Philadelphia is no stranger to the idea of a revolution.
The city that is the home of Independence Hall and was front and center for many of the key events surrounding the American Revolution has once again seen a revolt. Although this time, the revolution that occurred appears to be much more akin to the French Revolution rather than the American Revolution.
After years of missteps and attempting to bandage the gaping wounds of a clearly substandard hockey club, discontent from the fanbase on a lack of direction was very real. Anger and disillusionment from the masses of Flyers fans from a lack of results were reminiscent of the popular revolts in France due to a shortage of bread (a staple of the French diet). With every passing moment, it seemed that the Aristocratic ruling class was not connected to the realities that the people were facing and were ignorant of the damage they were inflicting. It led to the infamous response from Austrian-born French Queen Marie Antoinette who declared “Let them eat cake”, as a backhanded solution which stoked the flames of anger even further and displayed the vast chasm of disconnect between the elites and the common people.
Similarly, Chuck Fletcher has had a few of those Marie Antoinette moments. In the aftermath of promising an “Aggressive Retool” as the path forward for the organization, Chuck Fletcher displayed no aggression in not chasing Johnny Gaudreau in the offseason. His retooling of the roster consisted of blowing draft capital in the form of acquiring Tony DeAngelo which was the antithesis of doing what the fans wanted. In an offseason that saw tremendous anger towards these courses of action, fans demanded answers. When confronted with his puzzling action (or lack of action) by fans questioning the direction of the club, Fletcher infamously sniped back at reporter Charlie O’Connor with the line “It’s a re-tool Charlie”. In the eyes of Fletcher, the Flyers were a team that was going to compete for a playoff spot especially with the addition of new Head Coach John Tortorella.
As the season unfolded, it became clear to everyone that the Flyers were on the wrong track as the club went through its third ten-game winless streak in two seasons. Rumors started to circulate on the job security of Fletcher and the overall direction of the hockey team. Speculation was that the Flyers would be making a change after the conclusion of the Word Junior Hockey Championship in mid-January. Chuck Fletcher appeared not worried in the least. He doubled down on his ill-conceived pre-season prediction of playoff contention by steadfastly declaring that the Flyers were “only five points out of a playoff spot” in yet another soundbite that whipped up fan furor.
As the Flyers embarked on their dreaded western road trip after Christmas, the Flyers won all three road games and seven of eight games by mid-January. Talk of Fletcher’s firing was extinguished although many fans were not fooled by the run of good results. Was it all just buying time to quell the anger of the masses? Was the winning run just a spell of good fortune that bought time for Fletcher’s vision of how the season would end up? What did the decision-makers think about a possible shift in organizational direction?
It would appear that behind the scenes, the Philadelphia Flyers team of advisors may have played a significant role in preserving Fletcher’s position. Bobby Clarke, Dean Lombardi, Paul Holmgren, and Bill Barber have long been rumored to be much more involved in the decision making process than the organization makes visible. After all, to the common fan these are established alumni (sans Lombardi) who have been a valued part of the club for decades. As members of the Flyers Royal Court, they have the ear of Philadelphia Flyers Governor Dave Scott, who like absolute monarch King Louis XVI is the ultimate power in the Flyers Kingdom. The advisors can be seen at times in the luxury suite at the Wells Fargo Center, overseeing the masses from their bourgeois perch with all the amenities that such privileges bestow.
Not all was well though, as the Kingdom of the Flyers has been on shaky ground for years and exhibited noticeable cracks to the fans that have been paying attention. Those cracks and fissures if not noticed were certainly ignored by the advisors of King Scott’s Court and even the King himself. And who can blame them? Everyone in the front office was secure in title, status, and position; enjoying the splendor of the finest things that Comcast-Spectacor could offer. Instead of the posh refuges of the tennis courts and sprawling gardens in France, the decision makers of the Flyers discuss their business on the golf courses of Florida and the luxury suites of the Wells Fargo Center. Why entertain the idea of if fans could stomach a rebuild, when you can tell them to forget about the hockey team and “Let them eat Insomnia Cookies” instead? Plus, you can even convince the fools that they have to pay for the privilege as well (along with parking, milkshakes, gourmet wood-oven pizzas etc)!
All the while, the Flyers season ticket base has been hemorrhaging members. It led to a media availability on Tuesday February 28th where Chuck Fletcher stated the obvious course of action that the Flyers were going to be sellers at the Trade Deadline. Many like Anthony SanFilippo, Chris Therien, Russ Joy, Snow The Goalie, and Crossing Broad noted that the timing of that availability was noteworthy as it coincided with the time of year where season ticket renewal deadlines traditionally occur. Declining attendance and the availability of tickets was absolutely a factor when visible hordes of New York Rangers fans occupied the Wells Fargo Center on that fateful game on March 1st which dealt another black eye to the organization from an optics standpoint. Strong hints of a rebuild were stated in a letter by John Tortorella to Inside Edge Members, and Fletcher himself hinted at the course change but could not bring himself to actually utter the phrase ‘rebuild’.
