Here we are, folks. The whirlwind of free agency has passed, along with the NHL draft and expansion draft. The Flyers appear to be a completely different team than they were a month ago. Much, if not all of that is thanks to general manager Chuck Fletcher. Fletcher took a team that was a far cry from a playoff team and shook it to the core. Every acquisition appeared methodical, a simple message being sent with every player signed or traded. No longer will accountability be called into question. This team is now chock-full of leaders in varying capacities.
Rewind to the last offseason and you see almost the exact opposite. Matt Niskanen “shocked” us all and announced his retirement after competing in the bubble. Chuck’s answer? Bringing back Justin Braun with a two-year deal worth $1.6mil per year and signing Erik Gustafsson to a one-year deal worth three million dollars. The end result was downright ugly. The Flyers allowed the most goals in the NHL, and subsequently the most goals per game. Their goals-against average was putrid, along with their play in net. Their penalty kill was next-to-last in the entire league while the powerplay was a meddling 19.2%, good for 18th in the league.
It’s easy to bore with last season’s numbers, but the point remains the same. This team needed a shakeup, and that’s exactly what Chuck Fletcher set out to do this offseason. Fletcher’s lack of moves last offseason proved costly, and just like Roger Daltrey, Chuck Fletcher wasn’t about to get fooled again.
Inactivity v. Activity
Let’s hop in the time machine to last offseason. Fresh off the news that Matt Niskanen had decided to hang up his skates and head home, the Flyers were left with a bigger hole on the blueline than they initially thought. As mentioned above, Fletcher’s band-aid to the solution was bringing back Justin Braun and signing Erik Gustafsson. Coming back to reality, we all know how that panned out given the season that just wrapped up.
Given the results of this season, Chuck Fletcher made sure to address the hole he left unfilled by bringing in not one, not two, but three defensemen who all have the capability of being better than last year’s solution. Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Keith Yandle all come to the Flyers with solid bodies of work and a fresh start. Ellis will likely pair with Provorov, while Ristolainen pairs with Sanheim and Yandle pairs with Braun.
Not only did Chuck Fletcher bring in a guy who can play the top-pair with Provorov, but he also brought in two other guys with top-pair experience to play on the second and third pairings. Suffice to say, Fletcher learned from that mistake.
Locker Room Dynamic
The locker room last season was the biggest question mark for the Flyers. Nolan Patrick seemed as indifferent as indifferent can get. Travis Konecny had nobody to kick his rear into gear and straighten things out before they slid downhill at the beginning of the season. Jakub Voracek was, well, Jakub Voracek.
So after all that, what did Fletcher do to address the locker room? He brought in multiple former alternate captains to aid in the accountability aspect that this team seemed to lack in seasons past. Keith Yandle, Rasmus Ristolainen, Ryan Ellis, and Cam Atkinson are all former alternate captains. Nate Thompson may not be, but he’s been around the league long enough to know what it takes to be successful.
Fletcher got rid of two guys who seemed to be the biggest problem in the locker room and brought in four who can right the proverbial ship. No longer will this team lack the leadership so many thought it did. The Flyers will not be a team that lacks the presence of leadership anymore. Chuck Fletcher made sure of that this offseason.
While not the most popular decision, Chuck Fletcher brought in a guy who knows how to be successful in net for an NHL franchise. While his last three seasons have been underwhelming, you could attribute that to a fledgling San Jose Sharks team who didn’t really know what they were doing in net. Martin Jones can play, and he can be a very good goaltender. Let’s be honest though, it just wasn’t the popular pick.
Let’s also be real about this. Brian Elliott just was not suited to give the Flyers what they want out of a backup goalie. It might have been fine had Carter Hart replicated the success he had in the 2019/20 playoffs, but that didn’t happen. Elliott showed that he can no longer carry the load in net, and the Flyers just cannot take that risk again. Bringing in Martin Jones shows that the Flyers wanted a goaltender who can carry the load in case Carter Hart takes a bit longer to get out of his funk. It was absolutely the right decision.
While Elliott performed admirably, it just wasn’t up to the level that Chuck Fletcher and the Flyers need out of a goalie who was thrust into carrying the lion’s share of the starts. So what did Chuck Fletcher do? He went out to get someone who could. Say what you will about his performance this past season and the two prior, but reuniting Martin Jones with Kim Dillabaugh may just pay dividends for the Flyers.
The old saying goes “fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Chuck Fletcher isn’t about to be made a fool again by leaving needs unaddressed. The moves he’s made so far this offseason are indicative of a man who knows what needs to be done to rectify the situation he’s in. Bringing in leadership was a must, and he did just that. Acquiring a backup goaltender who can carry a heavier-than-normal load was a need, and he addressed it. Sitting idly by and not addressing needs wasn’t going to cut it this season, so Fletcher went out and got his guys.
It’s an incredibly encouraging site seeing Fletcher know what this team needs, and proceeding to go out and get it. It’s something we didn’t see last season, and it became a costly mistake. However, it also was a mistake that Chuck Fletcher wasn’t about to make twice. That much is evident when discussing his moves this offseason.
Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn/Icon Sportswire