Flyers, Fletcher, and a league-worst approval rating

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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 Philadelphia Flyers have the lowest approval rating of any NHL front office.

It isn’t an observation from a horde of angry fans. The approval rating reflects how the franchise is perceived by more than the local market. 

Their perception is on the money. Why would fans want to buy tickets ahead of the 2022-2023 season? The fans cannot help but feel trolled when Johnny Gaudreau aimed to become a Flyer, but Chuck Fletcher wouldn’t make a deal to accommodate. Instead, Fletcher welcomed back Justin Braun, traded for Tony DeAngelo, and added Nicolas Deslauriers. The buzzwords shifted from an aggressive retool to stabilization.

A bevy of decisions put Philadelphia against the cap and kept them there. ‘Spittin’ Chiclets’ pointed out that Rasmus Ristolainen secured the bag meant for Gaudreau, referencing his extension during 2021-2022. Fletcher stated the cost to trade James van Riemsdyk was more than he was willing to, which is why Gaudreau is a Columbus Blue Jacket. Teams tight to the cap should pursue a playoff berth, not a draft lottery.


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Fletcher seems to be able to draft well, which remains his lone silver lining. A lot of pressure rides on these prospects and their utilization within the Flyers’ system with John Tortorella. It’s hard to imagine an improvement within the Metropolitan Division standings in 2022-2023.

Roster

A collapse over two seasons at this rate is monumental. Mediocrity was the outrage before 2019-2020. Fletcher and, at the time, Alain Vigneault were in their second season in Philadelphia in 2020-2021.

Critical players left the team. Matt Niskanen retired, and Erik Gustafsson was the signing meant to fill that void temporarily. Before the season’s end, the Flyers sent Gustafsson to the Montreal Canadiens. The 2021 off-season saw the departure of Shayne Gostisbehere and two 2022 NHL Entry Draft picks to the Arizona Coyotes for cap space, Nolan Patrick and Philippe Myers to the Nashville Predators for Ryan Ellis, and Robert Hagg with early selections in the 2021 and 2023 NHL Draft to the Buffalo Sabres for Rasmus Ristolainen. Enter 2021-2022, where each of these trades, except the acquisition of Cam Atkinson, fell flat.

On paper, the 2021-2022 roster wasn’t all that bad. On the ice is what matters, however. Ellis played four games, and Ristolainen had an average season by his career measures. Injuries didn’t help; Philadelphia seemed like the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on national television.

But, in all of that, last season was not a total failure. Prospects earned ice time at the NHL level and made positive impressions.

Cap

Now, the Flyers are ~$2.523mil over the salary cap.

Usually, teams that are tight to the cap show it in the standings. It has been two seasons since Philadelphia earned a postseason berth. The last time they missed the postseason consecutively was 1992-1994. A stretch of five seasons came and went during the Flyers’ longest postseason drought in franchise history (1989-1990 to 1993-1994.)

Of the salary cap era, this is the worst stretch for Philadelphia. It has everything to do with poor management and aggressively passing off assets for band-aid solutions.

The most expensive contracts include Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes, Ivan Provorov, van Riemsdyk, and Ellis. Last season, Provorov played in 79 games; van Riemsdyk played in 82. Couturier, Hayes, and Ellis combined for 81 games played in 2021-2022.

Injuries are an uncontrollable variable in hockey. They happen to everyone. What can be controlled at contract negotiations is a price paid for players who are breaking down. Hayes and Couturier are trending towards returning as good as new. Everyone is still in the dark about Ellis, seemingly indefinitely on long-term injured reserve. 

Draft

Fletcher does have a silver lining. He hasn’t had a poor draft during his tenure with the Flyers.

There are enough prospects from each draft class to be excited about. The 2019 standouts all made their debut over the last two seasons. Cam York was the first to crack the NHL lineup in 2020-2021, but Bobby Brink and Ronnie Attard joined him last season.

Tyson Foerster, Elliot Desnoyers, and Emil Andrae are impressing at the 2022 World Junior Championships, which included Brian Zanetti.

Zayde Wisdom scored nine points (6G, 3A) in a six-game span with the Phantoms in 2020-2021. Samu Tuomaala was a surprise snub from the Sweden 2022 World Juniors team, improving with Sami Kapanen and the development coaches. Alexei Kolosov went undefeated for Belarus, breaking them into the 2023 World Juniors Championship. Cutter Gauthier, Devin Kaplan, and Alex Bump all had an impressive 2022 Development Camp.

Trades

He began by breaking our hearts. Trading Wayne Simmonds for Ryan Hartman, essentially, didn’t work out. Hartman, only last season, scored 30+ goals. However, Fletcher redeemed himself in 2019-2020 because Tyler Pitlick helped where Hartman couldn’t.

At the time, trading Radko Gudas was a bitter pill to swallow, but Niskanen mightily elevated Provorov. A fifth-round pick for Hayes wasn’t bad, though he wields a heavy contract. Securing Braun was another plus, but the long-term planning to acquire assets that turned into York, Brink, Wisdom, and Desnoyers were better.

Since then, Fletcher cannot escape quicksand. He couldn’t have planned on Niskanen retiring, but the price paid for Ristolainen is infamous.

Atkinson worked out well last season, however. The other trades heading into 2021-2022 aged like milk. A healthy lineup can turn that energy around. Again, Fletcher had to pay a hefty price this off-season. He included the 2022 fourth round, 2023 third round, and 2024 second-round picks for Tony DeAngelo and a 2022 seventh-round selection.

Free Agency

Critical trades represented roster moves before 2019-2020. Nate Prosser is the one who stands out the most from the free agency signings, but he would make his stand against the New Jersey Devils on January 28th, 2021.

The buzz was all about replacing Niskanen before 2020-2021. Gustafsson was the powerplay specialist after Alex Pietrangelo signed with the Vegas Golden Knights. Pietrangelo signed a 7yr/$61.6mil deal. That kind of money turns out to be cheaper than housing Ellis and Ristolainen.

Following the bubble hockey lull, Fletcher seemingly found a throttle to sign free agents with a veteran presence and leadership. The free agents signed included Gerry Mayhew, Nick Seeler, Adam Clendening, Nate Thompson, Keith Yandle, and Martin Jones. On paper, Jones backs up Carter Hart, Yandle pairs with Braun, and the rest are depth players. Ellis only being able to contribute in four games dismantled the defensive balance. Eventually, those depth players had an elaborated role for Philadelphia in 2021-2022.

Then, recently, the Flyers brought Braun back. Nicolas Deslauriers is the only new face from free agency unless Troy Grosenick earns the backup role behind Hart.

Philadelphia doesn’t look much different from last season; a tragedy when Gaudreau wanted to play on Broad Street.

Direction

Three coaches between the start of two seasons describe the lack of direction in the Flyers organization. Was it Vigneault? Did Mike Yeo have the room? Will this roster jive with Tortorella? A lot of pressure rides on Fletcher, not Tortorella, in 2022-2023.

Plans morphed in a completely different direction from when Fletcher and Dave Scott addressed the media during last season. Aggressively retooling was the plan. Trading a valuable draft selection and van Riemsdyk for cap space to afford Gaudreau should have been a no-brainer. Instead, Fletcher doubled back to stabilizing the team when facing the press during the 2022 Development Camp.

The plan is that there isn’t one. The front office is its own worst enemy.

(Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn/Icon Sportswire)

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