Back in July 2019, general manager Chuck Fletcher was mathematical in explaining the Flyers' foundation. The foundation that the Flyers wanted to build upon, not break up in risk of a collapse.
At the time, following an early offseason reshaping and a quiet July 1, Fletcher said he and his staff had counted "eight players on that NHL roster that haven't come close to hitting their peak and to having their career seasons."
"That's the exciting thing," Fletcher said. "That's our growth."
That has not changed for the Flyers. Their youth took course-changing strides this season, which led to the Flyers experiencing arguably the NHL's biggest turnaround and improvement in 2019-20. And the Flyers are still growing in youthfulness with prospects on the way and many of their current youngsters only "scratching the surface," as head coach Alain Vigneault put it last month.
One of the most influential aspects of Fletcher's first offseason calling the shots for the Flyers was that he did not jeopardize the Flyers' foundation and still fulfilled upper management's wishes of expediting the process toward contention.
After finally taking a step and breaking a prolonged stretch of stagnancy, the Flyers should and will be judicious in the thought of taking a hefty swing and potentially damaging their entire approach.
Jets star Patrik Laine, a 6-foot-5, 22-year-old winger who has scored 36, 44, 30 and 28 goals over his first four NHL seasons, respectively, has been the subject of trade rumors, according to multiple reports. The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun reported on Monday that "the Flyers and Jets had some Patrik Laine trade discussions last week although they seemed to cool off this past weekend." TSN's Frank Seravalli on Tuesday also reported the talks had cooled but that he believed the Flyers were the "most engaged" with Winnipeg and a defenseman going to the Jets was a part of the conversation.
Fletcher is not one to be reticent to talk or listen. Good GMs pick up the phone, check in and do their due diligence, which is what Fletcher has said he will do this offseason. On Monday, he said he had "spoken to every team in the league and some several times." That is certainly smart general managing in an NHL offseason with a team looking to take another jump.
But there are valid, valid reasons for why you should be skeptical of the Flyers leaping up with the Laine buzz and dunking it through the cylinder. This is the opposite of an alley-oop connection between the Flyers and Jets. The Flyers should be wary.
Yes, Laine is young with an obvious future ahead, but would the Flyers want to sacrifice a young defenseman like Travis Sanheim or Philippe Myers? Or possibly a promising center on the roster or in their system? Just last offseason, Fletcher said he believed the Flyers' young defensive corps was the club's strength moving forward.
"The way this franchise has been built, preceding me, going back to Ron Hextall and what his mission was: Clearly we’ve been an organization that’s put a lot of emphasis on drafting and developing of players and we have a lot of young players that are either on the team or trying to push their way onto the team," Fletcher said last month. "I don’t think it makes sense to do a 180 and change philosophy at this point in time."
Fletcher then mentioned the challenges in which the economic state of the NHL will cause for teams moving forward in a flat-cap world. Next offseason, Laine will be a restricted free agent and arbitration eligible. He currently has a cap hit of $6.75 million and keeping him a part of the future will not be cheap or easy.
Meanwhile, the Flyers will have younger pieces to give new deals as well as a few core pieces nearing unrestricted free agency (Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux are on the final two years of their respective contracts).
"If you look at it just practically, we have a flat salary cap here for the next two or three years, more than likely," Fletcher said. "Over the next three years, we have a lot of players currently on our team that are good players that are going to require new contracts. Everything we do, we’re going to have to do looking at a two- to three-year window versus just a 12-month window.
"We’re going to have to make sure that we manage the cap properly and we have the resources that we need to keep the good young players that are here. Having said that, you’re always looking to add pieces if you can to help your team. We will do that, but I don’t expect us to be a major player in free agency over the next couple years. I do expect us to aggressively try to keep our own players and obviously we’ll be working the phones to see what we can find on the trade front.
"We have a lot of good young players who still have their best days ahead of them."
Laine will require a pretty good haul and then a pretty good chunk of change. Anyone should peek into the Laine conversation, but staying and losing track of time could be dangerous for the Flyers.