The Philadelphia Flyers hired Chuck Fletcher as their next general manager in December of 2018 after Ron Hextall’s patient plan turned out to be a little too patient.
Fletcher had made some big swings with the Minnesota Wild from 2009 to 2018 and the organization thought he’d be the right guy. Unfortunately, three-and-a-half years later, the fanbase has more than soured on Fletcher and his seat must be getting pretty hot.
It didn’t start out that way, though. Fletcher’s first offseason at the helm was one of action. He addressed some of the team’s key issues and they were able to go on a run the following season. Since then, however, it’s been a completely different story.
The major events for NHL GMs are trade deadlines and off-seasons. That’s when most of the activity happens and that’s held true for Fletcher. Unfortunately, he has set the Flyers franchise back in recent years and it’s time for him to go.
2019 Trade Deadline
Fletcher made a few quick housekeeping moves leading up to the deadline but the first real trade was that of fan favorite Wayne Simmonds. Simmonds’ contract was expiring and it was a necessary evil. Fletcher ended up getting back Ryan Hartman and a conditional fourth-round pick for the winger. Sure, that’s a trade that Fletcher made that wasn’t awful. And it led into a rather active offseason.
Fletcher put his stamp on the Flyers as soon as he could in the 2019 offseason. He targeted Kevin Hayes to help shore up the second-line center role and acquired his rights for a fifth-round pick. Hayes was then signed to a seven-year contract with a cap hit of just above $7 million, and it’s aged rather poorly.
The facelift continued by trading Radko Gudas for Matt Niskanen, who was a great top-pairing defenseman for one season before retiring. He also dealt two draft picks to San Jose for Justin Braun.
The Flyers’ main issue in the 2018-19 season was defense — sound familiar? — and the additions of Hayes, Niskanen, and Braun were done in an attempt to fix that.
Fletcher also flipped Hartman for Tyler Pitlick for some cap savings, which was a fine trade at the time. Hartman broke out last season with 34 goals and 65 points for the Wild, which was easily a career year for him. That may not have happened in Philadelphia but we’ll never know.
I’m not going to dig too deep into the drafts in this article, but Fletcher also passed on Cole Caufield in favor of Cam York. York has been progressing well in the Flyers’ system but Caufield, who the Canadiens drafted with the next pick, already has 53 goals in his first 123 games. Alex Newhook and Peyton Krebs, who were selected with the two following picks, have also been contributors for the Avalanche and Golden Knights, respectively.
All-in-all, the 2019 offseason was arguably Fletcher’s best period as the captain of the ship. And it showed the following year as Alain Vigneault led the revamped team to one of the best records in the league after a slow start.
2020 Trade Deadline
With the Flyers running hot through January and February, it became apparent that they needed to be buyers at the deadline. There weren’t a ton of big names available, but there were better players than Derek Grant and Nate Thompson. Granted, they would’ve cost the Flyers more than a mid-to-late-round pick, but it may have been worth it given how the season was playing out. Unfortunately, the season was shut down due to the pandemic and the Flyers couldn’t find their mojo again in the playoffs after getting past the Canadiens in the first round.
The 2020 offseason was a weird one in the NHL due to the playoffs in August and September. It was a weird one for the Flyers as well.
Niskanen unexpectedly retired after a strong first season with the Flyers. That left a gaping hole on the right side of the defense that Fletcher failed to fill. He brought back Braun, which was a bit unexpected, and hoped that Philippe Myers could take that next step — spoiler alert, he didn’t.
2021 Trade Deadline
As the 2021 season moved along, the Flyers kept sinking lower and lower in the standings. The rumors of them potentially being buyers with a Nashville Predators defenseman in their sights got quieter and quieter as the team continued to embarrass themselves on a nightly basis.
In the end, Fletcher was only able to ship out Erik Gustafsson for a seventh-round pick and Michael Raffl for a fifth-round pick.
Scott Laughton was reportedly drawing interest from teams around the league as a rental, but the gritty forward wanted to stay in Philadelphia and Fletcher made that happen with a five-year extension carrying a cap hit of $3 million.
Fletcher was stuck between a rock and a hard place at the 2021 trade deadline. It’d be a tragic story if he didn’t position himself there as the walls caved in on him during the offseason.
A disastrous 2020-21 season gave way to panic in the 2021 offseason. The Flyers needed change, and perhaps that change would’ve been best if it came in the front office.
At first, it looked like Fletcher and the Flyers were making some real moves. They traded Myers and failed second-overall pick Nolan Patrick to the Predators for Ryan Ellis. We all know how that has panned out for all parties involved, and perhaps those two players didn’t have much value around the league, but you have to wonder if they could have landed a healthy defenseman — maybe even add a piece for Mattias Ekholm from Nashville — for those two. The Ellis trade gave fans a reason for optimism as Fletcher took a big swing. But, much like Eric Hinske in 2008, he struck out.
