By Jeff Quake, Sports Talk Philly staff writer
It’s no secret that this year’s Philadelphia Flyers team has severely underperformed, but after a while there’s only so much you can do pointing fingers at the person to blame.
In years past, it was the coach or the system from Dave Hakstol’s coaching, and Craig Berube’s system with the type of players he had as head coach. Then there was the GM, from Paul Holmgren handing out awful contracts or making embarrassing trades left and right – Andrew MacDonald’s six-year $30 million extension, or Ilya Bryzgalov’s nine-year $51 million deal. However, after a while there’s only so much blame you can put on management, and that is when the blame needs to be shared by the players themselves.
Not many players, including the veterans such as Justin Braun and Brian Elliott, have looked particularly good this year. Regardless of how the team has looked, it all comes back to GM Chuck Fletcher. He has had a rather underwhelming three seasons in his tenure in Philadelphia. He didn’t get much in return for fan favorite Wayne Simmonds during his first year with the Flyers, as he shipped “Wayne Train” off to the Nashville Predators for Ryan Hartman and a conditional fourth-round pick. To help back up his trade history, Fletcher was able to trade a fifth-round pick for the signing rights of Kevin Hayes, who he then signed to a seven-year, $50 million contract that same offseason. He also acquired Matt Niskanen along with Braun in separate trades to help bolster the blue line. Unfortunately, since then Fletcher hasn’t gone out to make a big splash at free agency, or the trade deadline to help his team.
It’s only been a few days since this year’s trade deadline, and following his press conference with the media, the question has to be asked: how long of a leash does Fletcher have? He was asked in the press conference if there was going to be any coaching changes, which he promptly followed up with a quick “no." That to me is one of the issues right off the bat, as both assistant coaches Mike Yeo and Michel Therrien need to be under more scrutiny.
Currently being managed by Therrien, the power play is ranked 18th in the league and was 20th last season. Therrien has always been a defensive coach, even as a head coach in the NHL, and it’s not a surprise he has done a poor job while in charge of special teams for the offense.
Yeo on the other hand, had a pretty strong season last year managing the penalty, with the Flyers ranked 11th last season. This year is a much different story as an all-too-familiar 28th in the league. It’s time for Fletcher to stop bringing in familiar faces that he has a history with such as Yeo with the Minnesota Wild and Therrien when Fletcher was an assistant GM with the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was a nice thought to have as much coaching experience as possible between those two and head coach Alain Vigneault, but the experiment has failed.
On Monday, Fletcher said, "we're certainly in the fight right now and we're going to continue to fight but we may need some assets here over the next few months to address some of the needs that we have going forward." This was after trading away struggling defenseman Erik Gustafsson to the Montreal Canadiens and longtime Flyer Michael Raffl to the Washington Capitals for draft picks. Notably, he did re-sign Scott Laughton to a five-year, $15 million deal.
It should be fair to say that for Fletcher, his seat is starting to get lukewarm. He will certainly have a busy offseason ahead of him, with the draft, free agency and, of course, the expansion draft. The flat cap doesn’t help his cause, but looking at other teams, they have found ways to get the players they want or need.
Either way, if Fletcher does not make a splash during free agency or do something different with this team, he might be on his way out of Philadelphia in just a few short years.