Hail, Chuck Fletcher!

Chuck Fletcher did it.

He actually did it.

From ‘running it back’ last offseason, to months of inactivity while the Flyers struggled mightily in March and never got control of their season; to ultimately missing the playoffs.

Faced with the most important offseason in recent memory, Chuck Fletcher has crossed the Rubicon and has taken concrete steps to change the identity, culture, look, and feel of the Philadelphia Flyers.

Some readers may not be familiar with the phrase ‘crossing the Rubicon’.  Allow me to give a brief history lesson that I truly feel has many parallels to what we have witnessed in the last week or so.

The Rubicon is a river in northern Italy that served as the ancient border between Gaul (France) and the Roman Republic (the predecessor to what would become the Roman Empire).  Gaius Julius Caesar was a General who became immensely popular among his soldiers through his wildly successful military campaigns in Gaul.  As victory after victory mounted, those in power back in Rome became very suspicious of Julius Caesar, especially as he was amassing great personal wealth on his campaigns.  In particular, the Roman Senate (the traditional arbiter of power) was wary of any shift in the power structure of the Republic.  Particularly since Julius Caesar and the other major Roman Generals Crassus and Pompey, were part of the First Triumvirate; which was a power sharing arrangement of this trio of important Generals which ensured the status and power of the Senate in the Roman Republic.  As Caesar won victory after victory in Gaul and beyond, the Senate became concerned that such wealth, power, and influence by one section of the military would be an affront to the status quo and would therefore be a threat to the ideals of the Roman Republic.  Although it must be said that the Republic was thoroughly corrupt and no longer stood for the ideals and principles from which it was founded.

More on that later.

As President and General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers, Chuck Fletcher has had ample opportunity to evaluate and witness the Legions under his command.  Like Caesar’s forces, the team experienced a tremendous amount of success in 2019-20 by winning a first-round playoff series for the first time since 2012 (against the Montreal Canadiens) and losing to the New York Islanders in seven games.  There was much to be optimistic about this team, even if they did not look dominant in their playoff performances.  Things were really coming together; young players were taking steps forward, new Head Coach Alain Vigneault was nominated for the Jack Adams Award, Sean Couturier was recognized as the Selke Award winner, and Carter Hart looked on the cusp of being the goaltender that the Flyers have been lacking for decades.

Despite many fans looking for improvements to address some of the concerns that became apparent during that playoff run, Fletcher decided that no major moves or players would be brought in despite the improvements and changes made throughout the Metropolitan Division by the Flyers’ rivals.  Fletcher decided to listen to those fans who articulated that improvements would be made by the young players naturally; no need to expend assets in order to continue the upward trajectory of the team.  Even when Matt Niskanen shockingly announced his retirement, Chuck Fletcher only signed Erik Gustafsson and stressed that he absolutely was not a replacement for Niskanen.

Chuck chose the status quo, much to the ire and discontent of many battle hardened fans who had waited patiently since the prior leadership of Ron Hextall for the draft and develop philosophy to bring this team back to being a consistent playoff contender.

Back to ancient Rome.

While upsetting the status quo was seen as unthinkable, the truth is that things in Rome were not as they seemed.  Anger and discontent was present and on the rise.  The Senate and in particular the Patricians (the landowner class) had seen tremendous gains in power, wealth, and influence.  There was a clear decline in the lives of the Plebians (commoners) who saw their ability to obtain land and improve their living conditions thwarted seemingly at every turn by the Patricians.  More and more Plebians found themselves landless, while Patricians were able to increase rents and procure lands outside of the Roman Republic to the detriment of an increasingly large and discontented Plebian class.  Plebs would work the lands of these absentee landlords with no hope of every having any property of their own.

In other words, the Roman Republic was not working.  The benefits of citizenship were only going to the wealthy Patricians who supported and influenced the Roman Senate with their land and money, while the majority of people grew jaded and disillusioned.  Julius Caesar was acquiring wealth on his campaigns, but he also rewarded the soldiers he commanded with land of their own (especially since many joined his ranks due to no real future prospects or opportunities for themselves or their families).  Caesar bucked the status quo much to the anger and chagrin of the Senate.  Caesar redistributed land to his soldiers, defying the Senate’s ability to claim and purchase those lands for themselves and the Patricians.  This not only created resentment between the Senate and Julius Caesar; it also made Caesar’s soldiers incredibly loyal to him as the spoils of their efforts on the battlefield were directly granted to his men.

