The Flyers are giving Chuck Fletcher a chance to produce their first Stanley Cup winner since 1975.
Fletcher, 51, the son of a Hall of Fame hockey executive, was named the eighth different general manager in Flyers history Monday -- exactly a week after Ron Hextall was stunningly fired while in his fifth season as GM.
“It’s been a whirlwind few days, and I’m thrilled," Fletcher said in a conference call with reporters Monday night. “I’m extremely honored and humbled. ... I’ve been in the league for many years and the Flyers have been one of the standard bearers of the National Hockey League, and to have the opportunity to be the general manager of the Flyers is a dream come true.”
Fletcher will try to steer the Flyers, an underachieving team that has been inconsistent and plagued by goalie injuries, to their first winning playoff series since 2012.
Coach Dave Hakstol’s job is safe for now. Fletcher said he has known Hakstol from his days as the North Dakota coach and has respected the job he did there and the players he developed and who reached the NHL.
He won’t make a hasty decision on Hakstol.
“Look, I’m just coming in,” Fletcher said. “I’m a big believer in trying to get to know the situation before you make a reaction here. I’d like to think we can solve a lot of the issues that have plagued this team this year and try to get better. I certainly have no intention of making a coaching change tomorrow. I’m going to meet with Dave and we’re going to try to work together and push. Our goal is to make the playoffs this year. We have work to do and it’ll be a challenge."
Because the Flyers have a solid farm system and Hextall stockpiled future draft picks, “those are all resources you can use to make your team better,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher said he would be respectful of the future -- implying he wouldn’t destroy the prospect pool Hextall built -- as he tried to improve the Flyers. He seemed intent on making a deal after he had time to evaluate things.
He talked about the need for improving the team’s sorry goals-against total (3.52 goals per game, 27th in the NHL entering Monday), but said he would first look for in-house solutions.
Fletcher, who said he was in no rush to name an assistant GM to replace the fired Chris Pryor, praised Hextall’s work, saying he had left him with a strong farm system, a good cap situation, and a talented roster.
Bill Zito, a Columbus assistant general manager, was believed to be the runner-up to Fletcher.
Every general manager has his own take on how it should be run, one Flyers executive said. “For me, and I think Chuck has done the same, I think it’s how you treat your people, so everybody is included as to what’s going on. The people who work for you have to know you trust them and want their opinions and care about them -- and it will be returned every time. Chuck will have that.”
A Harvard graduate, Fletcher had a mostly successful nine-year run as the Minnesota Wild GM before being fired after the team’s first-round playoff exit last season. This year, he was an adviser with the Devils, working for GM Ray Shero. He had been an assistant general manager under Shero in Pittsburgh, and he was there when the Penguins won the Cup in 2009.
The Wild made six straight playoff appearances under Fletcher but advanced to the second round only once.
Dave Scott, CEO and chairman of the Flyers' parent company, Comcast Spectacor, said Fletcher was selected after a “rigorous review" of candidates.
Fletcher “clearly stood out from the field of talented and capable executives we considered,” Scott said in a statement. He said Fletcher had the “right mix of expertise , business acumen, and leadership qualities the Flyers need today as we work to achieve our ultimate goal, the Stanley Cup championship.”
“He’ll do a great job in Philly,” another Flyers executive said. “Everybody’s going to be happy to work for him. Everybody’s going to be happy he’s there. His reputation, which is pretty easy when you talk to scouts and all those who have worked for him, is top-level. Everybody enjoyed working for him. Everybody wanted to work for him. Everybody felt part of the team.”
Fletcher is the son of Cliff Fletcher, a former Toronto, Atlanta/Calgary, and Phoenix (now Arizona) GM who went into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004 in the builder category.
Chuck Fletcher, who once spent time as a player agent with Newport Sports Management, was in a management position with Pittsburgh, Florida, and Anaheim when those teams went to the Stanley Cup Finals. In Florida, he worked in the front office with the man who hired him in 1993, Bob Clarke, who was then the Panthers’ GM and is now the Flyers’ senior vice president. As Clarke’s assistant, Fletcher was his right-hand man.
“It was the first NHL team I worked for. I think I learned more that year than any other year in my career,” Fletcher said. “I consider him a mentor and a friend. Bob was a tremendous guy to work for. He gave me a lot of autonomy and a lot of authority early on; he let me do contracts when I was 24 or 25 years old, and really got me started in this business.”
Clarke got direction from the highly respected Cliff Fletcher when he went from a player to a general manager.
Flyers president Paul Holmgren cited the younger Fletcher’s “tireless work ethic” and his experience and knowledge in the hockey world as reasons for his hiring.
“He has helped shape teams that have consistently competed in the playoffs,” Holmgren said.
There was a disconnect between Holmgren and Hextall, according to a club source.
“I think Paul will have a lot more conversations with Chuck than he did with Ron,” the source said.
Fletcher’s family has ties to the recently fired Joel Quenneville, who coached Chicago to three Stanley Cups and is a candidate to replace Hakstol if the new GM changes his coach.
Cliff Fletcher hired Quenneville as an AHL assistant coach for St. John’s (Toronto’s affiliate) in 1991. As a GM, Cliff Fletcher acquired eight players in deals who became Hall of Famers. He made several blockbuster trades and became known as “Trader Cliff” – much like former Flyers GM Keith Allen was known as “Keith the Thief.”
Hextall’s teams compiled a 165-128-58 record and made the playoffs in two of his four full seasons but never won a playoff series. He was fired because his plan was taking too long and he wasn’t aggressive enough in the trade market, according to his bosses. In addition, the Flyers weren’t happy that Hextall distanced himself from alumni members, according to a prominent player from the teams that won Cups in 1974 and 1975.
The Flyers (11-12-2), who are 1-1 since Hextall was dismissed, were seventh in the eight-team Metropolitan Division entering Monday, but they were just five points out of third.