It only got worse from there.
Fletcher had to give the Arizona Coyotes a second-round pick and a seventh-round pick in the 2022 draft for them to take Shayne Gostisbehere off his hands. Gostisbehere turned it around in Arizona and the Coyotes were able to deal him for a 2026 third-round pick on Wednesday.
That trade prefaced quite possibly Fletcher’s worst move as Flyers general manager: trading the 14th overall pick, a 2023 third-round pick, and Robert Hagg for Rasmus Ristolainen. The Flyers apparently had their eyes on Ristolainen for quite a few years and the big defenseman had one year left on his contract. If the change of scenery worked out? Great. If it didn’t, you could move on from him after one season — could is the key word there — but we’ll get to that shortly.
After trading for Ristolainen, Fletcher swapped a disgruntled Jakub Voracek for Cam Atkinson, which was a rather fair trade considering their ages and cap hits. Both players have unfortunately dealt with injuries this season.
Finally, to round out the offseason, Fletcher brought in (or back) some depth pieces in Nick Seeler, Nate Thompson, Keith Yandle, Martin Jones, and Derick Brassard. Those names will be some fun trivia questions in a few years.
2022 Trade Deadline
Last year’s trade deadline was the big one for Fletcher as longtime Flyers captain Claude Giroux was slated to hit free agency. There were conflicting reports about how his time ended, but ultimately, Fletcher was able to get Owen Tippett, a 2024 first-round pick, and 2023 third-round pick for the captain and a few failed prospects. In hindsight, this trade may have been a good one by Fletcher. Tippett won’t be a first-line star but he has turned into a solid middle-six winger for the Flyers. We’ll have to wait and see how those draft picks pan out, however.
Fletcher also shipped Braun to the Rangers for a third-round pick and Brassard to Edmonton for a fourth-round pick. Both of those deals were fine business.
It’s the trade that Fletcher didn’t make that sticks out, though. Remember how a change of scenery could benefit Ristolainen? Well, it didn’t. And even if you want to argue that it did, the Flyers were clearly sellers and there was no need to extend Ristolainen. Instead of trading Ristolainen to recoup some of the draft picks (or prospects) that he lost in the offseason, Fletcher gave the underwhelming defenseman a five-year, $25 million extension.
Finally, we get to last offseason. With Johnny Gaudreau a free agent and the hometown kid wanting to come home, Fletcher and the Flyers turned their attention to Tony DeAngelo instead.
While acknowledging that it’s hard to move money to sign free agents, Fletcher traded more future assets for another questionable right-handed defenseman. Now, adding Gaudreau wouldn’t make this team an instant contender — or even a shoe-in for the playoffs — but it would’ve signaled that the organization has a plan in place. They do not.
The Flyers ended up trading a 2022 fourth-round pick, 2023 third-round pick, and a 2024 second-round pick to the Hurricanes for DeAngelo. Carolina has proven to be one of the sharpest front offices in the league and that should’ve been a warning. However, Fletcher continued on with the trade and subsequently signed DeAngelo to a two-year, $10 million contract.
Oh yeah, they also paid Nic Deslauriers $1.75 million for four years. Sure, adding an enforcer is fine, whatever, but four years are too many for a guy like that.
2023 Trade Deadline
Ah, the present. With the Flyers as clear sellers, they failed to get in on any of the early action this week. Their lone move was sending Isaac Ratcliffe to Nashville for future considerations. Deadline Day arrived and while everyone was waiting for Fletcher to do something, he finally did!
The Flyers acquired Brendan Lemieux and a 2024 fifth-round pick from Los Angeles for Zack MacEwen. MacEwen’s cap hit is about $300K less than Lemieux’s, so as long as he doesn’t receive meaningful minutes with the Flyers, adding a fifth-round pick for a few weeks of someone like Lemieux might be fine.
James van Riemsdyk was the one player that everyone thought would get moved. He’s a pending free agent and while he’s no longer the power-play force that he once was, he’d be a solid third-line winger on a contending team. Trading him for a third-round pick — or even fourth-round — would’ve been fine. It looked like he was headed to Detroit for a few minutes, but that fell through and Fletcher failed to move one of his lone trade chips.
But Fletcher was able to get a sixth-round pick from Ottawa for Patrick Brown — yippee!
Another trade deadline, another failure for Fletcher.
There you have it, a rather comprehensive look at Fletcher’s time with the Flyers so far. Hindsight helps with things, and I may have been a bit harsher than I needed to be on some of the moves, but overall, it’s not a great body of work over the past handful of years.
It’s going to take a lot to turn this franchise around and it doesn’t feel like Fletcher is the right guy to do that. Fletcher has made moves that are confusing at best and downright bad at worst over the past few years, especially over the past two-plus years. His leash seems a bit too long and it’s time for the Flyers to cut bait.
To put it simply: Fire Chuck Fletcher.