To Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher, an “aggressive retool” means “being aggressive in every area.”
That was his plan for the 2022 offseason when he last addressed the state of the franchise on Jan. 26. Even though the Flyers went 11-23-2 since, Fletcher’s plans have not changed. In fact, he said they’ve already started as he tries to help the team bounce back from a season he called “beyond unacceptable.”
Fletcher pointed to how the team moved three veterans in Claude Giroux, Justin Braun, and Derick Brassard at the trade deadline. In return, they got a handful of picks, including a future first-rounder and two third-round picks in 2023, as well as 23-year-old winger Owen Tippett. They also signed three of their college draft picks, Ronnie Attard, Bobby Brink, and Noah Cates. The offseason will be approached as a continuation of this strategy.
“It’s being aggressive in all phases,” Fletcher said. “Certainly part of it is we have to get younger. We have to get more talented. We have to get faster. And then we have to aggressively look at trades, free agency: Can we add a couple players to supplement what we have here and make this team better?”
When asked if the goal of this retool is to focus on winning now or building for the future, Fletcher replied, “A little bit of both.” He compared it to the 2019 offseason, when the team hired Alain Vigneault as coach, signed center Kevin Hayes to a seven-year deal, and acquired defensemen Justin Braun and Matt Niskanen, although he acknowledged the situations are different.
The main focuses, Fletcher said, will be getting guys healthy, developing young players, fixing the power play, and figuring out how to score more goals.
“Where do we spend the money?” Fletcher said. “Right now, you can look at every area of our team. But we do have some things coming that can address some of the shortcomings, and we’re going to have to make some smart decisions.”
All about the youth
As opposed to the 2021 offseason when he wanted to bring in experienced leadership, Fletcher will focus on youth this year. He said the age balance of the team has shifted since he first arrived. The Flyers used to have players on opposite ends of the spectrum, with lots of players nearing or past 30 and lots of players 23 and younger.
Now, they have fewer aging veterans and more players who are in the 23-26-year-old range. Fletcher specifically mentioned how 26-year-old Travis Sanheim and 25-year-old Travis Konecny have taken big steps and said they’re “probably where they should be from a timing perspective.”
Right behind them, Fletcher mentioned 24-year-olds Wade Allison and Tanner Laczynski, as well as 22-year-old Morgan Frost and 21-year-old Cam York. Despite the multiple injuries Allison and Laczynski have dealt with as well as the injury that slowed Frost’s development, Fletcher expressed belief in all of them.
“The good thing is, we should have a lot more depth in terms of young assets,” Fletcher said. “And that’s going to be a big difference next year where we hopefully have some more internal options.”
Competition behind Hart
Goalie Carter Hart is not often mentioned when the team’s young players are listed, but Fletcher pointed out that Hart is especially young for a goalie.
“He’s 23 years old and there’s not many 23-year-old goalies who are No. 1 goalies in the National Hockey League right now, and yet he’s going into his fourth full pro season,” Fletcher said. “Typically for goaltenders, it’s 25, 26, when they truly hit their prime.”
Fletcher saw this season as a positive step in Hart’s development considering that he was coming off a rough 2020 season. Hart’s stats were negatively impacted by the penalty kill’s struggles, Fletcher said, but he was good at five-on-five and is on the “right track.”
While Martin Jones “did his job,” the Flyers will now have another goalie competing for the backup job. Ivan Fedotov, who has been playing in Russia, has “put his time in.” Fletcher said they’re hoping to bring Fedotov over, although the current political situation Ukraine makes things trickier, and they expect him to be ready to compete immediately. The 25-year-old Fedotov, who backstopped the Russian Olympic Committee to a silver medal in Beijing, recently led CSKA Moscow to the KHL’s Gagarin Cup, posting a .937 save percentage and 1.85 goals-against average in 22 playoff games.
What’s up with all the injuries?
Questions have already been asked about the medical staff, Fletcher said, and he has many more to ask.
Fletcher said he “absolutely” plans on sitting down with the doctors, strength and conditioning coaches, and medical staff to look at the entire structure of that part of the organization to see what they can invest in and improve. He said they will bring analytics in much as they have for scouting.
“We’re gonna get together and just try to dig down and see what’s preventable and what was bad luck,” Fletcher said.
Multiple players mentioned throughout the season and during Saturday’s exit interviews that they tried to come back too early from injuries and ended up aggravating existing injuries.
One of those players was Ryan Ellis (78 games missed), who said Saturday that his pelvic injury is “multilayered” and that the Flyers finally have a plan to get him back on the ice. Fletcher said he currently feels the best he has about Ellis’ return and that the process should allow the team to determine before the bulk of offseason activity starts if Ellis will be back for the start of next season.
Ellis’ return, along with Sean Couturier’s (53 games missed), will be huge because they aren’t players you can replace easily in the offseason, Fletcher said, and their absences have a trickle-down effect on the entire lineup. On the other end, the improved health of young players like Laczynski, Allison, and Tyson Foerster will help provide depth.
With regret, Fletcher announced that Samuel Morin’s playing days are over. His latest knee injury left too much damage for Morin to return to play. However, Fletcher plans to talk to Morin to see whether he’d like to stay in the organization in some capacity. ... Fletcher said figuring out who will be the next captain is very far down on his to-do list. ... He said he cannot talk about Claude Giroux’s future since Giroux is a member of a Florida Panthers team that’s still playing right now. ... While revenue is a concern with ticket sales dipping, Fletcher said winning is more important to focus on because with success comes money.