CALGARY, Alberta — The Flyers' new sheriff has been around for a little more than a week, and so far, no shots have been fired.
``I’m not going to come in with guns a-blazing,’’ Chuck Fletcher, their new general manager, was saying during a lengthy interview at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday morning. ``But I do think you have to look for opportunities to improve your team. I do think it’s important that we try to become more competitive in the short term. I think we have the pieces here ... with a little bit of better luck on the health front and ... a little more stability in goal.’’
Such words either alarm or reassure you, depending on how you view this team, or how you view the job Fletcher’s predecessor, Ron Hextall, did. If you believe in Hextall’s ``unyielding’’ philosophy regarding moving what Flyers chairman Dave Scott has called ``a stockpile’’ of prospects and picks for short-term improvements, then Fletcher’s comments should calm you.
That’s because the new GM didn’t sound much different from the old GM. He even called a team that collapsed during the second half of a 7-1 beatdown in Winnipeg ``resilient," echoing the view of the coach and his predecessor, again drawing into question the clarity of that vision — or of yours.
But this is what they all mean by that: The Flyers, for all their troubles, are still hanging around. Entering play Wednesday night, the Flyers stand just five points behind the Islanders for third place in the Metropolitan Division.
A hot streak like the one they fashioned this time last season could flip that in a hurry. And, Fletcher said, alter his perception of what the team needs in the short term.
``Young Stolly is giving us a chance every night right now,’’ Fletcher said of 24-year-old goaltender Anthony Stolarz, who has started all but one of the games Fletcher has witnessed since his hiring became official. ``There’s no reason we might not just get better with what we have. But, if I can find a way to help, I’m going to look at it.
"And it doesn’t have to be a blockbuster deal. You can find depth. You can find different things that may help your group and have as big of an impact as something big. That’s what I am trying to assess right now: Where are the areas we need to fill? And you’re calling around the league to see what might be available.’’
One report put the number of teams with which Fletcher has already been in contact with at more than 15. That makes him no different from any other GM in the league, Fletcher said, especially in this era of parity and salary-cap concerns.
``Between now and the trade deadline, you’re not doing your job if you’re not picking up the phone,’’ he said. ``Even teams you know you don’t have a fit with, you’re calling at least once, just to make sure there’s not something out there that you didn’t foresee. I’m just doing my job.’’
He’s about to get some help. The Flyers announced Wednesday that Brent Flahr (pronounced Flair), Fletcher’s right-hand man in Minnesota, had agreed to become vice president and assistant general manager, filling the void created when Chris Pryor was fired two days after Hextall’s dismissal.
Flahr, who oversaw the Wild’s draft under Fletcher, has focused mostly on amateur scouting since his role in Minnesota changed in Paul Fenton’s new regime. So, that help isn’t likely to manifest itself in the short term, although Flahr has several close friends on the Flyers' scouting staff and presumably has some opinions about the worth of their prospects and picks should Fletcher work the mechanics of a trade.
But make no mistake: This is Fletcher’s hole to dig out of, as it was Hextall’s before he was fired. And with the pace of the schedule about to increase, and the Flyers seemingly in need of several key pieces to survive and compete in that environment, it’s fair to argue that president Paul Holmgren and Comcast Spectacor CEO Dave Scott did not advance the Flyers' playoff chances when they switched to a pair of eyes that seem to see things the way the old pair did.
That either comforts you, or alarms you — depending on what you realistically hoped to see from this team after watching the first three months of the season.
``I do sense a confidence with this group, where they feel they can make a push and get in,’’ Fletcher said. ``Look, we’re chasing. Nothing is easy. We’re very respectful of the hurdles in front of us. But, we still have a lot of time if we do the right things and play the right way to compete and make it fun. It’s fun when you’re winning and chasing and gaining ground. Hopefully, we get to that point. ‘’