fletcher to complete his own end of season availability, and we got that this morning. With an acknowledgement of the difficulty of the season, Fletcher fielded questions about the team and how they plan to right the ship, and while there wasn't anything massively groundbreaking, there was still a good bit for us to dig into. Let’s hit on some of those key points.
A few big things
So long, Mike Yeo?
Right off the hop, confirming Kevin Weekes’s report from last night, Fletcher noted that Mike Yeo would not be brought back as the head coach of the Flyers next season. They’re open to having him return as an assistant, or elsewhere in the organization, but he is free to talk to other teams, in the event that someone else wants to bring him on in a head coaching role. We’ll see how that shakes out, but Fletcher was direct in his compliments of Yeo, the work he did for the team this year when thrown into a very difficult position.
And as for the search for their new head coach, that will begin soon. Management will sit down and decide on a profile for their ideal candidate, and then the search will begin.
On the medical staff
One of the bigger topics of conversation this season has been the injuries on the team in general, but particularly the number of players who sustained an injury, took some time off and then came back, and all but immediately were reinjured. It’s opened up big questions about how injuries were being handled by the team, and that’s something that the team plans to address as well.
I’m gonna sit down with our doctors and our medical staff and out strength and conditioning coaches here, in the next couple weeks, and just a lot of questions. What are we... what do we do well, what are we not doing well, are there things we can do more of, are there things we can do from an injury prevention standpoint... We’re gonna look at our entire structure in terms of our medical side, and like we have with analytics, and pro scouting, and amateur scouting, we’re certainly going to look at ways we can invest and improve that entire area.
There’s not a whole lot that we can add on the matter, but we hope they get whatever’s going on here fixed. Building a good team is one thing, but this is players’ livelihoods and well-beings at stake.
The state of the retool
And, of course, with the off-season upon us, Fletcher’s “aggressive retool” is still looming large, but with how things have continued to go south for the team since Fletcher announced that plan, now seemed a good time to ask if this was still the plan for them. Fletcher had this to say about the aggressive retool:
“An aggressive retool, to me, is being aggressive in every area. I think we already started when we moved three quality veteran players at the deadline and we picked up Owen Tippett and we picked up a first round pick, a third round pick, a fourth round pick. We were able to re-sign three of our unsigned college kids, two of whom could have elected free agency this summer. so it’s being aggressive in all phases. Part of it is we have to get younger, we have to get more talented, we have to get faster, and then the next part is we have to aggressively look at trades and free agency and can we add a couple players to supplement what we have here to make this team better. The other piece is going to be the return to health of certain players.”
And there are a few pieces here. He alluded to this at the end and spoke on it elsewhere in the press conference, that the Flyers will be getting a boost from injured players like Sean Couturier and Ryan Ellis coming back, and from young players trending in the right direction continuing to step up (he mentioned Travis Sanheim, Travis Konecny, and Cam York here by name). So that’s something, and scales this back from looking like a complete and total roster overhaul coming.
But Fletcher does still acknowledge that there are additions that need to be made, that the team, even when healthy, is not young or skilled enough to get to where they want to be. So they’re going to remain aggressive in pursuing players to address that, still.
Bits and bobs
Ivan Fedotov’s status
After putting up just a stellar season in the KHL, attentions have understandably shifted to how quickly the Flyers can get him signed and brought over to join the organization, and that’s something that the Flyers are working hard on. Fletcher said that they’re hoping to come to a contract agreement with Fedotov and his camp soon, and while the situation with Russia remains tenuous and there are some things up in the air, they feel good about their ability to get the proper paperwork done to get him over to start the season in North America. Whether he starts with the Flyers or the Phantoms is an open question, but they do expect him to be in the mix to earn that backup job with the Flyers out of camp.
Navigating the cap constraints
The Flyers are in a tough situation right now wherein they’re trying to get younger and more skilled in order to ice a better hockey team, but they don’t really have the cap space to easily make those moves to do so. Fletcher leaned pretty heavily on recognizing their options to add from within in the next bit here in addressing that:
“I do think we have some young players with some high end upside, that are still with us and will continue to get better. And by that I mean players like Konecny, Farabee, and obviously Travis Sanheim I felt took a pretty big step this year, Carter Hart. So I do think there are some young players who haven't hit their peak at this point, some other young players, whether it’s Brink, or Cates, or Foerster, players like this who are going to continue to evolve and impact this team. We’ll have a pretty high pick who will be part of this team in probably the relatively near future, so that’s got to be a big part of it. In terms of adding players from the outside, we have to look at that. We’ll have to see from a cap perspective what’s realistic and what we can do, but we’re certainly going to aggressively look at every option we can to add more talent.”
The bit about adding from elsewhere remains a bit vague and mysterious (not that we were expecting a step by step plan on how they plan to clear cap space), but the forefront of this conversation is the young players, particularly those on entry level deals. And you can do with that what you will.
On the captaincy
Fletcher was also asked about if and when the team plans on naming a new captain, and he made it clear that this wasn’t exactly a top priority for them at the moment. It’ll get done, but they have a pretty lengthy list of things to address with the team this summer, and they’ll get to that one when they get to it.
And update on Samuel Morin
There was some sad but not unexpected news that came down towards the end of the presser, when Fletcher announced officially that Samuel Morin would not be able to return to playing hockey, due to the amount of damage to his knee from repeated injury. Fletcher spoke so highly of Morin as a person, and mentioned that they’ll have some conversations with him in the next little bit about what he wants to do (the subtext being perhaps helping to find him a job somewhere), but it’s a tough card to be dealt here. We wish him the best.
Now, we didn’t really come into this expecting any high emotions or bombshells dropped, because this is a Chuck Fletcher presser we’re talking about. But if you were coming into this one at least hoping to be assured of the direction the team is planning on taking heading into next season, how they view their future and how they’re pursuing it, you might well be disappointed.
There were a few key moments that stood out:
When asked, regarding the aggressive retool, whether this meant the team was making moves to go all in on winning now, or whether the focus will turn more towards building for success for the future, Fletcher said it would be “a little bit of both.”
And in talking about internal options for bolstering their lineup, he said: “that’s going to be a big difference next year, we’ll hopefully have a few more internal options to plug some holes,” and later “I think our depth will be better.”
And maybe it’s just word choice and trying to hold some cards close to the vest, but language, we know, is important, and this all just reads as quite wishy washy. Granted, if Fletcher had said “we’re completely mortgaging the future in trying to win now,” full stop, we’d be concerned as well, so a bit of measuredness remaining is welcome, but this feels different, Add into the mix a general manager, who makes the roster, mind you, using the word “hopefully” when talking about his own player options, and it’s all a bit jarring.
What we’re left with is Fletcher, in his attempts to remain measured and collected, stuck trying inhabit this murky middle space of trying to rebuild on the fly, get into the playoffs without rocking the boat too severely. The buzz word is new, but there’s not a whole lot that feels new about the meat of what he’s saying. We’ve been here before.
As it stands, we’re staring down even more waiting and hoping, and an uncertainty of just what the plan is for the Flyers, and how they’re going to be able to pull it off. Our big hope, at least, is that they have more planned than they're letting on. In any event, it’s going to be an interesting offseason in watching to see how the Flyers proceed.