Full Range of Emotions: 10 Takeaways from Flyers Press Conference with Chuck Fletcher and Dave Scott

Presser 2

(Photo: Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor 

In the midst of a 13-game losing streak, the longest in franchise history, and really no end in sight to the team’s apathetic play, the Flyers brass was set to meet the media on Wednesday morning. GM Chuck Fletcher was expected to give his State of the Team address at the halfway point.

But there was an unexpected addition to the press conference. Flyers Governor Dave Scott was also in attendance, and to his credit, acted as a leader of ownership should. He made a statement. He was a presence. He fielded more questions than anticipated. 

That said, this press conference was another example of just how far the Flyers are from an identity and a sense of direction. It presents more questions than answers, and it runs through a range of emotions that rival the five stages of grief – some congruent like anger and denial and others like irrationality and delusion.

Let’s dive right into it with 10 takeaways from today’s press conference in order of the quotes presented.

1. “I’m angry, I know our fans are more than angry and the whole organization’s angry. We’re sick of losing.”

There’s appreciation in Dave Scott opening this press conference with a statement that expressed such anger. The fan base needs to know that people from his vantage point care as much as they do about the team’s struggles. It was also a bit surprising, but certainly impactful, to hear him apologize for it.

“I don’t want to sugarcoat this. From where I sit, we’re in a terrible spot right now,” Scott said. “I can tell you I’m angry, I know our fans are more than angry and the whole organization’s angry. We’re sick of losing. We talk about this every day, we’ve got to figure out how to right the ship. We have a winning culture going back to Ed Snider, which was really instilled in all of us and it’s something I think about a lot lately. When we talk about winning, it’s not just a winning record. It’s winning the Stanley Cup, being a contender. That’s really where we want to go, that’s who we want to be. As I look back to the start of the season, had high hopes, really had high hopes.

“I just want to address our fans for a second and really just say I’m sorry, you deserve so much better than what we’re dealing with right now. This isn’t what anybody signed up for. I can tell you we’re determined to right the ship here and get it right and looking forward to the future.”

That was honestly a great starting point. People are frustrated. People are angry. And they need to know that the organization has an ounce of empathy for the lack of success. This was the high point of the press conference though, as things went downhill from here.

2. “I think it could go either way with both players.”

This is in reference to both Sean Couturier and Ryan Ellis

Ellis has played only four games this season and is dealing with a lingering lower-body injury that has kept him entirely off the ice. 

Sean Couturier played through the first 29 games while battling a myriad of injuries in his own right. He has been out since the Flyers and NHL season paused for COVID leading up to the holidays, his last game coming on Dec. 18.

The longer both guys are not on the ice skating as part of their rehab, the closer the decision gets to just shutting them down for the season. In Ellis’ case, this is becoming more and more likely by the day. For Couturier, there’s a chance he could be in a position to return, but it’s also starting to appear less likely.

Not really a surprising development. The longer this goes, the more likely Sean Couturier and Ryan Ellis do not return at all this season. 

“I think it could go either way with both players,” Fletcher said. “The most important for me, my direction to the players and to the medical staff is at this point, we have a long road ahead of us this year. Let’s get these guys right for next year. If that allows them to get healthy this year and play, great, but the focus has got to be on their long-term health.”

3. “Claude has a no-move trade in his contract. Ultimately that’ll be his decision.”

Obviously a big topic of conversation for the rest of the season will be Claude Giroux’s future. He’s going to be their most valuable trade chip at the deadline. He’s also a franchise icon that will be in the Top 5 of most categories whenever his career ends, whether at the deadline or sometime further down the road.

Fletcher said he speaks to Giroux’s agent two or three times a month. While Giroux’s future is certainly a topic of conversation, it’s not something the Flyers are completely racing into at the moment.

"I think the best way to put it, first of all, I think Bob Clarke is probably the best player in franchise history. Once we get beyond Bob Clarke, there’s been some great players: Bill Barber, Bernie Parent, Eric Lindros, Simon Gagne, Brian Propp, you could go on and on. I think Claude is certainly right in that group,” Fletcher said. “He’s one of the best Flyers to ever play. He’s our captain, he’s been our best player this year. Nobody cares more about the Flyers than he does.

