A day after the Flyers suffered a franchise-record 13th loss in a row, the team’s top brass offered its apologies to the fan base before sharing their plan for “righting the ship.”
“I don’t want to sugarcoat this,” said Dave Scott, chairman and CEO of Comcast Spectacor, which owns the team. “From where I sit, we’re in a terrible spot right now. ... I just want to address our fans for a second and really just say I’m sorry, you deserve so much better than what we’re dealing with right now. This isn’t what anybody signed up for.”
Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said that in his 12 years as a GM, he’s never seen such a disconnect between where he felt a team should be and where it is. He spent the 2021 offseason trying to build a roster with more leadership. He added an elite defenseman in Ryan Ellis, a physical defenseman in Rasmus Ristolainen, and a proven goal scorer in Cam Atkinson.
By mid-November, he thought there were things the team needed to improve on, but he liked where they were sitting in the standings after an 8-4-2 start. (On Nov. 17, the Flyers held the top Eastern Conference’s wild-card spot.) Then the Flyers lost 10 straight games. Fletcher fired coach Alain Vigneault on Dec. 6and replaced him with interim coach Mike Yeo. Now, the team is in the midst of a 13-game skid, which started just six games after the 10-game skid ended.
It’s time to ‘retool,’ not rebuild
It’s time to “aggressively retool” the roster, Fletcher said, although both he and Scott avoided the word “rebuild.” There’s no doubt the team is in need of “top-end talent.”
Typically, the way to build a talented/ roster is through the draft, and Fletcher said the organization has players whose “career arc is still going to play out.” He likes the players he’s drafted and said they’re directing more resources toward player development. But he said they’ll also be looking at trades and free agency as they wait for young players to develop.
One of the biggest pieces they have to work with is captain Claude Giroux. Fletcher called Giroux one of the best to wear the Flyers jersey, but his contract currently takes up 10.2% of the team’s cap space.
“Claude has a no-move trade in his contract,” Fletcher said. “Ultimately that’ll be his decision. We’re at the halfway point, we’re two months to the trade deadline. I guess the best way to put it is we’ll continue to have conversations and ultimately a decision will have to be made one way or the other.”
Fletcher said he’s not sure what moves they’ll make before the trade deadline, but “everything’s on the table.”
Scott emphasized that he doesn’t think it will be a “three-[to-]five-year rebuild.” All he said it will take is “two or three” players to complement the strong core group he believes the Flyers have when they’re healthy. He and Fletcher both pointed to the bad luck the team has had with injuries.
“I read that medical report every day, open it up and cringe a little bit,” Scott said. “The last time I looked at it, we were 10 injuries just at the NHL level.”
Several of those players — notably Ryan Ellis, Kevin Hayes and Derick Brassard — have been unavailable for an extended time after returning and re-aggravating their injuries. Fletcher said they will evaluate the medical staff at the end of the season, but it’s something they’re looking at. In their conversations with the doctors and players, they’ve asked about the reoccurrences of injuries, but they don’t think they’ve brought players back too soon.
The team’s problems go beyond injuries
Even with the excuse of injuries, Fletcher said the team hasn’t been performing up to expectation. He doesn’t know why that is.
“With time, maybe we’ll be able to break it down and look at it,” he said. “We’re in the middle of it right now. We still have half a season to go. But there’s a whole host of factors.”
He likes how the interim coaching staff has approached the tough situation it stepped into and has seen progress. He’s also added John Torchetti as an assistant to Yeo’s staff on Tuesday, which will allow for more individualized attention. Fletcher has no plans to hire a coach until after this season, and he declined to give details about that process.
Similarly, Scott said he likes what he’s seen from Fletcher and showed no indication he has plans to rework the front office in the near future.
“Right now, Chuck’s my guy and we’re trying to build around that,” Scott said.
The two of them acknowledged the challenge they are facing. However, they believe in the strong core they have on the Flyers. It starts with getting Sean Couturier and Ellis back from injury, and they think they will build from there.
“We have a pretty good core,” Scott said. “I think it really starts with a healthy Coots and Hayes, [Joel] Farabee ... We’ve just got to get healthy. Our job is to make sure Chuck’s got all the resources he needs to make this a success, and he does.
“I can tell you, everything’s on the table. We’re looking at the front office, we’re looking at the coaching staff ... players, investment. Whatever we need to do to improve this team.”