Dave Scott

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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Chuck Fletcher facing a crossroad with Flyers and their 'bias for action'

Chuck Fletcher facing a crossroad with Flyers and their 'bias for action'

As Paul Holmgren and Dave Scott sat side by side, their message was clear.

Ron Hextall's picture had become too broad, too long term for the Flyers' liking, to the point in which Holmgren and Scott wanted a new general manager to fix the now more than anything else.

"It's my job to challenge Paul, and Paul to Ron," Scott, the chairman and CEO of Comcast Spectacor, said Nov. 27 when discussing Hextall's firing. "But that was a big question: What can we do now, today, to make the team better now? Not two years or three years from now. I think we debated that a lot.

"Do I think we can do better as a team now — not in two years or three years, but now? I think that answer is yes."

The problem is the now has turned so ugly, you wonder if it's even salvageable.

The Flyers entered Wednesday with more points (35) than just two NHL teams — the Blues (34) and Senators (34). They are 6-12-4 since Nov. 13, a stretch in which they've been outscored 80-53. In two more games, they will be at the halfway point of the season; that's no small sample size.

All of the above creates a brewing awkwardness and dilemma for Chuck Fletcher, brought in to quickly strap on his cape and save the Flyers from their mess.

Holmgren and Scott summoned Fletcher for the purpose of expediting the Flyers' process and to supplement the current team so it can realize its potential.

"We're looking for bright, energetic, strategic thinkers," Scott said when the Flyers were starting their GM search. "But also, balancing that with a bias for action and really making some things happen.

"We're very focused on the trade deadline coming up Feb. 25. We think there's going to be some opportunities out there and frankly, we don't want to miss out."

What in the world does Fletcher do now? Try to somehow buy on this team and give it a shot at the playoffs, a goal that is waning by the game? 

Fletcher will be strongly debating his course, with the difficult win-now reminder in the back of his mind. He has been on the job for barely a month and a hopefulness at the outset is starting to spiral into hopelessness.

Arguably the biggest decision on his growing plate: Wayne Simmonds. The 30-year-old has 17 points (11 goals, six assists) over 39 games and can become an unrestricted free agent after the season.

If Fletcher sees no other route than to sell ahead of the Feb. 25 deadline, then Simmonds becomes a prime trade chip the Flyers should cash in on as they look forward, instead of possibly losing the winger for nothing during the summer.

And that's just the beginning.

The next challenge would come at goalie. At this point, Fletcher very well may be best off learning more about Carter Hart at the NHL level while riding Michal Neuvirth and Brian Elliott (when healthy) the most he can before addressing the goalie predicament in the offseason. Both Elliott and Neuvirth will be unrestricted free agents then, opening everything up for Fletcher, who also has pending UFAs in forwards Michael Raffl and Jordan Weal at his disposal.

The situation, as a whole, oozes with irony because the Flyers moved on from Hextall for the sake of the all-important present. One way or the other, the new GM will give the Flyers their desired action.

Fletcher, though, may have no other choice but to take a page out of Hextall's book and look at what's next.

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Flyers weekly observations: Claude Giroux's position, Chuck Fletcher's patience, more

Flyers weekly observations: Claude Giroux's position, Chuck Fletcher's patience, more

It was another fun week in Flyers Land.

From the hiring of Chuck Fletcher, his introduction, a new coach and actual hockey being played, these are busy — and changing — times for the organization.

Let's get into some observations:

• Claude Giroux is pretty versatile, huh?

In his first game back at center since the 2016-17 season, Giroux went off for four points (one goal, three assists) during the Flyers' 6-2 win Saturday over the Sabres.

Which, of course, created the inevitable question of should the Flyers keep Giroux in the middle?

The Flyers undoubtedly need more depth at center. With one point in his last 11 games, Nolan Patrick hasn't shown the playmaking ability everyone was looking for from the 20-year-old. Be patient, though, because Patrick can turn it on quickly.

Still, Sean Couturier centering Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds on the second line would be intriguing, while James van Riemsdyk's game definitely goes to a different level next to a facilitator like Giroux.

However …

Giroux on the wing and Couturier at first-line center resulted in career years for both players during 2017-18. If it's not broke, don't fix it, right?

Allowing Giroux — who turns 31 in January — to play left winger keeps him fresher with a little less demand over the course of the season; he's already playing 20 minutes a night, which includes time on the power play and penalty kill.

When Couturier returns from a day-to-day lower-body injury, I'd expect Giroux to shift back to left winger. Patrick can make the decision easier on head coach Dave Hakstol by taking a step forward in December. If the 2017 second overall pick doesn't, Hakstol may have his hand forced.

• Just how patient will Fletcher be?

The whole dynamic is interesting because the Flyers' new general manager stressed the importance of getting to know the staff, the players, the duties of everyone and looking first to in-house solutions.

Then again, Flyers president Paul Holmgren and Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott brought in Fletcher because there wasn't enough progress and action with a team that should be better.

If the trend below worsens, Fletcher won't watch and hope for the best — that's not why he was summoned by the Flyers.

There are already rumblings that the Flyers could be seriously active ahead of the Feb. 25 trade deadline. Scott made a point to mention that date two weeks ago and Fletcher won't sit back here.

• This past weekend was a prime example of why the goalie position is so critical.

In Saturday's win, the Flyers fell behind, 2-0, but stuck with their approach because Anthony Stolarz still provided timely saves to salvage the Flyers' confidence. As a result, the Flyers ripped off six unanswered goals for a resounding victory.

In Sunday's 7-1 loss, the Flyers actually outplayed the Jets until Winnipeg scored its third goal on Michal Neuvirth to make it a 3-1 contest 7:31 into the second period. The Flyers then changed their entire game, tried doing too much and it backfired in a hurry.

Get a big save and the game could be totally different. The Flyers don't get that nearly consistently enough because their situation in net is a mess.

For the most part, Fletcher had goalie stability in Minnesota and it would not surprise me at all if the position is his chief concern with the Flyers.

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