"I think we have to recognize what we’re dealing with here, he’s a franchise icon, his jersey’s going to be in the rafters, to me he’s a Hall of Fame player. Claude has a no-move trade in his contract. Ultimately that’ll be his decision.”

My read on this is that the Flyers, to an extent, already have their minds made up. This conversation will happen and they will be shopping him at the deadline. The key is that the ball is in Giroux’s court. He can control if and where he’s dealt. 

The team can still honor his Flyers’ career in a variety of ways. No deals are going to happen anytime soon, and as the deadline approaches, Giroux will also be approaching his 1,000th game played. It could be a perfect send-off for Giroux if he takes the Wells Fargo Center ice for his 1,000th game as a ride off into the sunset. 

4. “Everything’s on the table. We’re going to try to aggressively retool here.”

To this point, nothing said has really been too far off base. There was acknowledgment of the anger and frustration over losing. There was an apology from the Governor of the team for not living up to expectations set by both the organization and the fanbase. There was the focus on the health of two key core players for the long-term rather than forcing them back on the ice for an all-for-naught out-of-reach playoff run. There was acknowledgement that, while Claude Giroux holds the keys to a trade, they will explore it. 

All of these things fit the direction of the team. Then Chuck Fletcher said this.

“Everything’s on the table. We’re going to try to aggressively retool here,” Fletcher said. “The trade deadline typically, as you all know, the teams that are clearly going to make the playoffs are often looking to add guys on expiring contracts. The teams that aren’t making the playoffs have a chance to maybe add some future assets whether they’d be draft picks or prospects. You do get the occasional hockey trade at the trade deadline, but we’re at the 43-game mark, right now we’re really focused on trying to win some games and get better. The math is daunting, so in view of that, if this continues, then clearly we’re going to look to do what we can at the trade deadline to improve this team going forward.”

Ah, retool. That’s the keyword. A better translation is very similar to what you go this offseason, a “we believe the pieces are there, we just need a couple more and we’ll be better for it.” It’s the band-aid approach that hasn’t panned out this year and almost definitely won’t in the future. If Fletcher balked at the term “rebuild,” what does he think about major changes being made?

“Look, I don’t think there’s any question we need more top-end talent,” Fletcher said. “Claude Giroux is our best offensive hockey player, he’s 34 years old, he was drafted 16 years ago. We have some good young players. And some of those young players, their career arc is still going to play out. But we do need more top-end talent, there’s no question. 

“We’ve tried to address that a bit the last few years, adding some players with some skill sets that we need. We just have to continue to chip away at that. But I do believe there’s a group of players here that can be part of a winning core. But we definitely need to add more pieces and that will be the focus going forward.”

So how do you go about adding that top-end talent? For most teams, it’s being in a position where the Flyers are currently. It’s finishing in the bottom five of the standings – the Flyers are currently sixth from the bottom – and being among the lottery teams with a higher percentage of getting the first overall pick. Even if you don’t pick first, a Top-5 pick should net you something solid that becomes more than useful down the line.

So is it as easy as bottoming out?

“The easiest way to get top-end talent is through the draft, historically that’s been proven year after year,” Fletcher said. “Bottoming out? I don’t think that’s what we feel we need to do. 

“I do believe we have good pieces. Realistically, players like Couturier and Ellis are going to come back at some point. When they come back, we’re a significantly better hockey team. But we need to take advantage of the opportunities that we do have in the draft, we have to look at trades and you can always supplement your roster in free agency. 

“Look, we need more top-end talent and the draft is the easiest way. But we’re not going to trade all 20 players on our team and try to get 15 picks every year. I don’t think that’s the right approach.” 

In fairness, the Flyers were never going to dismantle this roster from top to bottom because of one bad season. You can build around Carter Hart. You can be a successful team with Sean Couturier, Ryan Ellis, Kevin Hayes, and Joel Farabee all on your roster. What is evident is that you can’t field a roster of complimentary players and expect to be a contender with the juggernauts of the league.

Right or wrong, for better or worse, the retool term is the one that has been used regularly for the last decade. They won’t bring themselves to call it a rebuild, but with the amount of roster turnover, coaching turnover, and potentially more in the future, it shouldn’t be sugarcoated what it really is becoming.

