Flyers

How much of Ron Hextall's work will Chuck Fletcher undo?

How much of Ron Hextall's work will Chuck Fletcher undo?

VOORHEES, N.J. — If he felt so inclined, Chuck Fletcher could walk in and rip out the carpet, repaint the walls and tear down the drapes. 

The Flyers' newest general manager has been given full autonomy by upper management to make the alterations that are more aligned with the organization’s style of winning hockey. 

At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be much that Fletcher wants to change. 

“The cupboard is full. There are a tremendous amount of prospects,” Fletcher said Wednesday at his introductory press conference. “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. 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.”

Clearly, Ron Hextall left Fletcher in a much more tenable position in terms of cap space and prospects than Paul Holmgren left Hextall in 2014. But Fletcher will also be carrying out the wishes of upper management, who have expressed a desire to win this season, and not kick that can down the road to 2020, or whenever Hextall felt the time was conveniently right.

Expect Fletcher to be a hybrid of Holmgren and Hextall — the difference between a Wall Street day trader and a financial analyst who admires his 401(k) statements.  

“I’m a big believer in you need all three phases to build a championship team," Fletcher said. "Again, mainly the draft, but you also have to use trades and free agency. You have to have good people, everybody has to be pulling the same way. I do think culture is very important in any organization to be successful.”

If culture is important, then that would seemingly work into Wayne Simmonds' favor. 

One has to believe that Simmonds' future will be discussed thoroughly on the decision to reward him with a new contract or utilize him in a trade that could help mold the Flyers into a more well-rounded team defensively. 

However, what remains clear throughout Fletcher’s nine-year tenure in Minnesota is that his trades don’t look nearly as favorable as some of his free-agent signings.

“When the time is right, we will get to the contract,” Fletcher said. “But certainly there will be a lot of work starting right away in terms of getting to know the file, getting to know the individual, communicating with the agent, and who knows when there’s a fit. But we’ll keep pushing.”

Don’t expect the roster to be overhauled, but that’s only the start. 

Fletcher will also have to determine how much input he wants in just about every facet of the organization. It was Hextall who brought in a dietician to control what players ate. It was Hextall who created a sports science department to improve performance outcomes. And it was Hextall who started an analytics department to use advanced metrics in analyzing player data. 

“I think it’s all critical,” Fletcher said. “We had a pretty good analytics department in Minnesota that we were using more and more. And when I talk about process, that was part of the process. Maybe some areas I’ll tweak a little bit, just from personal preference. But there’s been a lot of thought into building this organization and it’s in a good place.”

All of which leads you to think the profound change Holmgren and Dave Scott were looking for was simply more inclusion from their general manager.  

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Blackhawks expect Joel Quenneville to coach next season

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Blackhawks expect Joel Quenneville to coach next season

It won’t be long before Joel Quenneville is trending on Twitter, and not just in Philadelphia.   

Hockey Hall of Famer Chris Chelios was in Chicago for last night’s Flyers-Blackhawks game, but it was his appearance earlier in the week on WGN Morning News where he opened up about the 60-year-old head coach.

Chelios is hoping the Maple Leafs get bounced in the first round of the playoffs, and with that, the organization elects to part ways with Mike Babcock, currently the league’s highest-paid coach after signing an eight-year, $50-million contract in the summer of 2015. 

Chelios and others in Chicago see growing tension between Babcock and the Leafs organization, and the former Blackhawks defenseman prefers to see Quenneville land in Toronto or with the future expansion team in Seattle that doesn’t start play until the 2021-22 season.

Unquestionably, Babcock’s style can wear on players, and with the probability of facing the Boston Bruins again in the first round, Babcock and the Leafs are looking at the possibility of another first-round exit. 

As for Quenneville, even his former players believe the three-time Stanley Cup winning coach is ready to jump at another chance, whether that’s in Philadelphia or somewhere else.

“It would be pretty weird if he’s coaching somewhere else next season and not with the Blackhawks,” Patrick Kane said. “I think we all know that Joel has a big passion for hockey and a fire and a desire to win. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s coaching somewhere else next season.”

