Following the 2019-20 season, most Philadelphia Flyers fans were optimistic. Under the helm of new General Manager Chuck Fletcher and Head Coach Alain Vigneault, the Orange and Black had finally taken the long-awaited step forward back to relevancy. They contended for the division title all season and were on pace to win the division before the season was paused due to coronavirus. When the season resumed in the Toronto bubble, the Flyers were the top seed in the East, and won a playoff round for the first time since 2012. They were one win away from returning to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2010. This was the Flyers’ best season in nearly a decade, and while it didn’t end in a Stanley Cup, there was so much potential for this team in the years to come with our Cup-contention window finally open.
So what did Fletcher decide to do during the offseason to improve his team? Not much of anything.
In the wake of Matt Niskanen’s surprise retirement, Fletcher signed defenseman Erik Gustafsson to help fill the void on defense, a move which has turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. He also let depth forwards Tyler Pitlick, Nate Thompson, and Derek Grant hit free agency.
And… that’s it. Fletcher’s offseason strategy was to more or less run it back this current season, after getting career years from stars Travis Konecny and Sean Couturier, the defense finally solid, and Carter Hart’s emergence as the clear starting goalie. His decision to stand pat during the offseason and bet on his current group of players to expand on the success of last season was a risk, but it was not a risk he should’ve taken. Not only because his bet was a massive bust, as the Flyers have not only failed to replicate the results from last season but are one of the worst teams in the league, but because the lack of moves from the general manager is what got his predecessor fired. Fletcher was not brought in to sit on his hands like Ron Hextall did – he was brought in because management had made it clear that the Flyers are in win-now mode, and that they want the general manager to be actively improving the roster.
This offseason was the time for the Flyers to begin putting their hoard of prospects and picks from the Hextall era to good use, by using them as trade chips to improve the roster and help the Flyers make another return to the postseason. Instead, Fletcher watched one of his best defensemen retire and decided that the best thing this defense needed was an older version of Shayne Gostisbehere. His failure to get an adequate replacement for Niskanen is a major reason why the Flyers’ blue line has been atrocious this year. He quite literally did nothing to improve the offense that struggled mightily to light the lamp during the playoffs. That’s inexcusable. The only position on the team it was acceptable to not address was goaltending, as the Flyers got very solid years from Hart and Brian Elliott.
Could Chuck Fletcher have foreseen the Flyers’ roster performing this badly during the 2020-21 season? Partially. It’s not his fault that every notable young player under the age of 25 not named Joel Farabee has noticeably regressed, which is the biggest reason for the team’s downfall this year. Without Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Phil Myers, Konecny, and especially Hart playing at the levels we expect them to, this team can’t go far. That’s on the players. But you know what is his fault? The fact that our defense has more holes than a block of Swiss cheese. The fact that the only person on this team willing to put up a fight is Oskar Lindblom, less than a year removed from completing his cancer treatments. The fact that we’re wasting yet another year of great play from Claude Giroux. The fact that this team lacks identity and heart. Worst of all, that even after watching the Flyers’ lifeless play for half the season, Fletcher still has not made any moves to try and breathe some life into this team – no trades, no firings, no nothing.
With each day that goes by, the Flyers become more and more unbearable to watch. And you can thank Chuck Fletcher for that.
By: Katie Bogan (@nolanp4trick)
Image credit to Zack Hill via Flyers PR.