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Chuck Fletcher’s offseason moves are setting the Flyers franchise back

Chuck Fletcher is causing a path of destruction for the Flyers, one that the franchise will be digging out of years after he’s gone.

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2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft - Round 2-7 Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

Chuck Fletcher and the rest of the front office have a clear vision for the Philadelphia Flyers. Unfortunately, it appears that they’re flying blind.

Over the last calendar year, Fletcher has traded away multiple draft picks and other assets to reshape the identity of the Flyers. Well, if there even was –– or is –– an identity. At the very least, they’re trying to do something. But who knows if that something will stick.

The trade for Tony DeAngelo last week marked the third trade for a right-handed defenseman in the past 12 months. All of the trades involved either former prospects or draft picks, and they’ve had varying degrees of success failure.

July 17th, 2021: Flyers acquire Ryan Ellis for Phil Myers & Nolan Patrick

Trading for Ryan Ellis was the first move last offseason and it brought some excitement to Philadelphia. Unfortunately, his health allowed him to play in just four games last season, but even the worst-case scenario is that the Flyers stash him on LTIR.

On top of that, the trade is mostly a wash considering who the Flyers gave up for Ellis. Nolan Patrick had seven points in 25 games while averaging 11:30 a game for the Golden Knights. Philippe Myers couldn’t take advantage of a chance in the Flyers’ top-four in 2021 and he was placed on waivers last season. He’s since been flipped to Tampa Bay in the Ryan McDonagh trade.

At the time, this was supposed to be a great trade for the Flyers. They parlayed an underwhelming Patrick and an inconsistent Myers for Ellis, who can be one of the best right-handed defensemen in the league when healthy. That hasn’t been the case, but luckily for the Flyers, neither Patrick nor Myers have panned out –- yet.

With the Ellis trade in the books, Fletcher then focused on clearing cap space –– sound familiar? –– to make another splash.

July 22nd, 2021: Flyers trade Shayne Gostisbehere, 2022 2nd, 2022 7th for cap space

Gostisbehere cleared waivers during the 2021 season and was on the outs within the organization. He had fallen out of favor after an up-and-down start in Philadelphia. Trading him wasn’t very surprising, but the sweetener they had to attach to him could be viewed as such.

Fletcher had to give the Flyers’ second-round pick in this year’s draft –– as well as a seventh –– along with Gostisbehere for the Coyotes to take him off his hands.

“But what’s a second-round pick anyway?” you may ask. Well, given the Flyers’ continued fall from grace last season, the second-round pick was practically a first-round pick at 36th overall.

Nevertheless, Gostisbehere had a $4.5 million AAV through the end of the upcoming season that the Flyers needed to move out to clear cap space for Fletcher’s next big move mistake.

July 23rd, 2021: Flyers acquire Rasmus Ristolainen for 2021 1st (14th overall), 2023 2nd, Robert Hagg

On NHL Draft day, the Flyers’ 14th overall pick was burning a hole in Fletcher’s pocket, apparently. He decided to trade that pick, the second-round pick in what is supposed to be a deep 2023 draft, and Robert Hagg ($1.6 million AAV) for Rasmus Ristolainen.

The Ristolainen trade is what started the skepticism around Fletcher’s offseason moves. Hell, it didn’t start it, it only ramped it back up. Ristolainen was a disaster in Buffalo and despite his eighth-overall pedigree, never really showed signs of being a top-pair defenseman.

But the Flyers weren’t asking him to do that. With Ellis in tow, all they needed was for him to be a second-pair guy. However, Ristolainen played at more of a third-pair level –– I’ll give you second-pair if you really want to argue –– which is simply not enough at his then-cap hit of $5.4 million.

Then, of course, in the midst of a lost season with the trade deadline approaching, the Flyers signed Ristolainen to a five-year contract extension at a cap hit of $5.1 million. They did this instead of seeing what Ristolainen could get them at the trade deadline.

This was especially egregious in a seller’s market where the Flyers could’ve recouped at least the second-round pick they gave up for him. At the very least Fletcher and the Flyers could’ve felt out the market for Ristolainen and extended him after the deadline.