5. “I don’t see it being a 3, 4, 5 year rebuild at all. We should get this right, we should be in it next year.”

This is where things start to go off the rails a bit. Following Fletcher’s previous answer, seemingly acknowledging the potential of getting impact talent in the draft, particularly at the top, Dave Scott butted in with this response.

“I don’t really see this as being a 3, 4, 5 year rebuild at all,” Scott said. “I don’t think Chuck does, either. We have a pretty good core, I think it really starts with a healthy Coots and Hayes, Farabee, we’d love to have Ellis back. We’ve got a core group to build on. I think as we look at the reality of it, two, three pieces we’d be great. Maybe a little more.

“But the core is good. We’ve just got to get healthy. Our job is to make sure Chuck’s got all the resources he needs to make this a success, and he does. I can tell you, everything’s on the table. We’re looking at the front office, we’re looking at the coaching staff which we have been, players, investment. Whatever we need to do to improve this team. But I don’t see it being a 3, 4, 5 year thing. We should get this right, we should be in it next year."

There’s a lot to unpack in that. First of all, the injury excuse is just tired and lazy at this point. Every team in the league deals with injuries. Each and every one of the other 31 teams. They all make the best of it. Some succeed, some don’t, but you can’t be all woeful that your season was seemingly derailed because of injuries.

Maybe the bigger thing here is also the timeline of a rebuild. Scott believes this isn’t a 3-to-5 year process. In rare occasions, it doesn’t have to be. Teams that land top picks and get a generational talent can likely move forward a little quicker knowing they have the cornerstone player to build around. The Flyers won’t be finding that player this year and maybe could get him next year if the stars align. But that’s a big if, and after an offseason of gambles and “what ifs” about multiple acquisitions, that’s not a philosophy to stand by.

The fact that Scott seems to think that this is a short-term process and that they can contend next season leads to the belief that he’s the one holding the keys in this operation. Chuck Fletcher may be the general manager, but are the decisions he makes really ones he thinks are advisable to the team’s future and the right path to success, or are they Scott’s attempts at regularly retooling things? If so, it’s a delusional way of thinking.

6. “We’re feeling it, I’m feeling for the fans. You’ve got team performance, you’ve also got COVID protocol."

The next topic on the rundown is attendance. It’s no secret that attendance has taken a hit this season. 

Yes, there are a variety of factors. Attendance suffers from an economic standpoint – a.k.a. the prices of tickets, merchandise, parking, food and drink, etc. – or weather and lately COVID cases and protocols. In some cases, vaccine mandates recently installed at Wells Fargo Center could be driving people away. So could the overall number of COVID cases currently in the world. All of those things certainly play a factor.

But so does team performance. So do wins and losses and the amount of success you have. How does Dave Scott assess it?

"When you’re not winning, you don’t have a good product on the ice, it’s going to impact attendance,” Scott said. “We’re feeling it, I’m feeling for the fans. You’ve got team performance, you’ve also got COVID protocol. Philadelphia’s very tough with its vaccination, that’s impacting attendance. It’s impacting the Wings, it’s impacting the Sixers. It doesn’t help the cause. But bottom line is we have to get better, we have to figure out how to win games."

So, time for a little fact check. The Wings play in the NLL. It can certainly be an enjoyable atmosphere and produce some really awesome action, but it’s not up there with the premier sports leagues like the NHL and NBA. 

Speaking of the NBA, the Sixers rank second in the league in average home attendance (20,288) and percentage of tickets sold (100.7). The Flyers are 13th in the NHL in average home attendance (17,230) and 20th in percentage of tickets sold (88.2 percent). Keyword: paid attendance, not actual butts in the seats. 

So Dave Scott is flat-out wrong on this one. The Sixers aren’t suffering at all in attendance for any reason, COVID-related or otherwise. The Flyers are, and it’s getting more and more noticeable by the game.  

7. “Sometimes young players don't develop because they're not talented enough. And sometimes they don't develop because you don't put enough resources in.”

