When Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leopold fired Chuck Fletcher in April after nine seasons as his general manager, he cited the need for "a new set of eyes.'' Those are the precise words Flyers president Paul Holmgren and Comcast Spectacor CEO Dave Scott used in dismissing Ron Hextall as their GM after four-plus seasons. In each case, the bosses had grown weary of what they perceived as stagnation in the progress of their clubs and the operating philosophy that produced it.
But that's where the similarities end.
“He has a much more open style [than Ron],” Scott was saying after the 51-year-old Fletcher was formally introduced Wednesday afternoon, “which, frankly I really like and was important to me. That’s how I grew up. Our company culture is that way. Ed [Snider] was that way, the Roberts family is that way, I’m that way … . You look people in the eye, you look at the staff. Already, there’s an energy that’s positive.”
Aha. Who knew? Turns out Scott was talking about his own eyes as much as he was of any incoming GM. He had grown weary and perhaps wary of Hextall’s explanations, which he termed "Not real crisp." He had grown weary and wary of an organizational approach under Hextall that was tightlipped and not inclusive.
"Unyielding" was another code word used, this by Holmgren, in explaining the sudden and stunning ouster of the Flyers GM who had done so much good: Unraveling the cap hell he inherited, rebuilding a depleted farm system and prospect pool, and stockpiling enough draft picks to impress even Sam Hinkie.
"I certainly want to acknowledge the job that Ron Hextall did," Fletcher said at SkateZone. "The cupboard is full, there are a tremendous amount of prospects. This year, we have nine draft picks — we have an extra third and an extra seventh. We have cap space, and we have good players. Beyond that, it’s a great organization with a lot of great people that I’ve been meeting with in the last two days. There’s everything here to be successful, and that’s our goal, and that’s what we’re going to do. It’s set up for success. The history. The city.
"I called it a dream job the other day, and it truly is."
For a fresh set of eyes, it offers even more than the job he vacated in Minnesota, where he had built a perennial playoff contender at the expense of some of that organizational depth. Fletcher vowed he would not be quick to do that here, but his version of quick sounded as though it was measured in months or even weeks, rather than the longer-term outlook Hextall held to stubbornly, resisting the "quick fix" he so often spoke of that might immediately help his perennially erratic teams.
“Short-term can be defined in different ways,” Fletcher said. “Certainly, I’m not making a trade today — well, I don’t know about today or tomorrow, but I can’t imagine I’d make one in the next couple days.”
After Thursday’s home game against Columbus, the Flyers will embark on a five-game road trip that begins in Buffalo and ends in Vancouver. Fletcher will be on that trip, watching games, dining with Hakstol and his coaches, talking to players. He said he hopes that the goalie situation that greatly contributed to his predecessor’s firing is stabilized over that stretch and that the roster begins to perform as its individual resumes suggest it should.
But if it doesn’t, there will be no talk of not panicking. Anything and everything is on the table between now and the Feb. 25 trade deadline, and he will be employing a whole potato-field of eyes in trying to achieve an immediate fix — Holmgren; Dean Lombardi, the Flyers assistant general manager who built a Cup winner in Los Angeles; and Bob Clarke, who first hired him and remains his fiercest advocate.
"I believe I can get up to speed pretty quickly," Fletcher said. "There’s a lot of people I can lean on. Scouts, front-office people … . I make the decision, because somebody has to pull the trigger, but it’s with a lot of input that goes into the decision making, a lot of people that have an opinion. I’ve made decisions before where, at the beginning, I didn’t even agree with what we were going to do. But, you know, you listen to people, you trust your people."
And you take your shot. Fletcher probably missed on as many deals as he hit on in Minnesota, especially early in his tenure. But, he said, it has made him a better general manager, and a more inclusive one, too.
“The first order of business is to look for in-house solutions,” he said. " I think you have to give people a chance. Players, staff, everybody. 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, or we’re not getting traction, then I think you have to look at every angle."