The mighty Philadelphia Flyers we grew up with are long gone. Ever since Ron Hextall took over in 2014, things have been on a downward spiral, reaching critical levels during the 2022 offseason after a series of mistakes by Chuck Fletcher.
The fanbase is fed up for a very simple reason- we’ve seen this exact story play out before. Hextall was originally hailed as a genius, a man with all the answers, earmarked as the savior of the franchise. Though as time continues to pass, hindsight tells us he made plenty of mistakes and didn’t have much of a direction to begin with. Now, Chuck Fletcher seems to be on the same path that his predecessor was on. Originally making the bare minimum number of moves to give fans hope, but later refusing to do what was necessary to truly take the team to the next level.
Now the Hextall era and Fletcher era are starting to mirror themselves far more than we could’ve ever imagined and the repetitive failures are starting to become more noticeable, which franchise-crippling mistakes made by his predecessor are rising to the top once again under Chuck Fletcher?
Number 5: Too Many Eggs Invested in Prospects
“Trust the Process,” the dumbest phrase in sports, is a motto the Ron Hextall lived and died by. He sold the idea that he was a master drafter and if everyone was just patient, then success would fall into their laps thanks to his genius on the draft floor. Though as more and more time passes since he ran the show in Philly, there’s a stunning lack of talent to show for such lofty expectations. Travis Konecny, Travis Sanheim, Joel Farabee, Ivan Provorov and Carter Hart highlight the Hextall years, and while they’re individually, none are truly stars or franchise altering players.
Today, we just went through an offseason where Chuck Fletcher opted to retain the fifth overall pick instead of trading it to acquire 24-year-old two time 40-goal scorer Alex DeBrincat. Meaning they believe Cutter Gauthier, the player they drafted at five, will one day in the very near future be just as good, if not better, than DeBrincat. It’s a huge gamble to take, especially for a team as desperate for success as the Flyers are. In fact, the only thing the Flyers basically have going for them right now is crossing their fingers that Gauthier, Tyson Foerster, and their 2023 first all become stars. If they don’t live up to the hype, there doesn’t appear to be a plan B and they’re once again right back where they started from in 2014.
Number 4: Depth Players on Dumb Contracts
Anybody still wake up in the middle of the night with cold sweats thinking about Dale Weise? His four-year, $9.4 million contract was among the stupidest things Hextall did during his days in Philly. Players like Chris Vandevelde and Brandon Manning both got multi-year extensions from the Flyers, albeit not making more than $1 million per season.
Chuck Fletcher found his own Dale Weise when he signed enforcer Nic Deslauriers to a four-year contract in 2022, with two years of a no-trade clause. He also brought back Nick Seeler and Kevin Connauton on multi-year extensions for some reason. Even a player like Scott Laughton and his five-year extension is not a typical contract handed out to a bottom six forward.
Fletcher may not be quite as egregiously bad in this category as Hextall was, but considering how badly he has mismanaged the salary cap, contracts like Deslauriers stick out tenfold compared to a Dale Weise contract during a “rebuild.”
Number 3: No Insulation of Youth
One of the biggest under-the-radar failures of the Hextall era was the inability to surround the young players making the jump to the NHL with high-caliber talent to learn from and play with. There’s probably no more damning example than Ivan Provorov, who spent the first three seasons of his career attached at the hip with Andrew MacDonald.
Today, the best example is Joel Farabee, who has shown the most offensive potential of the current crop of prospects and has spent his days surrounded a very underwhelming forward group of forwards. After an offseason where they passed on 40-goal scorer Alex DeBrincat and 115-point Johnny Gaudreau, Farabee will once again more than likely line up with Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny on the top line, not exactly an inspiring offensive threat.
Not to mention a prospect like Tyson Foerster potentially making the NHL in 2022-23. He’ll immediately be counted on as the sole source of offense rather than joining a team where he can be worked into the equation with veteran players that can help him produce offense.
Just a gross negligence of the main roster, setting both the tenured vets and prospects individually up for failure.
Number 2: Refusal to Add Outside Talent
Forget about insulating youth, how about just adding a single good player to your hockey team for a little bit of on-ice success? The list of players Ron Hextall passed on is appalling, and Chuck Fletcher is quickly looking to catch up to his predecessor.
Some of the notable Hextall misses were TJ Oshie, Phil Kessel and Ryan O’Reilly, all three of which proceeded to win Stanley Cups with their new teams. Paul Stastny and Tyler Bozak could’ve gone a long way to fixing their center depth, which to this day hasn’t been addressed, and someone like Robin Lehner would’ve been a hell of an upgrade over entering a season with Brian Elliott coming off core muscle surgery and mister glass bones and paper skin himself Michal Neuvirth in 2018-19.
Fletcher passed on JG Pageau at the 2020 trade deadline, Alex DeBrincat and Johnny Gaudreau during the 2022 offseason, and, well, everyone during the 2020 offseason, that is, except Erik Gustafsson whom he valued so much.
“One player isn’t going to help the Flyers win, so they shouldn’t sign anyone” has been a popular battle cry from the fans during the 2022 offseason, but here’s the thing- Adding outside talent accelerates the future.
Did Johnny Gaudreau make the most sense from a contract perspective during 2022? No. Would he have made whatever line he played on exponentially better? Yes. Gaudreau feeding Tyson Foerster in the near future would help him develop. Adding a legitimate 3C to a team with piss poor center depth would’ve immediately upped the overall competitive level.
Why is this so hard to figure out?
Number 1: No Direction
Hextall may have spent his days preaching about a rebuild… but is that what he did? The roster was never properly torn down, leading to sporadic playoff appearances where they easily got stomped out and middling draft picks that occurred after the major stars were drafted. Because of it, they never got a young stud or two to build around, instead walking away with guys like Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov, slightly above average players but nothing that couldn’t easily be replaced during your average free agency.
The 2022 offseason featured dreams of grandeur thanks to Dave Scott’s blank check and Chuck Fletcher’s aggressive re-tool, but now that the dust has settled, the roster is almost identical to the one that ended the 2021-22 season fourth worst in the league. Though when the Flyers gave up three draft picks for Tony DeAngelo, it felt like the start of a massive turnaround, but that would be the first and only move of substance they’d end up making.
It’s like Fletcher dipped his toe in the retool pool, realized, for whatever reason, the temperature wasn’t right, and backed out entirely.
The franchise is tail spinning wildly out of control, Fletcher promised change, didn’t deliver, then paraded around like he had a great offseason with some cocky snips to the media who questioned his approach during day one of free agency. Objectively speaking, the 2022 offseason was bat shit crazy when looking at the entire picture, and it shows just how much of a disaster things are internally for the once-proud organization.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)