Finally, that brings us to Fletcher’s most recent trade and the one that has been the most polarizing.

July 8th, 2022: Flyers acquire Tony DeAngelo & 2022 7th for 2022 4th, 2023 3rd*, 2024 2nd

I’ve tweeted and said plenty about Tony DeAngelo’s off-ice situation in the past several days, so I’m not going to get into that here. This is strictly from an on-ice perspective.

Carolina has become one of the model franchises for how to build a team over the better part of the last decade with Eric Tulsky & Co. crafting a contender. However, instead of wanting to re-sign their top-scoring defenseman (51 points in 64 games), they elected to move on from him. It’s a bit of a curious decision, but I digress.

Fletcher traded three draft picks for DeAngelo, a player that the Hurricanes were more than willing to move. They also got back a seventh-round pick with DeAngelo, four picks later than the one they gave up with Gostisbehere, so the difference is negligible there.

Chuck Fletcher offseason trades (‘21 & ‘22)

Flyers Acquire Flyers Trade
Flyers Acquire Flyers Trade
Ryan Ellis Philippe Myers & Nolan Patrick
Cap Room Shayne Gostisbehere, 2022 2nd, 2022 7th
Rasmus Ristolainen 2021 1st (14th), 2023 2nd, Robert Hagg
Anthony DeAngelo & 2022 7th 2022 4th (101st), 2023 3rd*, 2024 2nd

So, in total over the past 12 months of offseason trades, Fletcher traded a first-round pick (14th overall), three second-round picks, a third-round pick, and a fourth-round pick, for three right-handed defensemen: Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Tony DeAngelo. Ellis ($6.25 M), Ristolainen ($5.1 M), and DeAngelo ($5 M) combine to make $16.35 million, or 19.9% of the salary cap.

That’s questionable asset management at best. Those six draft picks could’ve been used to restock the barren prospect cupboard.

Using Dom Luszczyszyn’s draft pick value chart from 2020, Fletcher traded 10.5 GSVA (Game Score Value Added), with half of it coming from the 14th overall pick, in order to land those three defensemen.

Flyers Draft Picks Traded

Year Round Pick GSVA
Year Round Pick GSVA
2021 1st 14 5.1
2022 2nd 36 2.4
2022 4th 101 0.5
2023 2nd ~50 1
2023 3rd* ~90 0.5
2024 2nd ~55 1

That 10.5 GSVA is the equivalent of a top-three pick –– now, obviously it doesn’t work that way, teams wouldn’t take a bunch of lesser picks for a top one, especially in a good draft class. But maybe they would if the 14th pick is included. Taking out the 14th pick, there was around 5 GSVA traded away, which is around the equivalent of a top-20 pick (at worst).

“But what’s the point of another rebuild? At least Fletcher got actual NHL players for the picks!”

Yes, that’s true, but given the nature of the trades, it’s not hard to argue that Fletcher could’ve made better trades to address the team’s needs. Sure, the Flyers need to build up their blue line. Ivan Provorov has been disappointing over the past few years and Travis Sanheim only really started to take that next step to a consistent top-four guy last season. After that, there wasn’t much else.

But all it takes is a quick look into even this year’s free-agent class to see a defenseman or two that the Flyers could’ve targeted. John Klingberg is one name, and he’d be a much more attractive target given his consistent usage as a top-pair defenseman. There are also other blueliners that have been (or are) available for trade that are superior to Ristolainen and DeAngelo.

Fletcher got the Flyers back on track with his trades for Kevin Hayes, Matt Niskanen, and Justin Braun in the 2019 offseason –– his first in Philadelphia. Now, in what could very likely be his final offseason as Flyers GM, his lasting legacy may be derailing the organization and setting them back half a decade –– if not more.

In the end, Fletcher will move on and get a job in another NHL front office, because that’s what happens in the league. The Flyers and their fans –– what’s left of them, at least –– will be stuck digging out of the rubble that he caused.