Flyers

If Alain Vigneault can't work his magic with Flyers' roster, pressure mounts for Chuck Fletcher

If Alain Vigneault can't work his magic with Flyers' roster, pressure mounts for Chuck Fletcher

Chuck Fletcher was brought in because things weren't going well enough and quickly enough for the Flyers.

The predicament he inherited required eventual change.

After all, sitting alongside team president Paul Holmgren back in November, Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott said the Flyers were eyeing a general manager with a "bias for action," among other qualities.

With time and evaluation, Fletcher has begun providing the desired action.

A new head coach is on board, bringing extensive experience and outside perspective, while two new assistants with strong pedigrees have been hired.

But perhaps the most influential part in shifting the Flyers' course has remained mostly intact: the roster. That could drastically change this upcoming offseason with free agency and potential trades. However, Fletcher, facing his first offseason as the Flyers' GM, doesn't see an exodus needed with the current roster — or at least not yet.

"The Flyers are a great opportunity. You guys are in this market, for me coming in from the outside, I know when Paul Holmgren approached me about being the general manager of the Flyers, I'm like, 'Wow.' This is a premium job in the National Hockey League and we're set up where we should have an opportunity to get better quickly," Fletcher said April 18. "I know we need more good players, but we have a lot of good players. It's not like you have to gut this thing — we have cap space, we have picks. We have really good staff, really good staff. On the scouting and management side, I've added one person, I haven't subtracted anything. There's a good group here and we have the ability to get better quickly if we all do our job."

Therein lies a poignant and undeniable pressure on Fletcher in Year 1 with the Flyers under Alain Vigneault's watch.

Aside from Wayne Simmonds, who became an inevitable piece to move given the circumstances, the Flyers' core has survived. So, too, has the overall makeup of the roster.

Fletcher, Vigneault and the Flyers believe this team can win with a refined system and different guidance. They don't exactly see a team that has missed the playoffs every other season since 2012-13, a stretch consisting of three first-round exits.

Will Fletcher add this summer? Of course — the ability to do so is one of the reasons why Vigneault found the Flyers as an attractive destination. When Fletcher was hiring Vigneault, the two established a list of areas in which the Flyers can improve.

"We're looking at some options and if we can put the right things in place," Vigneault said at his introduction, "it's going to be a lot of fun."

Significant subtraction was not featured on the list.

"There's some solid youth with a lot of upside here that is coming into its own," Vigneault said. "There's great goaltending, being one of those youth pieces. There's a solid core group that, in my mind, needs the right direction. And you've got the combination, also, of some solid veteran players that have been in the league a few years, that can still contribute at a high level in this league. … After discussing it with a lot of people that I respect their opinion in the NHL, I feel that the Flyers are a very good team that with the proper direction, proper mindset, proper culture and people working together, will be a very good team in the near future."

That's why Year 1 will be so telling.

Vigneault is a coach with a tremendous track record of winning during his first season on the job. He did so at three separate stops (see story). Michel Therrien has 38 postseason victories under his belt as a head coach and took a team to the Stanley Cup Final. Mike Yeo owns three playoff series victories as a head coach and has a ring as an assistant.

If this group can't produce the results with the Flyers' roster, Fletcher will have to take a longer, much more serious look at the players in place and make his hardest decisions yet.

At that point, it may be the only action left.

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Picking the best hub city for Flyers in NHL's 24-team Stanley Cup Playoffs plan

Picking the best hub city for Flyers in NHL's 24-team Stanley Cup Playoffs plan

Going End to End today are NBC Sports Philadelphia's Brooke Destra, Katie Emmer, Taryn Hatcher, Joe Fordyce and Jordan Hall.

The topic: Picking the best hub city for the Flyers in the NHL's 24-team Stanley Cup Playoffs plan.

Destra

This is honestly quite an interesting debate because while fans won’t be in attendance, location will still greatly play a factor in how teams perform based on a number of reasons.

Right off the bat, while some of the West Coast locations could work on paper because of the amount of hotels and facilities close to the arenas that could host a conference during the playoffs, you have to consider the ice. Outdoor temperature always affects rinks, but imagine having playoff hockey in Las Vegas late July with 102-degree weather. 

