The news that many Flyers fans had longed to hear for months finally came to be on Friday morning. After last Friday’s trade deadline debacle and with the team in the midst of losing 10 of its last 12 games, the frustration of the fanbase finally got through.
Chuck Fletcher is out as general manager and President of Hockey Operations for the Philadelphia Flyers.
This change for the Flyers is one that should certainly be met with cautious optimism. It is a starting point on the overhaul that needs to take place among the management group. That said, the reason to be cautious is for how many questions still remain in this process. This is not about the end of the Chuck Fletcher era. That change alone means very little for the Flyers at this point. This is about the bigger picture of management and just who will oversee this journey ahead.
This is probably the most obvious question: why now? Why this timing? Well, after last Friday’s trade deadline, Fletcher was the poster child for much of the criticism and vitriol that was built up among fans.
John Tortorella spent a chunk of his Saturday press conference trying to fan the flames. At a season ticket holder town hall later that afternoon, Fletcher was met with resounding boos when taking the stage.
The timing of all of this is far too reactionary. If a change was really this imminent, why let Fletcher even oversee the trade deadline to begin with? Well, the fan reaction likely has a lot to do with that.
The end of the Chuck Fletcher era is certainly satisfying on the surface. There were rumblings earlier this season that a possibility of moving into a “new leadership structure” could simply be promoting Danny Briere to GM and essentially giving Fletcher a promotion to the lone role of President of Hockey Operations. Now Fletcher is out of the picture completely.
The wording of the statement from Flyers Governor Dave Scott certainly featured a few instances of interesting verbiage.
The first comes in placing the interim tag on Briere. While Briere is certainly highly-regarded and has grown a lot in his management role, he has no prior experience as an NHL GM. This is still very much learning on the fly, despite the many hours he has put in. Using the interim tag indicates that there will at least be a search. It would have been easy to just name Briere as the obvious heir to the GM position. This shows there is a process to be done here too.
Next is the “new path forward under a new leadership structure for Hockey Operations.” The notable piece of this is the definitive separation of the roles of general manager and President of Hockey Operations.
When Chuck Fletcher held both roles, he was on the front lines of both parts of the operation. As the GM, he oversaw the construction of the roster. As the President of Hockey Operations, he oversaw the very construction of the entire organization at a hockey level, from scouting to analytics and everything in between.
By separating the roles, you create a larger chain of command. Fletcher noted at his press conference on Friday that he “wasn’t worried about his job” status in the sense that Dave Scott makes that call. As both GM and President of Hockey Operations, Scott was Fletcher’s boss. There was no middleman to separate the two roles.
The Flyers have 17 games remaining on the season, and that is just formality at this point. But the events of Friday morning may only be scratching the surface on what is to come.
There are plenty of questions that remain. Is this going to lead to a gutting of the scouting department? Will the senior advisors like Bobby Clarke, Paul Holmgren, and Bill Barber still be involved? Does it go even higher than that? Or will the removal of Fletcher be the only thing to really happen as the Flyers further rearrange furniture rather than having a full-on yard sale?
Fletcher was always going to be the first change that was needed. He can’t be the last for a team that needs to do way more to start charting a course of action for the future.
There was more key verbiage in the statement from Dave Scott that indicates that the reality of the situation is being felt.
“Flyers fans deserve a better team than what they’ve seen on the ice over the past few seasons, and a clear path to return this team to Stanley Cup contention. We know that this will be a multi-year process, and we are committed to doing it right, because we want to put this franchise on a path toward winning the Stanley Cup, period.”
That statement of a multi-year process and providing a clear path to return to contention has now reverberated across all parts of the organization. With Fletcher out of the front office, this rebuilding message has now come from the head coach and the ownership representation.
In providing that clear path, the Flyers have to consider what Fletcher’s release really means in the here and now. Nothing. It hardly changes the level of influence that the senior advisors have held on this franchise’s future. That equally needs to be part of the clear path forward, changing the guard for good.
If we’re talking about a complete changing of the guard to come, from Fletcher on Friday to the likes of Clarke, Holmgren, and Barber, or even Dave Scott himself, entering retirement, then the rebuild can fully get underway. But for now, it just remains the inevitable move that always appeared to be.
It’s a place to start, but only the first stepping stone to the bigger process that remains. It’s time for the Flyers to dive head-first into it with a new guard manning the wheel.