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Flyers fortunate for the trade deadline backlash

While the organization seems caught off guard, at least they learned they haven’t lost the fanbase ... yet.

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2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft - Round 2-7
Chuck Fletcher, presumably making one of his 17 calls last week
Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

John Tortorella had a point. The amount of criticism toward Chuck Fletcher was hard to understand.

Steve Coates, too. Who could have expected that amount of anger directed toward Fletcher at this weekend’s season ticket holder event?

No, it isn’t because Fletcher’s job is hard, as he said last July. Nor is it because he tried, which Tortorella also noted after Friday’s trade deadline.

It’s hard to understand how fans still have so much passion for a team that hasn’t been relevant since Meek Mill’s Flyers reference in Dreams and Nightmares.

Maybe the trade market wasn’t what the Flyers expected for James van Riemsdyk. But part of the general manager’s job is to generate interest and work connections to make a deal. If Mikael Granlund can fetch a second-round pick, JVR needs to bring back something.

No one is calling Fletcher a liar. There is no reason to doubt that he tried to move JVR, either last week or last summer. It probably was hard to do. But, simply, he’s been ineffective at this job.

This reaction is about more than JVR, though. It’s more than passing on Johnny Gaudreau. It’s more than an eight-year extension for Travis Sanheim that already looks bad before it starts. It’s everything. It’s extending Rasmus Ristolainen, signaling that you want to compete, then trading Claude Giroux the next week, creating an obvious void in the lineup. It’s trading future assets and signing Tony DeAngelo, appearing committed to the aggressive retool, then passing on a homesick superstar in Gaudreau. It’s trading a second-round pick to dump Shayne Gostisbehere and his contract, then acquiring DeAngelo, a player with similar strengths and weaknesses, the next summer.

There’s no plan or direction. These moves constantly contradict each other, sometimes within days. They ultimately come off as tepid half measures, committing to neither winning nor building. They’re a losing team with no salary cap space and an average prospect pool.

While allowing some space for nuance, pro sports are results-based industries. You win or you lose. If you’re not winning, you can sell the hope you’ll win in the future. The Flyers can’t sell anything right now. That’s why Fletcher’s told us how hard his job is and how many calls he made. All he can do is justify his failures.

It’s been a decade of forgettable hockey in Philadelphia, with one playoff series win since 2012. The Flyers used to be a part of the local sports zeitgeist. They have become increasingly niche. Last weekend was the rest stop in this road trip without a destination, an opportunity for both the diehards and disengaged fans to yell that they want this journey to end.

Fletcher has been here since 2018. He has had more than enough time to choose a direction. It’s time for his bosses to choose for him.

And no matter how sanctimonious Tortorella and Coates may be, those bosses should be relieved fans are as angry as they are.

At least they still care. The next exit is apathy.