In Rome, the smear campaign began.  Julius Caesar was branded as being mad with power and was hell-bent on destroying the success, order, and stability of the Republic.  He was nothing more than an agitator; someone who obviously was not fit for his station in life and a betrayer of the social standing of which he aspired to be.  Although born into a wealthy family, Julius Caesar was not from the privileged elite class and would probably be considered upper-middle class today (albeit in the upper range of that class).  The Senate backed by the Patricians went to work: Caesar had to be stopped and was an absolute threat not only to their power, but to the Roman Republic itself.  Word was sent to Caesar that if he returned to Rome with his armies, it would be considered an act of treason against the Roman Republic.  Caesar and his armies needed to stay on the opposite banks of the Rubicon River, otherwise according to Roman law; Caesar and his men would be considered an invading force that would initiate a civil war and threaten the very survival of the Republic itself.

In Philadelphia, all fans were immensely disappointed by the Flyers missing the postseason and having the unwanted distinction of alternating between being a playoff team and not for the last decade.  While the vast majority of fans figured that some change would happen, most disagreed on exactly how much.  Fletcher’s track record in Minnesota with the Wild also became evidence for many long-time fans doubting that serious changes would be made.  After living through the Hextall regime’s patient approach, it became clear that Hextall’s plan of preaching patience through the drafting and development of talent was a fool’s errand as the team was not making any tangible progress.  While in theory the organization was still implementing it’s plan, there seemed to be no real indication of when the team would begin to add players to the roster via free agency or make trades to improve the quality of the roster and take clear steps forward.

In other words, the divide in the fanbase between sticking to the status quo and those advocating for real change to take place began to boil over.  I have never seen as much hatred, vitriol, and downright nastiness between fans of this team as I have this offseason.  Tensions were incredibly high as the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft edged ever closer.  Chuck Fletchers media availability was put under a microscope to find out what direction this once proud franchise would take.  This offseason was going to be a defining moment not only for Chuck Fletcher as the GM of this team; but would undoubtedly have intense ramifications for the course of the entire franchise itself.

Fletcher’s decision has many similarities to Julius Caesar standing on the banks of the Rubicon in 49 BCE.  Does he cross the river knowing that he is sure to begin a conflict that will disrupt the course of history for not only himself, but the entire Roman Republic?  Does he bow to pressure and not challenge the status quo and the authority of a corrupt Senate that has been severely perverted with money and land steering it far away from its original noble and respected position?  Reportedly, Julius Caesar made his historic and fateful decision by proclaiming “Let the die be cast” and crossed the Rubicon with his loyal army.

Chuck Fletcher began his offseason changes on July 17th by trading Nolan Patrick and Phillipe Myers to the Nashville Predators in exchange for defenseman Ryan Ellis.  Fans of all stripes were universal in their recommendation that Fletcher address the defense and acquire a top pairing defenseman to partner with Ivan Provorov for the foreseeable future.  Ryan Ellis fit that bill as he plays the right side and is under contract for the next six seasons at a AAV of $6.25 million.  He has extensive experience playing with Roman Josi and is a veteran who plays in all situations and can be counted on when it matters most: the playoffs.  The trade was hailed as a near universal success by Flyers fans; although to some, the trading of two young players with potential was a clear departure from what Flyers fans have been used to in recent memory.  Still, the offseason began with a massive win for Fletcher and the Flyers.

Trading Patrick opened up a spot on the Flyers Expansion protection list at forward, leading Fletcher to correctly place Nicolas Aube-Kubel in the protection slot made available by the departure of Nolan Patrick (who was traded by the Preds minutes after the initial trade to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for Cody Glass).  Fletcher’s methodical approach attempted to force the hand of Seattle Kraken GM Ron Francis into taking a larger harder to move contracts with multiple years of term (JVR at $7 million, Voracek at $8.25 million, and Gostisbehere at $4.5 million) or lesser priced veterans (Braun at $1.8 million and Hagg at $1.6 million) with only 1-year remaining on their deals. 

