Has Chuck Fletcher Done Enough This Offseason?

NHL: DEC 07 Senators at Flyers
PHILADELPHIA, PA – DECEMBER 07: Philadelphia Flyers Defenceman Matt Niskanen (15) is cheered on by fans before the game between the Ottawa Senators and the Philadelphia Flyers on December 7, 2019 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Nicole Fridling/Icon Sportswire)

With Flyers fans, the term “enough” rarely means the same across the board. Chuck Fletcher could go out and turn the top-nine into a lethal force, and fans would still loathe the fact that he neglected the fourth line. He could have landed Alex Pietrangelo, now with the Vegas Golden Knights, and a portion of the fanbase would ask, “what about the bottom pairing?”

For some Flyers fans, enough never truly is enough.

In order to accurately answer this question, it’s only fair we start with the transactions made way back in April. The first move Chuck Fletcher made was signing Swedish forward Linus Sandin to a one year deal with a cap hit of $792,500. The Flyers then re-signed Mark Friedman on July 13 to a two year, $1.45mil deal. Oskar Lindblom signed a three year contract extension worth $3mil annually a little over a week later.

Fast forward to September, and the Flyers inked Nicolas Aube-Kubel to a two year contract worth $1.075mil per season. Alex Lyon signed a one year, $700k deal about a week later. The Flyers capped off the month of September by coming to terms with restricted free agent Robert Hagg. Hagg signed a two year deal worth $3.2mil, $1.6mil annually.

The day after free agency started, Chuck Fletcher & the Flyers inked backup goalie Brian Elliott to a one year, $1.5mil deal. A few days later, Matt Niskanen announced his retirement, meaning his $5.75mil for the 2020/21 season was officially off the books. That same day, Philadelphia brought back Justin Braun on a two year deal worth $1.8mil annually. The Flyers made two signings on their blueline this past week, picking up Derrick Pouliot for for one year at $700k, and Erik Gustafsson for one year at $3mil. Pouliot will be a Lehigh Valley Phantom.

Lest we forget, the Flyers also have a tender offer out to Philippe Myers, and Nolan Patrick has accepted his at one year, roughly $874k. Samuel Morin is also still technically on long-term injured reserve.

All that action has lead us to this:

NHL Forwards (12)

Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Sean Couturier, Joel Farabee, Claude Giroux, Kevin Hayes, Travis Konecny, Scott Laughton, Oskar Lindblom, Nolan Patrick, Michael Raffl, James van Riemsdyk, and Jakub Voracek.

NHL Defensemen (6)

Justin Braun, Shayne Gostisbehere, Erik Gustafsson, Robert Hagg, Ivan Provorov, and Travis Sanheim.

Tweener Forwards (4)

Connor Bunnaman, Morgan Frost, Linus Sandin, and Carsen Twarynski.

Tweener Defensemen (1)

Mark Friedman.

Disclaimers

Phil Myers is not included because he has not accepted his tender nor come to an agreement on a contract yet. The “Tweener” title is meant for players who could float between Philadelphia and Lehigh Valley based off of talent and who has done it before.

Offense

The Flyers have 12 forwards, with more waiting in the wings. Currently, they’re able to ice a full lineup with some talent to-boot. Add in some of the tweeners like Frost, Sandin, even Bunnaman or Twarysnki, and we’re looking at a complete roster of forwards assembled by Chuck Fletcher.

Sure, it’s enticing to get wrapped up in the rumors and trade talk. That’s never been more certain than when Patrik Laine‘s name was being tossed around the rumor mill. In terms of sheer quantity, the Flyers have enough forwards to ice a complete unit when the 2020/21 season starts. In terms of quality, there’s more to be desired.

After being teased with the Laine rumors, this fanbase now will settle for nothing less it seems.

Tweet courtesy of @FlyGuyJosh91

Laine would likely slot in on the top line with Couturier and either Voracek or Giroux. That in turn would bump the former or the latter down a line, giving the Flyers nothing short of a multitude of options as far as lines are concerned. It all depends on what the Jets would want in return, and it’s looking like it could be a hefty price. Names like Travis Konecny and Travis Sanheim have been floated around, as well as a first round pick and center Nolan Patrick. Bringing in Laine might make the top line/top-six more potent, but it could negatively impact the bottom half of the forwards lineup as well.

At this point, the Flyers might have their options in house. Without a trade for Laine, or anyone for that matter, the Flyers have enough players ready for the NHL to ice a complete lineup in terms of forwards. That doesn’t negate the fact that if a trade occurs, it’ll likely make the forward grouping look better than it already does.

Defense

This is another case of having enough people, but maybe not the right people. Matt Niskanen retiring hurt the Flyers from a man-power standpoint. The veteran defenseman was a great partner for Ivan Provorov. In his absence, he leaves uncertainty on Provorov’s opposite side. The two options are Travis Sanheim and Phil Myers, but Alain Vigneault may want to keep them together. Phil Myers also needs to sign a contract before the season starts.

The bottom pairing will likely stay in tact as well. While not outstanding by any means, Robert Hagg & Justin Braun played some tough minutes and did a well enough job. The options after that are limited, and honestly, unrealistic.

What the Flyers are left with is either Shayne Gostisbehere or Erik Gustafsson. No, not THAT Erik Gustafsson, THIS Erik Gustafsson. Both have shown that they have an affinity for scoring. Gostisbehere scored 65 points during the 2017/18 campaign. Erik Gustafsson totalled 60 points during the 2018/19 season with the Chicago Blackhawks. However, those days seem long gone for Gostisbehere, and Gustafsson’s follow up campaign didn’t instill much faith either.

