Should the Flyers Rebuild Instead of an “Aggressive Retool?”

Flyers' Chuck Fletcher
24 June 2011: Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher during the 2011 NHL Entry Draft at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.

From the moment Chuck Fletcher and Dave Scott co-signed the phrase “aggressive retool” when they addressed the state of the Philadelphia Flyers, it was going to all end tragically.

A passive storyline throughout all of this is Daniel Briere, grooming for a front-office position within the Flyers organization. Scott gave a “blank check” to Fletcher, which we at least understand to be worth $25.5mil. An “aggressive retool” suggests working parts that need a complementary piece, finishing the artwork. Fletcher is closer to the hot seat than a miraculous franchise rebound. If Philadelphia is selling at the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline, then we expect Briere to give the franchise a proper rebuild.

It’s not that Fletcher has been an awful GM, either. In 2019-2020, the Flyers were among the elite of the NHL. Now, they’re ranked 28th in the NHL. The New Jersey Devils have a better shot at the first overall selection.

Before 2021-2022, Fletcher generated a buzz with the trades and acquisitions he made. Fans were happy about a 6-2-2 start under Alain Vigneault.

What can be done to right the path? A lot, because many things need to be corrected. Before walking down that path, select the adventure: “aggressive retool” or proper rebuild?

“Aggressive Retool”

A retool means finding the pieces to support what the Philadelphia Flyers already have. On January 26th, 2022, the landscape was different. There were no commitments with pending free agents, and every direction was on the table. About a month and a half later, Rasmus Ristolaien signed a 5yr/$25.5mil extension. After, Claude Giroux and Justin Braun moved to the Florida Panthers and New York Rangers.

Scott mentioned Sean Couturier, Ryan Ellis, Kevin Hayes, and Joel Farabee as the core. While the Flyers were constantly amongst the top of the list for most injured in 2021-2022, there was a shared expression from Fletcher and Scott for “top-end talent.” The caveat to acquiring top-end talent is the money it requires during a flat cap era. Extending Ristolainen, for example, ties the cap from signing a dynamic, top-six forward.

Currently, CapFriendly projects Philadelphia to have $8.03mil of cap space this offseason. Every pending UFA (Samuel Morin, Nate Thompson, Keith Yandle, Martin Jones, Nick Seeler, and Kevin Connauton) should test the market. Opposite, every pending RFA (Hayden Hodgson, Zack MacEwen, Owen Tippett, Morgan Frost, Wade Allison, Isaac Ratcliffe, Jackson Cates, Linus Sandin, and Felix Sandstrom) deserves a new contract.

After agreements to contract extensions, we’ll have a better idea. Johnny Gaudreau is a hot name around every offseason because he’s a local superstar, but the Calgary Flames are on the cusp of becoming elite.

It’s a thought, but what does it mean if the lineup on paper doesn’t match the product on the ice; such is the 2021-2022 Flyers experience.

Blow It Up

Everything about that address from Scott and Fletcher was the antithesis of a rebuild, or “blowing it up,” as the fanbase proclaims.

If everything is precise, a rebuild is a success in 3-5 seasons. Mostly every draft pick must hit, and to be fair, the question becomes, “is the fanbase patient enough for a rebuild?” Remember, the Broadstreet Bag was a movement that made noise. Fans have a say. Do Scott and Fletcher address the state of the Philadelphia Flyers so openly without a fanatic revolt?

The most important acquisition for the Flyers is the head coach. With a new head coach, how much will the current regime change? If we’re being fair, it’s too early to judge the draft selections made by Fletcher in Philadelphia. Cam York and Ronnie Attard already debuted with the Flyers from the 2019 NHL Entry Draft class, with Bobby Brink and Bryce Brodzinski not far behind.

Finding the right head coach and solidifying an identity for this franchise is critical. An “aggressive retool” requires consistent development with the right coaches.

I asked a few colleagues to weigh in: 

  • Who will be the next Flyers head coach? 
  • How long is the leash on Fletcher?
  • Who are the leaders on this team?

Next Flyers HC

At the roundtable, I asked my colleagues Steph Hicks, Anthony Mazziotti, and Nate Tennesen for their opinion about who should be the next head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers. I received three responses from three different ice rinks. One is a former NHL coach, the other coaches in the AHL, and the last comes from the National League.