This was the correct move (and a savvy one at that).

What no one could have predicted, was that Seattle would shockingly end up selecting Carsen Twarynski from the Flyers thereby mitigating any real potential cap relief for Chuck Fletcher to remake the roster.  It must be noted that Seattle also skipped taking a myriad of players with term and high cap hits with just about every other team in the league in a strategy of withholding cap space for potential future deals with other franchises in which Seattle could dictate the terms of any potential deal from a position of strength.  No doubt Fletcher was frustrated by Seattle’s stance and setting the price for potential deals as high as they did.  Many GM’s were put off.  In a stunning bit of news, Seattle basically selected their roster and announced that there were no side deals made with other clubs (although they did trade former Flyer Tyler Pitlick to the Calgary Flames the very next day).

Fletcher was undeterred.  He rose to the occasion and bravely set forth a series of roster moves from that very moment that would leave no doubt as to what his course of action this offseason was going to be: a rejection of the status quo, with additions and subtractions to the roster designed to change the attitude, mix, culture, and direction of the franchise.

In short, Chuck Fletcher decided to cross the Rubicon.

On July 22nd, he traded 2022 draft picks in the 2nd and 7th rounds along with the polarizing Shayne Gostisbehere to the Arizona Coyotes in order to free up $4.5 million dollars of cap space and escape from the remaining two years on that deal.  This was an outrageous (and some would say contentious) move that fans of the Flyers are not used to.  They traded draft picks when for years, Ron Hextall has preached that the hoarding and development of draft picks into prospects and turning them into NHL players was the only way to ensure success.  Add to that the fact that Shayne Gostisbehere was beloved by sections of Flyers fans while reviled in others, and that a tenured member of this roster was traded indicated that a new course was underway.  Regardless of if you agree or disagree with the trade, it must be acknowledged that the Flyers were in uncharted waters; certainly since 2014 when Ron Hextall was hired as GM.

Fletcher continued remaking the roster with the announcement on the day of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, that the Flyers had traded their 13th overall pick in the draft along with Robert Hagg, and a 2nd round pick in 2023 to the Buffalo Sabres for defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen.  While I would certainly claim that the price was heavy and that Fletcher overpaid in the deal, Fletcher ensured that “the die was cast” with this move and that the Flyers were not going to return to an unacceptable status quo.  I fully acknowledge that the analytics community and large parts of this fan base have serious questions about Rasmus Ristolainen and how effective a player he has been and will be moving forward.  Others (including Fletcher himself) has defended the move by stating that Ristolainen was on a perennially poor team and was placed in situations on the team’s top-pairing where he would not be successful.  The argument in favor of the trade lends itself to the fact that Ristolainen will be in a second pair role in Philadelphia, where he adds physicality, compete level, and overall snarl to the back end to go along with consistent offensive production.  Critics will point to his poor analytics and hideous plus/minus as evidence that Ristolainen has been completely overrated in the ‘tough to play against’ department.

The jury is still out on the Ristolainen trade, but Fletcher’s next move again polarized parts of the fan base.  In a shocking trade, the long tenured and productive Jake Voracek was dealt back to the Columbus Blue Jackets for winger Cam Atkinson.  While there debate about which player is perceived to be better overall, there is no doubt that Atkinson brings more speed, a higher compete level, and goal scoring prowess than Voracek.  Judging from the reaction of Blue Jackets fans, he was a very well-liked player that will be missed both on the Blue Jackets team as well as by the city of Columbus.  This cuts a very sharp contrast with the much-maligned Voracek; who has done loads of charity work in the city to go along with good offensive statistics, but was soured on by large parts of the fan base as a player that took shifts and entire periods off who was not worth the cap hit to the team any longer.

In his remarks on a Zoom media conference call, Fletcher stated that “It was time for us to bring in different players and get going in a different direction.  It’s as simple as that”.  He continued by saying, “We just can’t keep bringing the same players back year after year and expect different results.  We had to make changes this year”.

In other words, being happy with the status quo is no longer acceptable for the Philadelphia Flyers. 

And Chuck Fletcher is not done.  The Flyers are very likely going to trade for a goaltender to backup Carter Hart and push the young goalie while providing competent starts to give the team a chance to win every night.  At worst, the Flyers will end up signing a goaltender in free agency providing that there is one that fits the Flyers needs now that the trading of Voracek has provided some cap relief.

