Chuck Fletcher a key to Paul Holmgren's decision on new role with Flyers

Chuck Fletcher a key to Paul Holmgren's decision on new role with Flyers

The timing felt right for Paul Holmgren.

A lot of it had to do with Chuck Fletcher and the general manager's aggressiveness, savvy and that "bias for action" the Flyers yearned for back in November.

Holmgren on Thursday moved into a senior advisory role with the Flyers and will no longer serve as team president (see story). The decision had been in the making for over a year now, going back to June 2018, when Holmgren approached Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott about the idea.

Then 2018-19 didn't exactly go as planned. With the club in last place of the Metropolitan Division at Thanksgiving for a second straight season, Scott and Holmgren realized the Flyers needed a new philosophy gracing the GM chair.

Enter Fletcher, who has delivered on the Flyers' wishes and breathed confidence into upper management. This was not Fletcher's first rodeo, either; the Flyers were attracted by his track record — a front office guy since 1993, with a Harvard degree and experience in player representation.

Since Fletcher's arrival, the Flyers have gotten what they wanted.

It all made the timing right for Holmgren, a Flyers lifer who needed to see his beloved team back on the rails — or least feel like it was moving forward.

"When we were recruiting Chuck, the one specific question I had is what could we really do to make the team better now?" Scott said Thursday via a conference call. "We have a really good core of vets and a huge pipeline that I was really challenging Chuck — you were too, Paul — with what could we do now to make the team better and I think he has proven that he was able to do that."

Time will certainly tell.

But credit to Fletcher for taking action. He wasted no time reshaping the Flyers, well before NHL free agency commenced July 1. While the Flyers haven't actually moved forward yet (the offseason needs to give way to the season), they're in position to do so. 

They have three new coaches — Alain Vigneault, Michel Therrien and Mike Yeo — with a combined 2,512 games of head coaching experience. Vigneault has taken two teams to the Stanley Cup Final, Therrien has taken one and Yeo won a ring as an assistant. 

Fletcher then added Kevin Hayes, Matt Niskanen, Justin Braun and Tyler Pitlick to the roster, while parting ways with Radko Gudas, Andrew MacDonald, Ryan Hartman and David Schlemko.

These are impressive support beams that could produce immediate results with a roster that never looked far away or short on talent, especially after Fletcher brought up Carter Hart.

"I thought this is a good time for me to let Chuck do his thing," Holmgren said. "He is a good guy. He's good at what he does. I love what he's done with the coaching staff. I love what he did prior to the draft and going out and making a trade to get the rights to a player that we ended up signing. The two trades for veteran defensemen will help our young kids get better more quickly. 

"I really love all the things he has done. There is no question in my mind that this is the right time and no question in my mind that the leadership Chuck has with Dave's help is going to be great for the Flyers moving forward."

Scott echoed Holmgren's sentiment.

I couldn't be more pleased with Chuck’s performance and what he has done coming on in December of last year to now. Probably one of the biggest pluses is he's a collaborative guy, he's smart and he has a very open style. 

I came over to spend a day with Paul and was so impressed with the group of people we had. You got Chuck's staff in there, the new coaching staff in there, the data analytics people together. It's something I hadn't seen in the six years I've been here — full collaboration. And everyone agreeing on what moves we were going to make.

Many, many moves have been made. It's what the Flyers wanted — some action to drive this team forward, back to where it used to be.

Remember, though, things are often rosy for every club in an NHL offseason — just look at last summer when the Flyers signed James van Riemsdyk, which raised expectations for a mix of veterans and youngsters to simultaneously take the next step.

The results still have to come, but the Flyers see Fletcher making it happen.

The true test will be when the puck drops and everyone is watching — including Holmgren, a little more off in the distance, trusting his Flyers are OK.

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Gritty the Maple Leafs' mascot? This parody account has gone too far

Gritty the Maple Leafs' mascot? This parody account has gone too far

How does one even begin to explain how they're feeling after *this*? 

It seemed like another business as usual day in the good ole’ NHL bubble on Tuesday. Six games between Edmonton and Toronto seemed like the perfect recipe for a grand time … right? 

Well, moments following the Leafs win against the Blue Jackets, something came across my Twitter feed that shook me to my core. I sat in disbelief, unsure what to make of this cursed image in front of me. 

It was a blue Gritty — on an account called @/LeafsGrittyNHL. 

I’m sorry … what? 

As President of the Gritty Committee, this is an outrage. Everyone knows the mascot belongs to the Flyers and while this is clearly a joke — some jokes just aren’t funny. 

Seriously, take a look … it just feels wrong. 

This mystery account even tweaked Gritty’s precious billboard he made for the Flyers in the bubble. 