Let’s talk development. It’s one of the areas in the NHL that can dictate the difference between a Stanley Cup contender and the teams at the bottom of the standings. 

The Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t win back-to-back Stanley Cups by virtue of having just the best players at various positions. Their depth shined too, many of them being players selected in the middle rounds of the draft and molded into the players they are today.

The Flyers have struggled in this area. Not only do they not have many players within the team’s prospect system making the leap to the NHL, they have horrible injury luck with some of those players as well. 

Take Wade Allison for example. He made his season debut on Saturday, and promptly left the game with an injury. He’s out for multiple weeks with another injury after missing time earlier this season with a high ankle sprain. It’s never something short-term that keeps him out day-to-day. It’s always on the longer term.

With players like Couturier, Hayes, and Ellis out for long periods this season, the question was presented to how much a lack of development has hurt the team.

“Sometimes young players don't develop because they're not talented enough. And sometimes they don't develop because you don't put enough resources in,” Fletcher said. “I can tell you that thanks to Dave, we doubled the size of our development staff last year. And it's a little bit like gardening. You plant seeds in the ground. It might take a year or two to see the fruits of that.”

Another gardening reference? Where have we seen that before? Regardless, the Flyers have put resources into this area to try to improve. Analytics has been expanded. The player development staff has been expanded. Budgets have increased. So the resources are there. What about the talent?

“That's a pretty broad question,” Fletcher said. “Joel Farabee? Absolutely the talent's there. I mean, we go through player by player, it's no different. When you draft, some players hit, some players don't hit. I think there's no question we need more top-end talent. But we have a lot of good hockey players. We have a pretty good core here. And time will tell.”

So after saying there is plenty of resources into building the scouting and development teams and increasing budgets to help with this, the only player Fletcher could name in regards to talent was Joel Farabee, a player he did not draft. He did briefly touch on Cam York as well, but even he is still a work in progress. Perhaps there is more to come from the last two drafts. It’s still too soon to tell, but these are the crucial years of their development and the Flyers really need to get it right.

8. “We have to continue to communicate with our fans.”

Dave Scott was asked what can be done to bring fans back. His response:

“I mean we have to continue to communicate with our fans,” Scott said. “Valerie Camillo runs the business side there. And we're trying to do everything and more. Another area we're investing in. But, you know, my job, again, is to provide Chuck and Valerie with resources. And I'm – that's what I'm doing."

This could be a perfectly legitimate answer and explanation of Scott’s role, providing resources to both make the hockey operations, and therefore the team, better while also providing funds and resources to make the business side better. 

Then you remember how just two nights earlier, in the middle of a losing streak that later that night reached 12 games and last night reached a franchise-record 13 games, the team released its new mobile video game featuring the team mascot. Communicate better with the fans? Read the room. 

9. “I think if you ask anybody in hockey ops, they would say nothing's changed. Talk to the old timers, people that are still with the organization.”

Let’s just get right to the comment about the perceived disconnect between the Flyers fan base and the organization in its current state. Here’s Dave Scott again: 

“I feel if you talk to people inside of the organization now, I think it's been pretty stable for a couple years now, whether it's on the business side. I've had Valerie Camillo, she's in her fourth year. She's a terrific executive. She's built a great team. Chuck's been here now just about as long, I guess about the same time. So no, I think if you ask anybody in hockey ops, they would say nothing's changed. Talk to the old timers, people that are still with the organization.

"I think if you're on the outside looking in, maybe you're hearing some things and seeing it differently. But with that said, you can always make it better. I want it to be a family atmosphere. I don't think it's changed. I mean, I've been living it for – I'm in my ninth season here. We just try to build on what Ed started. I will say this, Comcast has been the same terrific partner to me that they were to Ed. Comcast has been in this thing for 26 years, the controlling partner."

How about we recap the year.

  • Two losing streaks of 10+ games
  • Held a Flyers Hall of Fame ceremony to a sparse crowd
  • Fired Alain Vigneault
  • A dog relieved itself at center ice
  • Fans started a social media movement with profile pictures with bags over their heads
  • The team neglected to acknowledge late founder Ed Snider’s birthday
  • Franchise legend Bobby Clarke appeared on a podcast and threw former player and executive Ron Hextall under the bus
  • The aforementioned Gritty video game

This is the track record they have to defend. If Dave Scott is being told nothing has changed, he’s asking the wrong people. There have been long-time members of the organization that no longer have near as much of a presence. There was noticeable outcry over the neglect around Snider’s birthday.