With the amount of players constantly on the ice, more wear and tear bound to happen because of the high levels of games at a single hub location, in addition to the heat levels — it just seems like a bad recipe. 

Two viable options that make the most sense would be Toronto and Pittsburgh. Both locations would be much more manageable weather-wise, have ample number of local facilities for training and, since they are tourist spots, hotels would be able to put up players, staff and whoever else needed to pull this off successfully. 

The Flyers haven’t been in Toronto for the playoffs since 2004 for the Eastern Conference semifinals — a series that they won in six games, but struggled away from home ice. 

Pittsburgh is a spot the Flyers know well and can be used to their advantage. Their overall record on the road against the Penguins is 58-67-22 and while it’s not the best, the Flyers have had the edge in the playoffs, winning four of the seven matchups between the two teams.

Obviously individual records between the Leafs and Penguins aren’t a huge factor, considering there’s no guarantee the teams would even meet — but having that as a reference for the Flyers’ success at those arenas seemed important to note. 

Either way, playoff hockey — the best kind of hockey — is being discussed and I’m sure the league is going to pull through and make the best choices for their players and fans.

Emmer

I understand there won’t be much of a home-ice advantage without fans in attendance but please, anything but Pittsburgh. I could see how there could be an argument of how the Flyers could possibly be more comfortable in battling in playoff hockey in a setting such as PPG Paints Arena, but there’s just a sense of discomfort I have with the thought of the Flyers having to spend such a lengthy amount of time in the home city of their biggest rival.

With that, I’m going with Columbus, only if that cannon is buried in some storage closet underground far away somewhere. I think Nationwide Arena would be one of the best spots on this list for the Eastern Conference hub city. More specifically, it would be most ideal for the Flyers as it would be the closest option in the country to Philadelphia besides Pittsburgh.  

Hatcher

Before I go picking a city here, there’s a really important issue to address. Out of an abundance of concern for everyone’s health (and understandably so), the Canadian-U.S. border is still closed. Which means that if you’re a non-Canadian, you can enter Canada, but only if you’re healthy and have a work visa. That includes most NHL players and team personnel who are not from Canada but are employed by a Canadian hockey club. Even so, those people with visas must quarantine for 14 days, which makes me wonder how a Canadian hub city would work considering the current guidelines and the number of teams that would hold their camps in the United States. I may just be missing something here, but border barriers still seem to be an issue. 

Operating under the assumption that current guidelines continue, it seems the best way to go would be two cities in the United States (I guess?).

For the East, I’d like to see it in Columbus. That is, if and only if, there are not thousands and thousands of Ohio State students around. From some quick research it seems OSU is aiming to announce its plans in mid-June for the fall semester, which could, and probably would overlap with the NHL’s postseason. If it opts out of in-person classes, Columbus is an ideal location.

The city has two arenas capable of hosting NHL games, Nationwide Arena and Value City, where the Buckeyes play. Both are outfitted with the necessary broadcasting equipment to be able to bring the game to the fans at home. And, while I’ve heard that geography doesn’t actually concern the player that much, it is one of the few cities in the eastern half of the United States.

Fordyce

I’m going to choose a building the Flyers are very familiar with — Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. Familiarity isn’t a bad thing, and the Flyers know Toronto well, it’s a hockey hotbed, and I’m sure the buzz will be palpable. However, with the absence of fans, the Flyers would get to play in a great hockey atmosphere, minus the raucous hostile crowd that usually awaits the orange and black for a game in Maple Leaf country.  

While the idea of playing in a place like Pittsburgh and winning in enemy territory on the Penguins' ice sounds appealing, there are plenty of factors already at play here, namely getting back in game shape, trying to recapture the momentum the Flyers had before the NHL pause, as well as health concerns. The last thing Alain Vigneault and company need is for the arena they’re playing in to become another character in what is already the most complicated script the NHL has ever written.  

Hall

It's important to note that the Eastern Conference's tournament could be held in a Western Conference city, so the 10 cities under consideration — Chicago, Columbus, Ohio, Dallas, Edmonton, Alberta, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver, British Columbia — are all possibilities for the Flyers.