The first shouldn’t come as a surprise. Steph thinks it’ll be Rick Tocchet. He does seem like a natural fit with the organization, considering he does have a history with the Flyers. Tocchet wants Philadelphia to be successful, and he isn’t shy about it.

“I won three Cups [with Pittsburgh.] To trade one Cup with the Flyers, I can’t imagine winning a Cup with the Flyers. In Pittsburgh, it was unbelievable, I can’t describe it. I could say the same thing about Philadelphia. I can’t imagine what the crowd would be like. The Flyers fans want to win one so bad. It would be an incredible sight to see the Flyers win the Stanley Cup.”

Rick Tocchet; 3/2/2021

Anthony mentioned John Wroblewski, who would be an out or organization hire. Last month, Wroblewski took a leave of absence before declaring that he and the Los Angeles Kings affiliate, the Ontario Reign, mutually split.

“Thank you to the Ontario Reign and everyone with the LA Kings organization for all of their support during my leave of absence. After discussions with the team, we have come to an amicable agreement that will allow me to go in a different direction. I’m looking forward to returning to coaching at the appropriate time.”

John Wroblewski; 3/11/2022

Whenever that time comes, Wroblewski does have a track record supporting him as a more than credible coaching candidate for the Flyers.

Lastly, Nate name-dropped Rikard Gronborg. Gronborg is the only suggestion not affiliated with the NHL. He is the head coach of the ZSC Lions in the National League, and he was the bench boss for the Swedish National Team from 2016 to 2019. In 2014, he was the assistant coach for the gold medal-winning Team Sweden at the Olympics. Gronborg is the freshest breath of air for Philadelphia.

Will Fletcher Remain GM?

One thing is unanimous: Fletcher needs the Philadelphia Flyers to compete at a respectable level next season. Does that mean playoffs? Not specifically, but trending in that direction is a start. The defining moment will come at the trade deadline: if the team is selling again, Fletcher is on the hot seat.

Before this season, the fanbase was buzzing because Fletcher was aggressive in the offseason. Unfortunately, the glue that held most of his upgrades together participated in just four games before being shut down for the season.

Fletcher does deserve another season to see what his roster can do if healthy. After all, his drafting from 2019 could help heal an incomplete defense sooner than we thought. York and Attard appeal as a young duo on the third pair in 2022-2023.

Again, the fanbase has to be patient.

This season was frustrating because of extended losing streaks, injuries, and a lack of organizational self-awareness. All these things contribute to the second-worst Flyers season in my lifespan (2006-2007 is the worst.) The 2023 NHL Entry Draft class is full of potential high-end talent in the first round, but fans want Philadelphia to compete for something more than the first overall draft pick. If the Flyers are a lottery team again, Scott needs to replace Fletcher. Briere, very likely, would assume the general manager role in that scenario.

Flyers Leadership Roles

With a new coach and identity comes new leadership. Fletcher might remain the general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers, but the captain and alternates will change. Something in the locker room needs a spark. It’s easy to feel good when the team is playing well, but breaking out of those seemingly bottomless funks requires the right leaders. You can’t get too high, and you can’t be too low; there is a balance.

“When you get into these funks, you’re almost playing to lose. You’re almost expecting to lose; find ways to lose. If you’re rolling and guys bought in a little bit, you find ways to win. It’s tough.”

Riley Cote; “Nasty Knuckles;” 1/18/2022

Surprisingly, Nate and Steph don’t believe the Flyers will name a captain for next season. Between these two, names like Ivan Provorov, Cam Atkinson, Couturier, and Hayes were common, but Scott Laughton, Travis Sanheim, Farabee, and Ellis were a little more divisive. They all make sense for team leadership, but two names stand out for captaincy.

Couturier was the favorite for years to replace Giroux as captain. The former Frank J. Selke Trophy winner is an honorable choice. Does he resemble longevity as a captain? Yes, until another contender enters their name.

Farabee makes the most sense. Giroux dropped his name on the way to the Florida Panthers, passing the torch.

Both could likely be captains, with Couturier being the short-term option and Farabee serving as the franchise player a little down the road.

(Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn/Icon Sportswire)