Chuck Fletcher felt like he kept repeating himself.
It was as if the Flyers' general manager was reminding his own self to not succumb to the pressure of spending season. He wasn't actually doing so, nor does he have to tell himself in order to stay away from the bait.
Last offseason, his first with the Flyers, Fletcher made the club one of the most improved in the NHL. With the abbreviated 2019-20 regular season because of the coronavirus outbreak, only four teams improved their point totals from 2018-19. The Flyers made the biggest jump with a seven-point increase despite playing 13 fewer games compared to 2018-19.
As an unusual NHL free agency period kicked off Friday at noon ET, teams began signing new deals. The Day 1 free-agent frenzy, albeit more tamed than previous offseasons, did not see Fletcher jump off the high dive and into the fun.
Fletcher is adamant about not jeopardizing the Flyers' current and future makeup.
“Making a big splash doesn’t necessarily mean you make your team better," Fletcher said Saturday in a video interview. "There are a lot of things at play — from a flat cap for the next two to three years to an expansion draft to having to re-sign your own restricted free agents over the next few seasons. There’s a lot at play. Certainly we’re always looking to make our team better and if we can we will, but we have a very good team right now.
"We’ve spoken to several agents and let them know sort of the type of term or dollar amount that we would find acceptable. I think we felt pretty strongly there would be several players that would be able to get more than what we feel we need to pay at this point in time. I think things have kind of gone the way we expected. There have been some very good signings out there, there have been some other signings that I think are a little cringeworthy. We’ll continue to talk to teams and agents and let the process play out.”
After losing a second-round Game 7 to the Islanders in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Flyers need to take the next step. There are different ways to take it. They don't have to take it on the first few days of a free agency period that is tight and restricted because of the economic impact on the league from the pandemic.
The Flyers still have the ability to add and will have the ability to later. They can also pursue the trade route.
"We're looking at all scenarios," Fletcher said. "I’ve spoken to every team in the league several times, I’ve spoken to every agent, I continue to have calls, I’ll have more calls when I get off this Zoom session. We’re open to anything if it makes us better.
"If we can find the right player at the right fit and the right price, we’ll do that. But we certainly don’t feel that we’re under any pressure to do anything just to do something. So if we can improve our team, we will.
"We’re just looking for the right player. If we can get him at the right price and if that player is an upgrade for our group, we’ll do it. We’re comfortable with our group, we like our team, we already have a lot of players signed and a lot of kids that we feel can push for ice time and opportunity. Cap space is a very valuable commodity and if we’re going to use it, we want to use it wisely. Otherwise, we’re very content moving forward with cap space and let things play out.”
The Flyers do need help and do have holes. Those holes could be filled internally down the line. Time will tell if the in-house options are the answer.
In which areas are the Flyers looking for the right player?
They will have to replace Matt Niskanen's all-situation responsibilities on the back end.
They could use some help down the middle in their bottom-six forwards. But if — and, yes, it is a big if — Nolan Patrick (migraine disorder) is able to play and perform in 2020-21, the Flyers already have what they envisioned when they acquired Kevin Hayes in June 2019: three 200-foot centers with size.
“Before camp, Nolan will come back into town and he’ll be able to see our medical people and skate with our group and then proceed into training camp," Fletcher said. "Right now, he’s doing well. He continues to feel better. He was in [Brandon, Manitoba] a couple of weeks ago, spent two weeks there skating with a group run by Ryan White, he was scrimmaging. Out there every day working out and he continues to progress and feel good. You can’t predict the future, but certainly all signs are progressing the right way.
"We have very good depth on the wing, we think we’re strong through the middle, provided Nolan’s able to come back and play. I don’t know that we have any glaring holes."
The depth along the wing took a hit with the departure of Tyler Pitlick, who signed with the Coyotes. Fletcher likes the Flyers' forward prospects, which went into the Pitlick decision.
“I had several conversations with Tyler’s agent and we certainly talked about some different scenarios," Fletcher said. "At the end of the day, [Nicolas] Aube-Kubel has taken on a bigger role on our team over the last year, he’s been able to make our team and play well. We have a lot of young players coming, guys that we just recently signed like [Tanner] Laczynski, [Wade] Allison, [Linus] Sandin and of course we have players like [Connor] Bunnaman, [Carsen] Twarynski, [Maksim] Sushko, [Isaac] Ratcliffe, Morgan Frost, [Andy] Andreoff, [David] Kase. I can go through and a lot of these kids continue to get better. At some point, I think you need to allow opportunity for players in your organization to take on bigger roles.”
Fletcher isn't sitting on his hands in a situation that is desperate for action. The Flyers do have a retooled, improved roster and have built up their prospects. Those players will dictate if it's enough or if Fletcher needs to take more action. For now, everyone must wait and see.