By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
It’s been 14 games since Chuck Fletcher took over as GM of the Flyers. It’s been eight games since Scott Gordon took over behind the bench in the aftermath of Dave Hakstol’s firing.
The first four games under Gordon showed a team that has a newfound energy. Perhaps they were playing with a new urgency because there was a new boss behind the bench. Perhaps they were protecting the 20-year-old in goal who had been recently called up. Whatever it was, the honeymoon is over and it’s back to reality for the Flyers. And reality is that this team just isn’t very good.
The numbers don’t lie. The Flyers have a 15-19-5 record and 36 points in the standings. That’s last in the Metropolitan Division, one point from the cellar of the Eastern Conference and two points above the league’s worst mark. Only two teams have a worse goal differential than the Flyers -29 mark. Both special teams units are in the bottom five of the league with the power play ranking dead last.
With that, Chuck Fletcher should have seen enough. Changes to the roster don’t happen all at once or overnight, but instead of looking for ways to save this season, Fletcher should turn his focus on selling where he can and making preparations for next season and beyond, into building this team the way he wants to with players he thinks can make the Flyers a contender again.
Any talk of the postseason is pointless at the moment. The margin to the final wildcard spot is now 12 points. The margin to third place in the Metropolitan Division is 13 points. The season is halfway over. If the Flyers weren’t at least knocking on the door by now in some turnaround effort, they are not going to make a run anytime soon.
If the focus should shift to selling, where do you begin? The Flyers could start at the core.
One player in that discussion is obvious. Wayne Simmonds has been with the Flyers for the last seven seasons. He’s in the final year of his contract. If there is no future in the Orange and Black for Simmonds, Fletcher almost has to find a trading partner just to get something in return rather than letting Simmonds walk for nothing at the end of the season.
It’s a fine line to walk because the Flyers may not want to make that decision now or even at the Feb. 25 trade deadline. Simmonds is a fan favorite and a heart and soul kind of player who wears his emotions on his sleeve. But he’s also not the player he was five years ago, or even two years for that matter. Starting the wave of change with him would certainly resonate in a tight-knit locker room, especially if the first domino to fall is one of the core.
Realistically, anyone in the same situation as Simmonds is certainly a candidate to be moved. If a player is not under contract for next season and not part of the team’s plans moving forward, seeking a deal has to be on the table. Players like Michael Raffl and Jordan Weal could fall into that category.
There are other veterans who could be moved to try to signal a new beginning and a wave of change. Jake Voracek and James van Riemsdyk are players that could be in discussion. Other veterans like Dale Weise and Radko Gudas could also be potential movers if the Flyers are willing to retain some salary.
However the Flyers decide to address the roster, it definitely needs addressing. The Flyers fired the general manager. They fired the head coach. That’s a major change to the management side and a major change to the coaching staff. They even tried to solve the goaltending problem by calling up Carter Hart. They are 2-3-0 in games Hart has started, 3-4-1 since the coaching change was made, and 4-7-3 since the GM change was made. In short, all the noise and change behind the scenes has not changed the product on the ice.
There is really nowhere else for the Flyers to turn. Heads started to roll in management and on the coaching staff as this team watched another season start to get away. The players are starting to show that they are part of the problem too. And before long, changes will be coming their way too.
Those changes may not make a difference this year, and in Chuck Fletcher’s case, that’s fine. He’s still new here and his goal is to set this team up for success during his tenure. If he can’t save this season, he can at least get a head start trying to avoid a similar fate next season.