The Blank Check That Bounced

To say that Flyers fans are disappointed and downright pissed with the “Aggressive Retool” maneuvered by GM Chuck Fletcher early into this offseason… would be an understatement.

Let’s throw it back to January where the Flyers season had already been over for two months. Aiming to combat worries from fans near and far, a press conference was held featuring none other than Flyers Governor and Comcast Spectacor CEO Dave Scott, as well as General Manager Chuck Fletcher. Through discombobulated and conflicting messages, the duo coined a shiny new catchphrase: “Aggressive Retool”.

Now that Chuck Fletcher has admitted that the Flyers are mostly done adding new pieces to the puzzle, I’d like to take a look at just what exactly that “Aggressive Retool” brought to the Flyers faithful.

1. Cutter Gauthier

Taken 5th overall in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, the Flyers were proud to select Cutter Gauthier. Standing at 6’2″ and weighing nearly 201 pounds, Cutter is the prototypical Flyer. A Power Forward with a wicked shot that has the potential to develop into a Center at Boston College? Count me in. Cutter hails from Sweden and has family near the Philadelphia area, so this pick felt like a win for the Orange and Black.

However, drafting Gauthier cost the Flyers their ticket in the sweepstakes for Alex DeBrincat, an All-Star who was whispered to have interest from the Flyers in recent weeks. With multiple 40-goal seasons under his belt at the young age of 24, DeBrincat is the kind of sniping talent the Flyers sorely need. Enter Ottawa! The Senators made their first splash of the offseason by snatching DeBrincat from Chicago for the 7th overall pick in the 2022 Draft, as well as a 2nd and 3rd in future drafts. Although this felt like the perfect opportunity to make a move, the Flyers felt comfortable drafting their next star in Cutter Gauthier. Though I would have loved to see DeBrincat pot goals for the Flyers next season, Gauthier’s upside is undoubtedly exciting. Not aggressive, yet exciting nonetheless.

2. Bringing In a Power Play QB With Baggage

Among the many areas requiring attention this offseason, the Power Play was definitely one of them. With a whopping 12.6% success rate, the team’s PP clocked in at dead last for the 2021-22 season. In an effort to fix this, Chuck Fletcher opted to trade for the rights of defenseman Tony DeAngelo at the draft. The price? Pick number 101 (4th round) in the 2022 draft, the lowest 3rd round pick owned by the Flyers in the 2023 draft, and for good measure, a 2nd rounder in 2024. Man, swap that 4th rounder for a 1st round pick and you could have Alex DeBrincat! Anyways, this was the price Fletcher was willing to pay to lock in DeAngelo to a 2-year contract on an average of $5 million per year.

DeAngelo comes to the Flyers with a certain amount of baggage due to his checkered past. From making racially insensitive comments and the abuse of a referee at the junior level, to making controversial comments on social media, to fighting with teammate Alexandar Georgiev of the New York Rangers in 2021, Tony isn’t exactly a poster child for character. In turbulent times where the team finished near the bottom of the standings and suffered its longest losing streak in franchise history (13 games), character is something I thought would have been high on the list of priorities. I digress. Although DeAngelo had success with the Hurricanes this past season registering 51 points in 64 games and kept his nose clean, the assets and cap space given up to acquire a defender whose weakness is actually defending… was a choice. It just may have been the final nail in the coffin of bringing a South Jersey boy home, too. Nonetheless, if there is any coach who can handle a player like Tony DeAngelo, it is John Tortorella.

3. NOT Johnny Gaudreau

It is no secret that Johnny Gaudreau aimed to play for the Philadelphia Flyers at one point in his career. Having grown up in the area and been a lifelong fan, it was clear that after putting up 115 points with the Calgary Flames in a contract year, Johnny Hockey wanted to come home. On the eve of Free Agency, it was reported that Gaudreau turned down a Flames offer that would’ve paid the winger over $80 million dollars in a span of 8 years. Cue the excitement of Flyers fans!

But… the Flyers had one MAJOR problem… and that would be the issue of having barely any cap room available to land the star. During ESPN’s coverage of the Free Agent Frenzy, Emily Kaplan reported that Gaudreau had texted others he wished to play for the Flyers, so what was the holdup? Many fans expected the likes of James Van Riemsdyk to be moved along with his $7 million dollar cap hit to allow Johnny to come home. If the Flyers truly wanted to aggressively retool, what was the issue?

Apparently, Chuck Fletcher did not want to deal a first round pick to bring that high-end talent to the hockey club. I do understand not wanting to move a first round pick to clear salary, but at some point a direction must be chosen. I’d prefer that direction to be either a rebuild or an actual all-in retool, but Flyers management unfortunately has chosen to put one foot in either door. The result? Purgatory.

Now a Columbus Blue Jacket, Johnny will get the chance to show the Flyers what they are missing multiple times a year.

4. Buying Out A Fan Favorite To Lock Down An Aging Scrapper and Defenseman

Prior to Free Agency, the Flyers announced they would be executing a buyout of Oskar Lindblom’s final year under contract, which would have come in at a cap hit of $3 million dollars in the upcoming season. This move had all the makings of a “business decision” in what can be an emotional game. It goes without saying what a remarkable story and inspiration Oskar Lindblom is. His battle with and eventual victory over cancer is a feat no one in Philadelphia will be soon to forget. To send their favorite Swede packing, landing Johnny Gaudreau or some other big name player was a must for fans to remain calm.

The hours passed once Free Agency opened and fans were anything but calm. What once were great hopes of landing Johnny Gaudreau quickly became fear that he would be joining a division rival in New Jersey. Eventually the Flyers made their move, and it was quite anticlimactic. Rather than bringing the All-Star begging to wear a Flyers jersey into the fold, Chuck Fletcher opted for a familiar face in Justin Braun on a 1 x $1.75 million dollar deal and veteran scrapper Nicolas Deslaurier for 4 years at an average value of $1.75 million. Not only did the Flyers whiff on bringing in a coveted high-end talent, they sent a fan favorite away to lock in a 4th liner for nearly half a decade. Talk about aggressive.

5. A Lack Of Direction With No End In Sight

Overall, what did the “Aggressive Retool” promised by management bring the reeling Flyers? Not much. Essentially, the same core will be running it back yet again next season without their longtime Captain, Claude Giroux (who is joining an exciting Ottawa squad). Inject an already questionable defense with a Power Play specialist and add a 4th line brawler, and we just might be on Bedard watch in 2023.

Unfortunately, the Flyers find themselves in a position that only they can be blamed for. Years of uninspired drafting dating back to the Hextall era mixed with long, hefty contracts, and an “Aggressive Retool” that was too scared to make the home run move have left this franchise at a crossroads. It is time to either rebuild or go all-in. A lack of decisiveness has paralyzed this organization for far too long and fans are left to question whether the trek to the Wells Fargo Center is even worth it.

Casual and die-hard fans alike have been sold a Bill of Goods that was riddled with empty words, whether or not Chuck Fletcher would agree with that statement. This once proud franchise is now seen as a pushover among a division of competitors who have gone through multiple winning cycles while the Flyers continue to tread water. For me, enough is enough. Though I don’t believe the Flyers were a Johnny Gaudreau away from winning the cup, that path would have been that of an aggressive retool. Instead, another year will go by and not much will change.

Long story short, Chuck, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

By : Jacob Hollamby (@Jaqueezyyyy)

Photo Credit: NHL.com / thehockeywriters.com / SI.com / deadspin.com

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