If the Leafs want a blue mascot so badly, go get Cookie Monster. Gritty is taken. And I’m sure Carlton the Bear — the Leafs’ actual mascot — won’t be too happy about this either. 

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The Flyers were never on a hot streak — they're just that good

The Flyers were never on a hot streak — they're just that good

Four and a half months without playing hockey is quite a significant stretch of time. 

Even though that could be the length of a typical offseason, players still have the ability to train and stay as ready as possible for the following year. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, many were not able to even skate for the majority of the pause following the announcement of the NHL's hiatus to keep up with social distancing guidelines. 

This raised a lot of concern for when play would ultimately resume — conditioning, chemistry and the ability to pick up right where things left off

Just a few weeks into the pause, it was clear those were concerns for players as well. 

“I think our team had come together in a great way and we were really playing for one another and everyone was buying into the system that A.V. put together,” Kevin Hayes said in early April. “And now there’s a possibility that we’ll never see the outcome of that … I assume that we’re going to be this good all the time, but who knows if we’re going to have this feeling again.” 

Looking back to right before the pause, the Flyers were the talk of the NHL. They won nine out of their last 10 regular season games, had the duo of Carter Hart and Brian Elliott making them a threat at home and on the road and it was clear that the team’s chemistry was unmatched. 

Luckily, Hayes and the Flyers will be able to see the outcome of the work they put in, but would they be that good again? Would that feeling of being on top return once play resumed? 

If you watched the Flyers’ exhibition against the Penguins or their first round robin game against the Bruins and wondered how the team stayed hot during all that time — you must not have been paying attention. 

Since the calendar year turned, this team was more than a feeling, they were more than a hot streak — they were the hottest team in the NHL. 

And yes, there is a big difference. 

There’s a reason they’re one of the top teams in the east, there’s a reason they were able to pick up right where they left off after the hiatus. It’s time to start acknowledging the Flyers for what they are — and that’s a legitimate contender — now more than ever.

Before anyone truly knew how long the wait before playoff hockey would be tangible, if at all in 2020, the Flyers looked like a well-oiled machine. 

Through the span of the last 25 games of the season, the Flyers never lost consecutively. They evaluated poor outings and came out swinging the next night. One of the best examples falls back to Feb. 6-8 when the Flyers were set to play the Devils and then Capitals. 

The Devils finished their season 28-29-12 from a grand total of 68 points. They had more games played (69) than points themselves. This should have been an easy win for the Flyers, but instead, they were shutout 5-0 on home ice. It was probably one of the ugliest losses of the season — and the players knew it. 

After an embarrassing loss to the worst team in the Metropolitan division, it was time to face the first-place Capitals. It was an opportunity to right the ship and make a statement that the previous game was not the identity of this team. And boy, it looked like they were on a mission. 

Not only did they take down Washington in their home barn, but steamrolled over them. The Flyers pulled out a 7-2 victory, Claude Giroux earned his 800th career point and they were able to silence Mr. Great Eight himself, Alexander Ovechkin, while he was on the hunt for his 700th career goal. 

The Flyers endured absurd travel at the start of the season, the always brutal midseason west coast road tip and injuries popping up at the most difficult of times — and all while competing in the tightest division in the league? That’s no small feat. 

Because of their hard work throughout the season, Travis Konecny earned his first All-Star appearance, Alain Vigneault is a Jack Adams finalist and Sean Couturier a Selke finalist. Giroux earned quite the career milestone in points, along with Jakub Voracek, who earned his 200th career goal. Hart boasted an impressive home record of 20-3-2 and won nine of 11 starts following the All-Star break. Ivan Provorov ranked 8th overall in defenseman with average time on ice with 24:51 and played his 300th career game in just four seasons. They overcame the news in December when it was announced their teammate and friend Oskar Lindblom had been diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma. It has been a season like no other. 

It’s not a fluke. The Flyers aren’t hot — they are on fire.

With the additions made in the offseason of Kevin Hayes, Matt Niskanen, Tyler Pitlick and others, the Flyers went from a roster with a few strong players to one of the most complete teams this franchise has seen in the past decade. Rookies Joel Farabee and Nicolas Aube-Kubel found their home with the big club in no time and only solidified things further. 

Whether it’s the top line or the fourth line, you never know who’s going to step up and take control of that game. It’s great for the Flyers and absolutely terrifying for any opposing teams. 

So, instead of looking at the opposing team and wondering what they did wrong — why not look at the Flyers and see what they’ve done right?

If you’ve paid attention from the start of the season, this should be no surprise. 

The rest of the NHL better look out — this team isn’t going anywhere but up for the foreseeable future. 

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