Since his 65 point year, Ghost has tallied 49 points in 120 games. He’s also averaged around two minutes less than he did during the 17/18 season. Factor in some injuries and healthy scratches due to performance, and Ghost doesn’t seem like a viable option opposite to Provorov. Gustafsson is a bit harder to gauge.

During his career year in 18/19, Gustafsson was paired mainly with Duncan Keith, a defenseman similar in style to Ivan Provorov. He averaged the most time on ice of his career as well. One thing many may not realize is the fact that he spent a majority of his time in the offensive zone, as pointed out by Bill Meltzer.

Meltzer on a potential Erik Gustafsson/Ivan Provorov pairing.

That snippet is part of a larger argument, aimed at explaining why Gustafsson wouldn’t be the ideal partner for Ivan Provorov. Rightfully so. While Duncan Keith is on a bit of a decline, he’s still a solid presence on the blueline. Provorov is typically tasked with 24 or more minutes per night. Niskanen was averaging nearly 22 minutes per night. Gustafsson averaged 22:35 during his 60 point year, but averaged just shy of 20 and a half minutes this year split between Chicago and Calgary.

A quick Twitter search sums up the feelings Chicago fans had about Gustafsson being on the top pair with the Blackhawks. Spoiler alert, it isn’t very positive.

Reaction to Gustafsson being paired with Duncan Keith on November 13 of 2019, courtesy of @DeBrincat_Haver

Gostisbehere’s case is two-fold. He’s either going to succeed in spades because he’s being put with a top-tier partner, or he’s going to flounder because of his deficiencies on defense. The latter is the most likely outcome.

Anyone with two eyes could see that the Ghost of 2017/18’s past is just that, a ghost. While the potential is still there for a 40-50 point campaign, Ghost has recently found himself to be the odd man out in Vigneault’s system. Injuries didn’t help his cause, but when he was healthy, he found himself in the press box, watching the team he once helped become a dangerous unit on the powerplay.

When given the opportunity to shine, he played well. However, he always found a way to shoot himself in the foot. Bad turnovers, risky plays in his own zone, Ghost showed a lack of consistency and it hurt his chances at becoming a permanent fixture on the Flyers blueline. With recent news of him being on the block, paired with the reassurance that Niskanen’s retirement won’t deter Fletcher from pursuing a deal for the 27 year-old, Ghost’s chance at the top-pair is slim, albeit none.

Goalie

It’s easy to spend a majority of time dissecting the move to bring Brian Elliott back, but it’s a simple and effective solution to their backup question. The goalies available on the market either weren’t coming to Philadelphia, or were going to be too expensive. Elliott’s $1.5mil deal for one year bridges the gap and gives Carter Hart an effective backup, plain and simple.

The Tweeners

Lumping them all together, we look at the guys who could plug into the lineup if suspensions or injuries allow. You have Linus Sandin, Morgan Frost, Carsen Twarynski, and Connor Bunnaman on offense, with Mark Friedman on defense.

Twarynski & Bunnaman had a cup of coffee or two with the Flyers last season, and didn’t do enough to warrant a permanent roster spot. Frost played 20 games and wowed in his first few. He then fizzled out, going back down to the Phantoms. Sandin is an unknown, coming over from Sweden in April. He had 19 goals and 17 assists in 51 games for HV71 Jonkoping last season, and is off to a strong start to the 2020/21 season currently.

The Flyers will likely need another proven forward to enter the season, whether he’s a starter or a 13th forward. Depth was a big strength for the Flyers last season, and entering 20/21, it may be a big weakness.

Defense is even thinner. Mark Friedman appears to be the only option to float between Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia. You could argue if sensation Yegor Zamula is ready to make the leap, but realistically, Friedman is the only one prepared to do so.

The biggest wildcard on the blueline is Samuel Morin. Currently on LTIR, Morin is rehabbing from yet another knee issue, and nobody knows what to expect. He could come back stronger than ever and be a constant presence on the back end for the Flyers. He could spend time in Lehigh Valley before getting a chance. However, it’s an uncertainty at this point, and nobody knows if he will be ready for the beginning of the season.

Well, Did Chuck Do Enough?

The easy answer is no. Aside from signing two defenseman, one of which will be a Phantom, Chuck Fletcher did basically nothing to this point. The Flyers lost Nate Thompson, Tyler Pitlick, and Derek Grant to free agency, and brought in no forwards to replace them. Getting back a healthy Oskar Lindblom is a positive, but isn’t enough if the Flyers want to remain as deep as they were. The Flyers technically added a defenseman to their core when you factor in all the retirements, signings, etc. However, they’re still left with the question of who will pair with Provorov next year.

Maybe Chuck Fletcher has some irons in the fire. Maybe there’s something in the works that we all aren’t privy to. Or, maybe Chuck Fletcher stands pat with the lineup he has and enters the 2020/21 season as is. Probably not the best idea, but it’s easy to play armchair GM when you aren’t actually in charge.

If Chuck Fletcher wants to put the fans minds at ease, he likely needs to reach back into the black top hat and pull out the proverbial rabbit. Until then, there’s nothing magical about the job Fletcher has done so far this off-season.

Mandatory Credit – Nicole Fridling/Icon Sportswire

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