Just because there have not been any games on the schedule for nearly three weeks now does not mean that Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher hasn’t been active in keeping up with his team and trying to build his future. For one, he continues to remain in contact with members of the organization over the course of the suspension from game play and other activity at team facilities, speaking regularly with the team’s player rep James van Riemsdyk and head coach Alain Vigneault and connecting daily with assistant GMs Brent Flahr and Barry Hanrahan.
Fletcher also was busy in helping to lock up part of the franchise’s future. Last Monday, the Flyers signed college prospect Tanner Laczynski and closed the week by signing another college prospect, Wade Allison, on Friday.
“I don’t know if they need a year or two of seasoning,” Fletcher said on Monday via a conference call. “These are players that will be 23 years old next season. They both have put a lot of time in it at the collegiate level. They both have size and strength attributes that typically takes a 19 and 20 year old kids a lot longer to acquire. They’re men. They are good hockey players. I expect that they’ll challenge for spots right away. Whether they can make it, time will tell. They’re players that are very close to being able to step in and play.”
This was Fletcher’s first time addressing the media since the suspension of play on March 12, which put a halt to the Flyers playoff push. The team had lost their last game on March 10 to the Boston Bruins, which snapped a nine-game winning streak and left them just one point out of first place in the Metropolitan Division.
“I think all season we’ve been showing a high level of resiliency,” Fletcher said. “I think it took us time to get everybody on the same page and to get playing our best hockey, which I think was predictable with the number of changes we made last off-season. I think as the season progressed, we all got on the same page from a system standpoint. Our culture grew and the expectations of the group increased. I think we’ve become a pretty good hockey team.
“I think what I like is the buy-in. Everybody is accepting of their role and try to do what they need to do to help the hockey team win, whether it’s Claude Giroux or Joel Farabee. It runs the gambit from our most experienced guys to our rookies. Everybody’s accepting of the role and doing what is asked of them and doing with a smile on his face. I think that’s why this group is so close and we were having the success that we were having at the end of the year.”
At the time of the suspension, the Flyers were starting to deal with a number of injuries -- first a fractured finger for van Riemsdyk, then a fractured patella for Phil Myers and a knee injury for Nate Thompson. Fletcher was able to provide an update on all three, noting that Thompson is cleared and Myers would have likely been able to return this week, the final week of the regular season. As for van Riemsdyk, he was still on pace to potentially be available for the start of the playoffs, but with everything uncertain, he’s healing just fine and will be ready to go whenever the league resumes play.
In addition to those three, Fletcher was also able to update the status of Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom. Patrick has missed the entire season with migraine syndrome and has returned home during the suspension. Fletcher said he’s still feeling well as he was in the weeks leading up to the suspension, but didn’t have much of an update beyond that, noting that more time without anything happening is a good thing for the forward.
As for Lindblom, he remains in Philadelphia and continues to undergo treatment for Ewing’s sarcoma. Fletcher said he’s doing well.
The fact that there could be a lot of season left makes this situation feel a lot different for Fletcher in the GM’s chair. This is not like the average offseason just a few months early. There is a lot of uncertainty around the cap and the effects that this suspension could have on revenue that prevent a lot of deep negotiations happening with players who are to become pending free agents.
“Part of it is there is a lot of uncertainty at this point. What the cap number will be and when things will start up,” Fletcher said. “Having said that, I think we have some RFA’s, in particular, that we have worked hard on the file for the negotiation. I think we’re certainly willing to have conversations with some of those players. The younger players that we will need to sign under any circumstance. I think if we can get ahead on some of those situations, we’ll look at it. I think there are some situations where we’ll wait to see the lay of the land before we can get too involved.”
The rest is just a waiting game for Fletcher and company. He reflected on the situation, noting it is much bigger than the game of hockey and took a moment before answering any questions to thank medical personnel and essential figures in the community on the front line of this pandemic.
“With respect to our players, we haven’t given them any sort of specific direction. Most of them have returned to their off-season homes,” Fletcher said. “A lot of them have the ability to work out there. I don’t think anybody is skating, obviously, at this point. I think guys are doing the best they can to stay in shape and they are all hopeful that in time we get to a better place in this world, where we’ll be able to come back and play hockey.”
As for a return, while there are a lot of different scenarios being thrown around, the concept of playing games later in the year, extending the regular season into typical playoff time and awarding the Stanley Cup at a time that would typically be the final weeks of the offseason, is certainly on the table for Fletcher.
“We’re fine with anything that they put forward. To me, the more hockey the better,” Fletcher said. “Whatever it ends up being, it ends up being. I’m not particularly led to anything. There’s a lot of ideas out there. A lot of creative solutions. It’s a good way to pass the time right now, but until things change and we have more information, it’s going to be hard to know what will happen.
“I just think there’s no sense in making any decisions until you have to make them. If we’re able to come back and play, that means the world is at a much better spot than it is right now. I think that would be a tremendous sign. Obviously, I hope we have that ability to finish up this year. A lot of work was put in and we got to the majority of the regular season. I think that we’re all competitors and we all want to play.”