 

Apology

Which brings me to my apology.

I would like to apologize to Chuck Fletcher for all of the doubt that I had in his leadership up to this point.  I want to apologize for being a very vocal, outspoken, and harsh critic of what I saw as inaction and an unwillingness to make the moves needed to give this franchise a concrete direction.

I was wrong for being so harsh and sharp with my criticism.

But to bring it back to the example from earlier, allow me to explain my behavior.

You see, I have been a fan of the Philadelphia Flyers since the early 1990’s and the Lindros era.  Back then, the Flyers would routinely make the playoffs consistently and were a destination for free agents as then owner Ed Snider was the greatest fan of all of us and did what was necessary.

He ran the team like a fan.  When the team gave a poor effort, he was outraged.  When the team didn’t meet expectations, improvements were sought.  When the team missed the playoffs, changes would be made.

I gave the Hextall method a chance.  I really did.  But year after year of inconsistency, disappointment, and overall lack of excitement and enthusiasm from the front office to put a legitimate product on the ice for fans to rally around made this loyal fan (soldier) very angry.

While I still loved and supported the team, it seemed that the Philadelphia Flyers did not reciprocate that level of devotion to me in return.  Continuing to bring back the same players year after year felt like there was no plan; that continuing on with the status quo was irresponsible when clearly the Flyers organization (the Roman Republic) had absolutely lost its way.  It had been a noble example of a franchise in the NHL that had become a shell of itself with a complete loss of identity, direction, and sense of purpose.

Fans have been waiting for Chuck Fletcher to put his stamp on this franchise and provide leadership to an organization and a fan base that needed a new vision desperately; much like Julius Caesar became the leader to challenge a corrupted system that needed to be brought back to its prior glory.  While the moves Chuck Fletcher made may or may not lead to success, it is clear that there has been a shift in how this organization conducts its business moving forward.  As a fan, that is all I can ask for.

I want to sincerely thank you for re-igniting my passion and interest in this team Chuck Fletcher.

You have indeed crossed the Rubicon and made a series of moves that will no doubt create waves and encourage debate for some time to come.  While success is by no means guaranteed, changing the Flyers so dramatically in the last few days to this point reminds me of the days prior to the Hextall era that I loved.  You have put your stamp on this franchise and have earned my unequivocal loyalty and respect.  I eagerly await the start of the coming season and cannot wait to see the new look Flyers in action.

HAIL, CHUCK FLETCHER!

Conclusion

By the way, to end the history lesson it must be pointed out that when Julius Caesar marched across the Rubicon, the expected civil war did not really happen (at least not immediately).  The Senate completely underestimated the influence that Caesar’s popularity had with other soldiers and common people throughout the Republic.  Most soldiers refused to take up arms against Caesar’s soldiers as they too were frustrated with the growing corruption and inequality present in the Republic and they saw Caesar as a reformer.  In short, Caesar was welcomed into Rome as a hero and not as the traitorous invader that the Senate painted him to be.  This caused the other powerful faction of soldiers led by General Pompey (and loyal to the Roman Republic) to flee the city and regroup.  At that point, the battle between Pompey and Julius Caesar’s armies led to Caesar’s Civil Wars from 49-45 BCE, which was ultimately won by Julius Caesar’s forces.

I relate this historical account, because I know that there are Flyers fans out there that are not happy with what Chuck Fletcher has done.  They are confused, disappointed, and upset.  Many are already predicting doom and gloom for many of the new acquisitions (especially Rasmus Ristolainen).  I understand the frustration.  I was in that same position.  I sincerely hope that these moves lead to successes early and throughout the coming season to convince you that changes needed to take place.  The culture, attitude, and personnel needed to be changed to the degree that it was.  I hope that this team earns the right to be cheered on by all fans through successes on the ice, so that we can all cheer this team on loudly. Together.  Change was needed.

***

Do you agree with the article?  Do you disagree?

Feel free to leave any comments or feedback via twitter or at www.brotherlypuck.com.  .

Until next time from BrotherlyPuck.com,

I remain,

Manny Benevides

@mannybenevides

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