“I would be surprised if he’s not coaching,” said defenseman Duncan Keith. “He never really changed (this season). I think it’s just that competitive nature inside him. That’s what made him a great coach. The competition of winning games. There’s never anybody who loves winning more than him.”

Even Quenneville recently admitted during his first television interview since his firing “there’s an appetite to get back into the game.” Quenneville spoke to Chicago’s WGN-TV on St. Patrick’s Day and said that he’s in “no hurry right now” to accept a head coaching position while also adding, “We’ll see how things transpire in the offseason. We’ll have to think about it, and we’ll see.”

Several Blackhawks insiders believe Quenneville’s relationship with the general manager and input regarding personnel decisions will go a long way toward determining where he eventually coaches again, pointing to the  trades of defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson and forward Artemi Panarin which created organizational strife the past few years in Chicago, and eventually led to Quenneville’s firing in early November.

There could be as many as nine teams looking to for a permanent head coach heading into the 2019-2020 season.

Quenneville admitted he still watches a lot of NHL games, but not as many Blackhawk games.

Perhaps he’s evaluating what he sees on the ice and which organization might be a good fit.

When it comes to the Flyers, there’s a lot to like.

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NHL playoff picture: Flyers still knocking on the door

NHL playoff picture: Flyers still knocking on the door

The Flyers aren’t riding on the rims just yet. They pumped a little air in their tires Thursday night after completing a season sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Despite earning two points, the Flyers actually gained a point on the second wild-card team as the Canadiens leapfrogged the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have lost three straight games.

Wild-card standings

Carolina: 40-26-7, 87 pts, 9 GR
Montreal: 39-28-7, 85 pts, 8 GR
———
Columbus: 40-30-4, 84 pts, 8 GR
Philadelphia: 35-29-8, 80 pts, 8 GR

Thursday’s games

PHI: W 3-1 at Chicago
CAR: L 6-3 vs. Tampa Bay
MTL: W 4-0 vs. NY Islanders
CBJ: L 4-1 at Edmonton

• James van Riemsdyk continued his red-hot play with the go-ahead goal midway through the third period to lift the Flyers over the Blackhawks. van Riemsdyk is tied with Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl with the most goals (20) in the NHL since Jan. 7. It was also his fourth game-winner over that span.

• The storm surge in Carolina was the Lightning’s high-powered offense as Tampa Bay scored four unanswered third-period goals. Forward Nikita Kucherov became the first player since Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby in 2006-07 to top 120 points in a single season.

• Goaltender Carey Price stopped all 28 Islanders shots for his 44th career shutout while former Flyer Jordan Weal added a goal and an assist as the Canadiens blanked the Islanders. Montreal now sits in the playoff driver’s seat.

• The Oilers broke open a 1-1 game in the third period with three unanswered goals as the NHL’s hottest player, Leon Draisaitl, continued his torrid pace with his 300th career point, adding three assists.

What are the odds?

According to Sports Club Stats, the Flyers saw a slight climb in their playoff percentage up to 1.6 percent. The closer they inch to Montreal, the greater that number will jump as the Canadiens moved up 20 percentage points after overtaking Columbus in the standings.

The website Money Puck has the Flyers' odds at 1.7 percent.

What lies ahead?

The Flyers have the first of two weekend back-to-backs as they host the New York Islanders Saturday afternoon, looking to beat the Isles for the third time this month with another meeting against the Washington Capitals Sunday afternoon in D.C.

The Canadiens have a back-to-back as well, hosting the Sabres Saturday with a game at Carolina on Sunday.

On the verge of being swept, the Blue Jackets can’t wait to wrap up their Western Canadian road swing with two full days off between games.

Strength of schedule

According to PlayoffStatus.com, with eight games remaining, the Flyers' schedule isn’t nearly as grinding. Philadelphia now has the 13th-toughest schedule but will play five games over the final nine days in March.

Blue Jackets: 9th
Canadiens: 10th
Hurricanes: 21st

Interestingly, the Flyers can pull within a tie of the Blue Jackets with a weekend sweep of the Islanders and Capitals before the Jackets' next game in Vancouver Sunday night.

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