Chuck Fletcher’s nine-year tenure as the Minnesota Wild’s general manager has been viewed in different ways.
Critics of Fletcher, who was officially introduced Wednesday at the Skate Zone in Voorhees as the Flyers' eighth general manager, point out that his trading record was a mixed bag and that only once did his teams advanced to the second round of the playoffs.
Proponents note that his Wild teams, competing in the rugged Western Conference, made the playoffs in each of the last six seasons.
Flyers president Paul Holmgren is one of the staunchest supporters of Fletcher, who was fired by Minnesota after last season and became a senior adviser for the New Jersey Devils.
“If you look at the team that’s there right now," Holmgren said of the Wild, "they’re probably one of the better teams in the league. That’s really his team.”
Minnesota, with mostly players signed, acquired, or drafted during Fletcher’s tenure, was 15-10-2 and tied for 11th among the NHL’s 31 teams heading into Wednesday.
Holmgren said the Flyers needed a “different set of eyes and a different voice pushing the organization forward” and that Fletcher would lean on executives “more extensively” than the dismissed Ron Hextall.
Highlights of the news conference and afterward include:
· Holmgren said he interviewed seven or eight candidates and that Fletcher was named just a week after Hextall was fired "because there’s not a lot of hockey left, and we want to get back to the business of winning hockey games.”
· Fletcher, 51, thanked Holmgren and Dave Scott, the CEO and chairman of the Flyers' parent company, Comcast Spectacor, “for showing faith in me" and called the franchise an “iconic brand. You look at the original six teams in the NHL, and, obviously, they’ve been around a long time. You put Philadelphia right with them. It’s just a tremendous market, a tremendous franchise, has great history -- Stanley Cup-championship history."
· As he did in a conference call Monday, Fletcher saluted Hextall’s work, saying, “The cupboards are full. There’s a tremendous amount of prospects. This year, we have nine draft picks [in the seven rounds]. We have cap space, and we have good players. There’s everything here to be successful."
· Fletcher sounded liked Hextall when he said that, because of the cap, “you have to build your team through the draft. That has to be the core of your team. There’s no other way to do it. We all can’t go out and buy 20 players."
Those prospects must be supplemented with trades and free agents to fill gaps, he said. Hextall didn’t make any signature deals in his four-plus years with the Flyers.
· The team’s defense and goaltending must improve markedly, Fletcher said.
“We’ve used five goaltenders this year in 25 games, and that’s not all performance-related; there’s been injuries and some tough breaks,” he said. “There have been a few performance issues. Clearly, there’s been some instability in goal. I think if we get some guys healthy, perhaps that can be an antidote to that, and we can get that consistency back."
· The 11-12-2 Flyers were five points out of a playoff spot before Wednesday’s games, and Fletcher said that 25 games was a “small sample size. We have a lot of runway left here. We have an opportunity to find a way to push and make the playoffs. That has to be our goal. We’re as strong as any of the teams right around us. Hopefully, we can find a way to become a very good team as the season goes along.”
At almost the same time last year, the Flyers had lost 10 straight, but they had the league’s fifth-most points from Dec. 4 until the end of the regular season and earned a playoff berth.
· Scott called Fletcher a “seasoned leader” with a “positive outlook on hockey and life. He has a very easy, open management style that I really appreciated quickly.”
· Fletcher said new assistant coach Rick Wilson, who worked for him in Minnesota, will help the defense make strides. The GM is expected to explore the trade market after he gets familiar with the team, but he said: “If we can get this thing going in the right direction, maybe we don’t have to go out and be aggressive. But if things aren’t working and we’re not getting traction, then you have to look at every angle."
· The new general manager said he would “definitely reach out to the agents very quickly” to reopen discussions with Wayne Simmonds and struggling defenseman Ivan Provorov. Holmgren said he believed the contract situation was weighing on Provorov and called it natural. “You’d have to be Superman not to have it affect you.”
· Fletcher, who planned to attend the Phantoms' AHL game on Wednesday night, reiterated that he will not make any swift decisions on his coaches and wants to give them every chance to succeed.
· Fletcher said he would lean on executives in the organization, such as Holmgren, Dean Lombardi, Barry Hanrahan, Bob Clarke, and the scouts. “When we make a decision, I make the decision, because somebody has to pull the trigger,” he said, “but it’s with a lot of input. You listen to people and you trust your people.”
Clarke, the Flyers’ senior vice president, was Florida’s general manager when he hired Fletcher as an assistant GM in 1993. When Clarke transitioned from a player to a general manager, Fletcher’s father, Cliff, who as a general manager helped Calgary win a Stanley Cup, was one of the executives he leaned on for help.
Clarke said he learned from the elder Fletcher.
“Cliff initiated looking out for the families and not just the players. He and [the Flyers'] Keith Allen were probably the only general managers at the time who thought like that,” Clarke said. “I knew Chuck had seen what his dad had done and how people were supposed to be treated.”
Clarke said Fletcher "looked after the scouts, and he was my top-two guy. What was important for me was that everybody who worked for us was included, and Chuck, right from the start, was really good at asking people’s opinions and listening to their responses and asking if we could do more. When a trade was made, Chuck and I were the two who sat down and worked together; we didn’t necessary have to agree, but we could ask each other questions and get answers. And Chuck would talk to scouts and stuff. Nobody was left out in the dark.”
Flyers executives thought Hextall, did not give them enough input.