Taylor Leier

What Chuck Fletcher could be looking for by evaluating his first few trades

What Chuck Fletcher could be looking for by evaluating his first few trades

VOORHEES, N.J. — Chuck Fletcher has made two deals as Flyers general manager and neither one has budged the needle in terms of impact on the current roster.

But there are signs that indicate what the new Flyers GM could be thinking and evaluating moving forward.

Thursday night, Fletcher essentially pulled off a minor-league swap, dealing Taylor Leier to the Buffalo Sabres' organization in exchange for Justin Bailey, who is a little younger but considerably bigger. Bailey is listed at 6-foot-4, 214 pounds, or five inches and 34 pounds heavier than Leier.

Fletcher seized the opportunity to strike while Leier’s value was high. The former Flyer had scored seven points with the Phantoms over his past six games, and while Leier may have displayed some offensive potential in the AHL, that was never going to be his role with the Flyers.

“I don’t think his offense was able to translate to the NHL,” Flyers interim head coach Scott Gordon said Friday of Leier. “Ultimately, if you’re not filling a role like killing penalties and getting more minutes, it gets hard to find a niche.”

Instead, the Flyers received a player with size coupled with good skating ability and a little bit of grit that may come in handy on the Flyers' checking line. On Friday, Bailey was assigned to Lehigh Valley, but this trade was more of a change of scenery. Last season with the Flyers, Leier displayed a spark and at times a burst of energy, but nothing that he was able to sustain.

Same can be said for Bailey, who appeared in 52 games during his time with the Sabres but never gained traction and established himself as a checking-line forward.       

But look at the makeup of Fletcher’s Minnesota team and you can see that the Flyers' GM has a penchant for size, especially up front. Coming into this season, the Wild were the third-tallest team in the NHL with an average height of 73.7 inches and the fourth heaviest at 205.2 pounds. The Flyers are slightly on the lighter side at 198 pounds, which ranked in the bottom half of the league.

Against the Flyers this past Monday, the Wild had six forwards listed at 6-foot-2 or taller, including 2015 second-round pick Jordan Greenway at 6-foot-6, 230 pounds. If you don’t think Minnesota tried to impose its will down in the trenches, here’s what Carter Hart had to say afterward.

I think they were trying to shovel pucks into the net and shovel me into the net as well. I think that’s kind of the style they play and I think that was our pre-scout as well.

You have to think Fletcher would like to see some of that from his current team, especially from his bottom-six forwards.

In trading Jordan Weal a week earlier to Arizona for a sixth-round pick and ECHL-level defenseman Jacob Graves, Fletcher essentially received a minimal return for an undersized center who had become a perimeter player unwilling to work down in the trenches, as well as a forward in the final year of his contract who Fletcher wasn’t willing to re-sign. 

If there’s an aspect that should bother Fletcher from what he’s seen in his first six weeks on the job, it’s been a lack of toughness, grit and at times physicality from the current Flyers team, which is the main reason Dale Weise was placed on waivers (see story).

Moving forward, it may also be a reason why Fletcher is on the fence regarding Wayne Simmonds. Trading Simmonds would only deplete the Flyers even further in these much-needed areas, unless they acquire a similar style of player.

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Flyers trade Taylor Leier to Sabres for Justin Bailey

Flyers trade Taylor Leier to Sabres for Justin Bailey

General manager Chuck Fletcher isn't exactly blowing fans away with blockbusters.

However, he is starting to make an imprint.

Fletcher on Thursday night made his second trade by sending forward Taylor Leier to the Sabres in exchange for forward Justin Bailey. The move comes less than a week after he dealt forward Jordan Weal to the Coyotes.

Leier, 24, did not play a game for the Flyers this season after playing 39 in 2017-18. The 2012 fourth-round pick surprised many by making the club's opening night roster last season but Leier slowly lost his role as a fourth-line, penalty-kill guy, playing just nine games after the calendar flipped to 2018.

This season, he had 19 points (10 goals, nine assists) in 34 games with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. Before being traded, he was starting to turn himself into a call-up candidate, scoring 10 points (six goals, four assists) in his last 10 games with the Phantoms.

For obvious reasons, though, Fletcher had no ties to Leier, who is set to become a restricted free agent in the offseason and is making just $720,000 in 2018-19.

It's as simple as Fletcher probably liked Bailey's size and prospects more than he did with Leier. Bailey, a 23-year-old right winger, is 6-foot-4, 214 pounds and will also be a restricted free agent in the summer. In 37 games this season with the Sabres' AHL affiliate Rochester, Bailey, a 2013 second-round pick, had nine goals and 11 assists.

Over the previous three seasons, he has put up five goals and three assists in 52 games with the Sabres. He also owns a pair of 20-goal seasons with Rochester and, interestingly, his father Carlton Bailey played 10 seasons in the NFL.

While fans' patience may be growing a bit thin with Fletcher, wanting the GM to make more notable moves, it's important to remember the trade deadline isn't until Feb. 25. There's no real rush, especially when dealing with franchise-changing calls.

Bigger decisions, principally with Wayne Simmonds, will ultimately come. Meanwhile, the Flyers have won three of their last four games and face the Canadiens Saturday before not playing again until Jan. 28 because of the bye week.

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Flyers place Dale Weise, Taylor Leier on waivers

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Flyers place Dale Weise, Taylor Leier on waivers

As expected, the Flyers on Monday placed a forward on waivers.

Somewhat surprisingly, general manager Ron Hextall placed forwards Taylor Leier and Dale Weise on waivers, where one of the other 30 NHL teams can put in a claim and would have to keep them on their current roster. Leier has the more desirable contract with one year at $700,000, as opposed to Weise, who still has two years remaining at a $2.35 million cap hit.

If Leier and Weise both clear waivers, one or both can be sent to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. 

Leier had the more consistent training camp and preseason between the two players and responded by scoring a goal and adding an assist in the Flyers' 4-1 victory over the Bruins Saturday.

Part of the decision making into finalizing the roster was determining which forwards could contribute to the team’s penalty-kill unit. Both Leier and Weise saw extensive time on the PK during the preseason, but neither guy was expected to be in the lineup for the season opener Thursday in Las Vegas.

Right now, the Flyers' fourth line looks like Scott Laughton, Jori Lehtera and Michael Raffl with Jordan Weal looking more like the healthy scratch to start.   

With the Flyers' current roster at 29 players, the move was necessary to get down to the mandatory 23-player limit by 5 p.m. Tuesday. Five of those players are currently injured: Goalies Alex Lyon and Michal Neuvirth, forwards Corban Knight and Pascal Laberge and defenseman Samuel Morin.

The Flyers will also be faced with a corresponding decision once Knight is healthy to return, but that doesn’t appear to be anytime soon.

The next 24 hours could also bring league-wide activity as all 31 NHL teams will look to reduce their rosters, and the Flyers could find themselves interested in claiming another team’s player as well.

Just nine days ago, the Flyers lost winger Danick Martel to the Lightning.

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