Chuck Fletcher, the new Flyers general manager, was thrown into a messy spot.
It’s difficult to make a season-changing trade when you’ve been part of an organization for a while and know your team’s strengths and weaknesses.
It’s extra difficult when you are hired during the season, like Fletcher, and are learning about your underachieving, maddeningly inconsistent team on the fly.
Fletcher knows his predecessor, Ron Hextall, was fired because he wasn’t proactive enough to suit his bosses.
Never mind that Hextall cleaned up the cap mess he inherited from one of those bosses and, with the team’s finances in order, he was finally able, and ready, to make a splash in the trade market.
Never mind that he had drafted extremely well and had restocked what had been a sad-sack farm system.
None of that mattered to the impatient Big Cigars. All that mattered was that the rebuild, in their mind, was taking too long - and the GM was gun-shy in the trade market.
Enter Fletcher, who doesn’t want to make a trade just for the sake of it, but realizes his bosses want something done.
Sooner rather than later.
Other teams know that, of course, which puts Fletcher between a rock and a hard place.
He wants to improve his team, wants to show he is the anti-Hextall and ready to roll the dice in the trade market.
But he also doesn’t want to accept a low-ball offer from general managers who know the predicament he is facing.
In addition, he is still feeling his way around the organization, still trying to figure out who should go and who should stay, and what positions need the most upgrading.
There are some interesting players reportedly available on the trade market, including big St. Louis defensemen Colton Parayko (my first choice) and Alex Pietrangelo (who would have to waive a no-trade clause); Los Angeles defenseman Jake Muzzin (6-3, 213); and goaltenders Jimmy Howard of Detroit and Sergei Bobrovsky of Columbus, a prospective free agent after the season.
Blues prized right winger Vladimir Tarasenko and 6-foot-3, 220-pound Minnesota center/winger Charlie Coyle, a key player acquired from San Jose in the Brent Burns trade during Fletcher’s GM stint with the Wild, are also among the players reportedly available.
The Flyers entered the weekend with the NHL’s worst save percentage (.878), and they ranked 29th out of 31 teams in goals-against average (3.69).
Yes, Bobrovsky, whose trade from the Flyers in 2012 ranks as one of the worst in franchise history, would help, but you would later have to resign him to a lucrative long-term contract – say five years for $9 million or $10 million per season. That money would be better spent on a sniper in the off-season. And besides, Carter Hart, who represents the team’s future, is getting closer and should be the Flyers’ No. 1 goalie next year.
Hey, he may be their No. 1 goalie in a few months.
The Flyers’ goaltending has not been good, no question, but the defensemen deserve a big portion of the blame for the alarmingly bad numbers. Not enough cohesion, not enough physicality, not enough smart decisions in their own end.
How inconsistent has the defense been? Listen to Shayne Gostisbehere’s description after a loss.
“It’s a little ridiculous. Some of us really have to look in the mirror on this team,” he said. “When we leave a guy (goalie) hung out to dry like that, it’s really not fair. It’s absurd. We sucked as a defense. It felt like every chance we gave up was a Grade A.”
Those words were spoken after the third game of the season, an 8-2 loss to San Jose, but they would have been appropriate after too many other defeats this season. Take, for instance, two of the first three games on the Flyers’ current road trip – a 7-1 loss to Winnipeg and a 6-5 overtime defeat to Calgary.
In the Winnipeg loss, Michal Neuvirth was awful, allowing three goals on 10 shots before when being replaced by Anthony Stolarz, who could have sued for non-support.
In the loss to Calgary, the Flyers blew a late 5-3 lead, primarily because the defense was unorganized and unable to clear bodies out front, enabling the Flames to score three goals in a 1:43 span that was shocking even by Flyers standards.
Fletcher wasn’t the GM for most of the Flyers’ early-season defensive meltdowns -- they allowed five goals or more in 10 of their first 29 games -- but he watched the collapses in Winnipeg and Calgary in person. That may speed up his desire to add a veteran, big-body defenseman the team desperately needs.
Or maybe he’ll wait a while to see if Rick Wilson, the new defensive coach, can get the D straightened out. Especially Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov.
But because of the situation surrounding Fletcher’s hiring and the team’s poor standing in the playoff race, time is a luxury they don’t have. There is a holiday roster/trade freeze from Wednesday to Dec. 27. No trades can be made during that time, but Fletcher will be busy working the phones.