Accountability. It’s the reason why fans have come to love new Philadelphia Flyers head coach John Tortorella. However, it would seem that Tortorella’s philosophy hasn’t been shared by the Flyers’ front office. Chuck Fletcher’s job has been a topic of discussion for quite sometime, and since December, there has been effectively no reason for Chuck Fletcher to stay with the team. Yet, against better judgment, the Powers That Be felt refused to make a move. Until now.
The firing of Chuck Fletcher comes at the tail end of the Flyers’ second-worst season in 15 years—the worst one being last year’s 25-46-11 embarrassment. It comes in the first year of John Tortorella’s tenure, a tenure that has given rise to speculation that the head coach and the general manager were butting heads. It comes exactly one week after an extremely disappointing trade deadline, and it comes just days after the Flyers’ front office fielded dozens of questions and complaints from disgruntled season ticket holders.
There are numerous philosophies surrounding what caused the organization to finally pull the plug. Everyone knew it would happen eventually, but no one knew it would happen here and now. The most realistic explanation, it seems, is that Fletcher’s job was hanging by a thread, and the thread finally snapped. Fletcher has been absolutely lambasted for his failure to make moves at last week’s deadline, and this isn’t the first time he’s struggled in that arena.
Fletcher’s failures are another chapter in the “Chuck Fletcher is Impotent” book, in which we all discover that Fletcher has no influence when negotiating with anyone in the NHL. The previous chapter was entitled, “Johnny Gaudreau signs with the Columbus Blue Jackets,” in which Fletcher made the inexcusable decision not to pursue one of the best players in hockey and justified his mistake by telling us that his job is hard.
Until today, Dave Scott was listening to and was captivated by Fletcher’s excuses. But he’s finally asked himself the million-dollar question—”Is the job that hard, or is Fletcher just that bad at it?” Indeed, if Scott didn’t feel comfortable firing Fletcher after last week’s debacle, what more would he need to see?
When Travis Konecny and Kevin Hayes displayed lackluster effort at the beginning of the season, John Tortorella summarily sat them for a period. When Rasmus Ristolainen became a frequent defensive liability, he was offered a shiny new chair in the press box. The message on the ice has been clear: “If you perform well, you’re here to stay. If you perform poorly, you can find a home elsewhere.” It’s a message that resonates with fans who devote countless hours of their time to religiously following this hockey team, and it’s rooted in John Tortorella’s unique gift: identifying problems and unabashedly taking action to remedy them. It’s a simple principle. When a machine is broken, it needs new parts. Weak links need to be replaced by stronger ones.
Chuck Fletcher rarely exhibited such a talent. At his best, Fletcher showed awareness of where the Flyers’ roster fell short, but he was inept at finding solutions. The question plaguing the fan base was whether Dave Scott shared in Fletcher’s folly. Never forget when Dave Scott openly backed Fletcher’s mediocre results with the Flyers and offered him a “blank check” to dig this team (and Fletcher, himself) out of a hole.
Was Scott ignorant of Fletcher’s failings? Alternatively, was he aware of the problem but devoid of a way to fix it? Regardless, Friday’s decision to fire Fletcher turns a new leaf. Fletcher’s missteps at the trade deadline raised red flags with regard to his capacity to move this team forward. Dave Scott recognized the weakness, and he took a big step to rectify it.
Said another way, Chuck Fletcher’s firing is refreshing, not just because everyone hates him, but because the decision exhibits competence by the organization’s higher-ups. For over a year, Flyers fans have been gaslit into believing that nothing was wrong with the team, that there was hope to make a playoff push, that any lack of success was merely the unfortunate consequence of unpredictable injuries. The front office ignored the mountain of evidence pointing to deep-seated problems that interfere with any short-term or long-term success.
To be clear, Chuck Fletcher’s departure does not cure all of those problems, and many fans will justifiably complain about the interim move of Danny Briere. However, the Fletcher decision remains cause for celebration. It shows level-headedness in the midst of utter confusion. It shows open-mindedness despite years of stubbornness. And most importantly, it shows a unity of vision between the coach and the administration in a time when the organization couldn’t appear any more fractured.
For once, the front office adopted an “accountability” philosophy, and it’s a step in the right direction.