Flyers Free Agency: “Fire Chuck!”

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.

The 2022 NHL free agency market opened at noon. Five hours later, the city of Philadelphia wants Chuck Fletcher gone.

Every bit of this media address was going to be brutal upon entry. Fans at the Skate Zone were chanting, “Fire Chuck!” They’re tired of swerving out of the way of what could make the Philadelphia Flyers better.

Johnny Gaudreau wanted to become a Flyer.

Nonetheless, caught up in the mania, Fletcher did address the media. He had to answer for all the misdirection leading into the off-season. There could have been an “aggressive retool.” Instead, Philadelphia used gum to slow a leak.

Fletcher Press Conference

Philadelphia announced Justin Braun and Nic Deslauriers before the general manager sat down. Fletcher signed five more players to a deal: Troy Grosenick (G,) Cooper Marody (C,) Adam Brooks (C,) Louis Belpedio (RD,) and Kevin Connauton (D.)

Grosenick, on a one-way deal for a year, is the critical signing of the five announced. He will compete with Felix Sandstrom and Samuel Ersson for the backup role to Carter Hart in 2022-2023. Connauton returns for two years on a two-way contract. Fletcher stated, “we’re done,” closing the book on the 2022 NHL free agency market.

“We’re out on all the remaining free agents. [The] reality of our cap situation right now probably precluded us from looking at some of the more expensive options in the market today. To us, it’s more about depth signings, getting guys that’ll make us a little harder to play against, and making sure we have some players on two-way contracts that can move between Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia.”

Chuck Fletcher; 7/13/2022

Following that, Fletcher was short with Charlie O’Connor when he asked if they were in on Gaudreau.

“No, we weren’t in. We were in on the players we signed.”

Chuck Fletcher; 7/13/2022

Fletcher indicated the price might’ve been higher than James van Riemsdyk and an early-round draft pick to create cap space to acquire someone like Gaudreau. Previously, he described an “aggressive retool” as reminiscent of a rebuild, but with the intention of winning sooner than later. Saddled with bad contracts, the Flyers would have to pay the cost to alleviate their cap situation. When a superstar wants to come to your organization, in its current state, you make it happen and build around it.

“Ideally, we [would] like to get more high-end skill, and I think starting the draft with Cutter Gauthier, he is a young man that can fill some holes for this organization down the road. I think first round picks are going to be a pretty important part of what we’re trying to do as well.”

Chuck Fletcher; 7/13/2022

Today, the opportunity presented itself to obtain a high-end player. Gauthier was a freebie. A first-round pick would have been a part of creating cap space to sign an NHL superstar. There is an unwillingness to be aggressive after advertising an “aggressive retool.” Without direction, this lost vessel needs a new captain.

As I write this, “Fire Chuck” is trending.

Fletcher defends the “aggressive retool” as a plan to fill team needs. He pointed out the trade for Tony DeAngelo and signing Braun. Ryan Ellis is progressing, but these moves indicate a lack of faith that he’ll be ready to play; “there is no guarantee when he’ll be back.”

“Right now, as an organization, the most important thing we have to do is stabilize.”

Chuck Fletcher; 7/13/2022

Stability is a good plan when you set that expectation. It wasn’t the expectation set when Fletcher and Dave Scott previously addressed the media, which will reflect in the attendance figures at the Wells Fargo Center in 2022-2023.

In theory, stabilizing Philadelphia makes sense. What doesn’t make sense was turning down a clear opportunity to stabilize around Gaudreau. A high-end player will provide stability, allowing the players around him to elevate. Gaudreau would help revive Sean Couturier and send Cam Atkinson to the moon.

Braun is an appreciated signing if Ellis is not healthy. Fletcher sees DeAngelo as a top-pair partner to Ivan Provorov, slotting Braun to the bottom. In full transparency, the defense is a bit more stable, but not enough people are reflecting on the decision to extend Rasmus Ristolainen last season. Keith Yandle might’ve made Ristolainen look okay, but if the Flyers didn’t provide a 5yr/$25.5mil extension, they would’ve been able to afford Gaudreau. Yikes, but more than the daily serving amount.

In some instances, it seems like the uncertainty around Ellis is driving the decisions at large. Nick Seeler and Ronnie Attard “will be competing” for a role, and already were signed to Philadelphia before free agency opened. Seeler isn’t an ideal bottom-pair defenseman and Attard requires more seasoning, but Connauton is only making a little less than $1.75mil over the next two seasons.

“The problem with Ryan Ellis’ injury is it’s very difficult to utilize LTIR way in advance until we know where he’s at.”

Chuck Fletcher; 7/13/2022

Ellis played four games for the Flyers in 2021-2022. He hasn’t been able to do much of anything, but the word is that he’s progressing. Acquiring DeAngelo indicates Fletcher has an idea about Ellis. A gambling man would put the odds on Ellis going to LTIR. Either way, there was another method to trim cap space, but Ellis’ uncertainty is driving the bus.

But, here we are. DeAngelo, Ristolainen, and Braun do stabilize the defense with Provorov, Travis Sanheim, and Cam York. In that vein, Fletcher did at least address the defense. He won’t live down the decision to not acquire a superstar who wanted to play for him, however.

Most other franchises would put their general manager on a scorching hot seat.

If Fletcher isn’t already there, then ownership needs to relieve themselves from their duties. Stabilizing starts with hockey decisions, and of all the recurring themes from 2021-2022, the Flyers still haven’t learned how to win, as Mike Yeo would’ve put it.

(Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn/Icon Sportswire)