Is it because Fletcher was still undecided about what the correct direction was? Or was it as Russ Joy opined on Snow the Goalie that the refusal to use the word ‘rebuild’ was purposeful as it would acknowledge the utter failure of Chuck Fletcher as a General Manager during his almost five year tenure with the Flyers?
Ultimately, it wouldn’t matter.
The ‘seller’ Philadelphia Flyers could not find a way to move pending UFA James van Riemsdyk in what would end up being yet another uninspiring trade deadline. The potential return didn’t even matter and in truth, trading van Riemsdyk would have made no difference. The mob was incensed by what was seen as yet another misstep from a leader who has made too many for their liking. The masses were assembling and the proverbial guillotines were being readied. Heads were figuratively going to roll.
So, what do we do now? Let’s meet our season ticket members with Chuck Fletcher himself available to answer questions and engage with an irate fanbase! You literally couldn’t plan a worse day to do this event even if you tried; which really demonstrates the disconnect in reality between the organization and the fans.
When the event began, fans were live-streaming the event for the fireworks that were sure to come with the GM meeting the masses just mere hours after his humiliation during the trade deadline. As Fletcher walked onto the stage, a chorus of boos greeted him as was to be expected. What wasn’t expected was the reaction of Steve Coates (a radio broadcaster known for injecting humor into game commentary) who lashed out at the boobirds and urged the fans in attendance to “keep it classy” in a desperate attempt to shield a member of the inner circle from justified criticism.
In William Shakespeare’s plays, a character that appears often is that of the Fool. The Fool is always a member of a Royal Court who has the persona of a court jester and is there for the comic relief of the audience. In actuality though, the Fool is the smartest and sharpest character in the play with vast knowledge and wisdom compared to all of the other characters. The Fool may appear clownish on the Shakespearean stage but in truth knows what the real deal is. Steve Coates may use humor much like a clown to entertain an audience, but make no mistake about what his words and actions during that Inside Edge Member Event really meant. Steve Coates showed himself to be a loyal soldier of the Royal Guard who would defend his leader at all costs; even though clearly the actions of Fletcher were indefensible. The fans had every right to show their disapproval and Steve Coates was out of line for defending his General Manager rather than allowing the fans to voice their opinion at an event where that is the entire purpose. Shame on Steve Coates for shamelessly towing the company line, but it further demonstrates the gap between the perception of those who work for the Flyers organization and the fans.
Public outcry won out at the end of the day, and the Flyers organization felt that a change was needed. Chuck Fletcher was relieved of his duties as both President of Hockey Operations and General Manager on Friday March 10th, less than a full week after the Trade Deadline and six days after the Inside Edge Event. It promises to be the first of many more moves to change the front office.
Now, it can legitimately be argued that the Hextall regime was far more to blame for the failures of the Flyers today than Chuck Fletcher. Similarly, the seeds of the French Revolution were not really to be laid at the feet of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The outrageous spending of the ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV with the construction of the Palace at Versailles and the massive debts incurred by waging too many wars ultimately set the stage for the French Revolution that was to come. At the time, the spending was justified because Imperial France wanted to project power to all of its rivals and keep up with the other Great Powers of Europe.
Similarly, the Flyers failures while continuing to dream about being a competitive team finally caught up to them. The idea that this team was salvageable because the team made it to the Second Round during the COVID bubble season of 2020 finally revealed itself to be a complete mirage. This team did not have enough talent to be considered a competitive hockey team. They ran it back and made no significant additions to that roster the following season and expected to see improvement. Yes, injuries played a role in decimating the roster since then, but the injuries have continued for multiple seasons in successon. Trading for Ryan Ellis was lauded at the time but has turned out to be a massive miss. Signing Travis Sanheim to an eight-year contract extension before the opening game this season again demonstrated terrible decision-making and a horrific sense of timing. Time after time, the Flyers have been busy trying to patch holes on a ship that just kept taking on more water.
It appears a change in direction is finally happening.
In the press release announcing Fletcher’s dismissal, Dave Scott communicated that the status quo was not good enough and that the Flyers needed to firmly commit to a new course. Danny Briere was named as the new Interim GM and the promise of a new structure for the organization which will separate the President of Hockey Operations role from the General Manager’s role. While it remains to be seen if Briere will have the Interim tag removed or not, he used the term rebuild multiple times in his introductory press conference and that things needed to be done “the right way”. Chuck Fletcher is only the first domino to fall in what should be a multitude of changes within the organization.
Would the Flyers have come to this conclusion of a course correction without the outright revolt by the fans? Maybe. Maybe not.
But I certainly don’t think things would have happened at the speed that it did over the last week or so.
The Revolutionary spirit is indeed alive and well in Philadelphia. Fans need to stay active. This is only the first step of many has been undertaken.
The main motto of the French Revolution was “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite”. Flyers fans will hopefully settle for “Let’s Go Flyers” once again.
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