Scott may say people on the outside looking in don’t know or understand. Or maybe the people on the outside looking in just don’t align with your vision and are simply out of sight, out of mind.

10. “Right now, Chuck's my guy and we're trying to build around that.”

Another coaching change appears imminent for the Flyers when the season ends. Mike Yeo will remain in the role for the rest of the season, then everything will be up for evaluation. That should include Fletcher, who you have to wonder is the right person for the job.

Another topic during the press conference was Danny Briere, who recently was a finalist for the Montreal Canadiens’ GM job and is expected to take on a more significant position in hockey operations with the Flyers in the near future, as confirmed by both Fletcher and Scott. He seems destined to be an NHL GM at some point soon enough. 

But if you are looking for a management change this season, forget it. After the season? It doesn’t sound likely. 

“Right now, Chuck is my guy,” Scott said. “We're trying to build beyond that. Strengthen our front office as much as we can. But we've made a lot of positive changes that way. I'm excited about that. I feel like, personally, I'm surrounded by great hockey people. We've got our four advisors. We've got Chuck and his staff. We've got deep talent on the hockey ops side. I feel like we're not lacking anything there."

Fletcher expressed his disappointment for the season based on his disconnect between expectations and reality.

“It's been a disappointing season,” Fletcher said. “We're in a tough conference. It's a tough league. Our goal was to be in the playoff hunt and be a good hockey team. We haven't been. There have been a lot of factors. Injuries are a part of it. But other teams have had injuries and they've been able to get through it.

"So it's been extremely disappointing when we look at where I think we should be and where we are. Obviously, I'm the guy in charge. That falls on me. Right now, we are what we are. My mindset is, now, there are going to be opportunities to get better. We have to take advantage of it. We can't undo what's been done.

"Right now, first, we need to find a way to get a win. We need to take the temperature down. We need to get a good environment back around here so we can make objective, smart decisions.

"There will be a lot of decisions to me. There will be opportunities to improve the team. There's no question. I've been through tough stretches other places. This is definitely the toughest I've ever gone through. Definitely the biggest disappointment."

It’s not an uncommon answer of late, coaches and now management talking about how they have never really endured anything like this stretch. It’s usually the type of response that comes when people are running out of solutions and simply unsure how to fix any of it. What makes Fletcher right for this opportunity?

"I like the way he's built this organization,” Scott said. “I've worked with predecessors. I like Chuck's style. I think he's collaborative. I like what we did going into this season. On paper, it looked really solid. Look, injuries happen. No excuses but it did happen. I think we have more than anybody I've seen. I just saw the numbers and we're right at the top."

Again, the injury excuse comes back up, a fitting ending to the takeaways from this press conference. It had a little bit of everything. Denial of a rebuild. Delusion about how long such repairs could take. Anger and frustration at what the season has become. Excuses about why the season has gone the way it has.

It all equates to the perfect summary of the state of the team. And it’s fair to wonder if the priorities and direction of the team moving forward is in dire straits.

It’s not an uncommon answer of late, coaches and now management talking about how they have never really endured anything like this stretch. It’s usually the type of response that comes when people are running out of solutions and simply unsure how to fix any of it. What makes Fletcher right for this opportunity?

"I like the way he's built this organization,” Scott said. “I've worked with predecessors. I like Chuck's style. I think he's collaborative. I like what we did going into this season. On paper, it looked really solid. Look, injuries happen. No excuses but it did happen. I think we have more than anybody I've seen. I just saw the numbers and we're right at the top."

Again, the injury excuse comes back up, a fitting ending to the takeaways from this press conference. It had a little bit of everything. Denial of a rebuild. Delusion about how long such repairs could take. Anger and frustration at what the season has become. Excuses about why the season has gone the way it has.

It all equates to the perfect summary of the state of the team. And it’s fair to wonder if the priorities and direction of the team moving forward is in dire straits.