Picking the best city for the Flyers, let's go with Pittsburgh. There's a familiarity with the trip and PPG Paints Arena, where the Flyers are 14-4-4 in 22 regular-season games. With no fans, the idea of winning in Pittsburgh could be a fun source of motivation for the Flyers, even providing an underdog type of feel. The Flyers have always seemed to relish the opportunity of playing and winning in Pittsburgh.

"The ideal hub city is a place where there’s enough room for players to have a life, they’re not going to be sent back to their hotel rooms and stay there 24/7 when they’re not practicing and playing, but it’s going to be a contained environment and it’s going to be a secure environment," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said last Friday. "It’s going to give the players some opportunity for some entertainment and some freedom, but within a contained environment."

From that perspective, Pittsburgh might not be the most attractive city among the 10. But from a hockey standpoint, it feels like a good fit for the Flyers.

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Former Flyers share their favorite all-time teammates

Former Flyers share their favorite all-time teammates

As my family has spent a great deal of time together at home the last few months, I found myself repeating the same thing (as parents often do) to my children, ages 9 and 11: Help out when you can, be a good teammate.

That led me down the path to ask a handful of former Flyers players this question: Who was your favorite teammate when you played in the NHL?

Chris Therien (Flyers defenseman, 1994-04, 2005-06)

"That's a good question and there was a lot of great ones. I roomed with John LeClair and played with a lot of really, really high-caliber guys that were high-caliber people, as well.

"I'm going to say, at the end of the day, Luke Richardson was the best teammate on the ice and probably the best teammate off the ice, as well. He had great leadership qualities. He knew team bonding. You understood the long season that guys deal with. He helped me keep the room light a lot of the time. Just an absolutely sensational human being.

"Easily a person I will never forget until the day I die because of those great qualities that he possessed as a friend, a teammate and a leader."

Rick Tocchet (Flyers right winger, 1984-92, 2000-02)

"Craig Berube is definitely one for me. Whether he played two minutes or 15 minutes, he always thought of the team. A very unselfish player and was an excellent leader even though sometimes he didn’t play a lot in some games. Kept the room loose and serious at the same time."

Brian Boucher (Flyers goalie, 1999-02, 2009-11, 2013)

Phantoms, 1997-98:


Neil Little

"The greatest guy I played with! This guy was always willing to lend a hand, advice, share a story and laugh. He was my first goalie partner in pro hockey and he set the bar incredibly high. To this day, he’s still helping me. He was responsible for getting me back to Philly from San Jose and also helped land a spot for my son Tyler to live in Plymouth, Michigan, by setting him up with his childhood buddy Chris Osgood while he’s playing for the U.S. national team development program. He’s the best!

"

Flyers, 1999-00
:

Mark Recchi

"As a rookie that year, Rex always made me feel welcome to dinners, golf and whatever else was going on. He always was generous too!

"

Rick Tocchet  

"Late addition to the team but had instant respect the minute we got him. He too like Rex always included me and made me feel like I had been a teammate for years. Extreme work ethic and showed me as a young guy how hard you have to work to be a pro.

"

Keith Jones

"Same as the other two guys. He was great to me. He always had a line for me the minute Beezer (former Flyers goalie John Vanbiesbrouck) gave up a goal. He’d say, 'Start stretching, kid!' He’s always been there for me. Even up to this day! Love Jonesy!

"

Later years:

Jody Shelley

"Played with Jody in Columbus, San Jose and Philly. Team guy! Great friend. Spent lots of time with him doing extra practice because we weren’t playing much."



Joe Thornton

"Never met a guy who loves being at the rink and being with the guys as much as Jumbo. He rarely had a bad day. Played with him in San Jose.
"

Bill Clement (Flyers center, 1971-75)

"Bernie Parent: He was never in a bad mood. All he did was smile and laugh and keep us loose. No matter how difficult certain situations seemed, he was the messenger that let me know life would go on and be better than it was yesterday. Maybe it was because he knew he could single-handedly control outcomes on the ice."

Keith Jones (Flyers right winger, 1998-00)

Craig Berube. Protected my [butt] on a game-to-game basis!”

Anything else made him a great teammate?

“Nothing!”

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