May 03, 2022
Chuck Fletcher met with the media for about 40 minutes on Tuesday, with a new coaching search underway and the 'aggressive retool' still in place.
He talked about the issues that plagued the Flyers in a season where anything and everything went wrong, the plans to address them, and reasons for optimism that they can get things turned around fast.
Whether you believe that'll happen is up to you (can't really say confidence among Flyers fans is great right now).
"First of all, we're extremely disappointed with our season and appreciate our fans for sticking with us," the Flyers general manager said. "It was a very tough season to stick with us, and certainly we understand, I understand, that the season was beyond unacceptable.
"It was a devastating season, but we do have good pieces, and in terms of the patience...We're not asking anybody to give us 5, 7, 10 years here."
Even so, there's some considerable cleaning up to do and a lot that needs to go right for the Flyers to climb back into relevance.
Fletcher met with interim head coach Mike Yeo on Monday to inform him that he won't be back in the role for next season.
Fletcher praised the job he did and added that he would love to keep Yeo within the organization, but that depends on talks over the next few weeks and other options Yeo may have available to him.
"We dealt Mike a really tough hand," Fletcher said. "He's a good coach. I thought he did a really good job under the circumstances. He kept our players competing and playing hard to the end, made a few adjustments that we started to see some progress in, in particular, holding on to the puck a little bit more, zone entries, we were scoring a little bit better 5-on-5 at the end of the year.
"But we dealt him a tough hand all things considered."
The search for the next coach has only just started. Fletcher said the team's hockey operations group will get together Wednesday and start creating a profile for their ideal candidate, then start reaching out for interviews. He said all options are open, and while there isn't a particular timeframe to make a hire, they are aware of the calendar.
"The important thing is to get the right coach," Fletcher said. "The right fit, the right chemistry. As long as it takes, that's what we'll take."
The Flyers were ravaged by injuries, but that was only a part of the problem. They were just playing bad hockey.
"We were defending all the time and that's something we have to look at," Fletcher said. "We weren't exiting the [defensive zone] well enough. So there are certainly things we have to look at in terms of our structure and details. We didn't have the puck enough and when you defend all the time, bad things happen."
The Flyers finished the season 26th in penalty kill percentage (75.7%) and gave up the eighth-most goals at 5-on-5 with 189. Their power-play percentage (12.6%) was dead-last in the NHL and they were middling at best at even strength with 159 goals (tied for 17th).
You can't score if you don't have the puck.
Fletcher cited better puck movement from the defense as an immediate way to improve things. He believes a healthy Ryan Ellis will help in that regard, so will more progress from Cam York and Travis Sanheim, and hopefully a bounce-back year from Ivan Provorov.
"There are certainly a lot of areas we have to improve upon as a team," Fletcher said. "You go back to that first season, '19-20, we played really well, played the right way. Prior to the pause we were one of the best teams in the league. We had the puck, the process was good, the results were good, we were clicking. Clearly, the last two seasons for various reasons, we just haven't been able to get back to that level."
The glory days of two years ago seem so long ago now.
The 'aggressive retool' was coined back in January, and on Tuesday, Fletcher went more into what the process of that is.
There are a lot of moving parts, it turns out.
It started with the trade deadline, when the Flyers moved Claude Giroux, Derick Brassard, and Justin Braun for Owen Tippett and a handful of draft picks (none of which are for this year's draft).
It continued with the signings of college prospects Noah Cates, Ronnie Attard, and Bobby Brink.
All the work to be done this summer comes next, with trades, signings, and hopefully the fully healthy returns of Sean Couturier and Ryan Ellis.
"Part of it is we need to get younger," Fletcher said. "We have to get more talented. We have to get faster. We have to aggressively look at trades, free agency, and can we add a couple players to supplement what we have here and make this team better."
"Another element will obviously be the return to health of certain players," he added. "Sean Couturier and Ryan Ellis are players that would be hard to acquire in the offseason. It's hard to acquire a top defenseman with a $6 million cap and it's hard to acquire a No. 1 centerman.
"We're going to be hopeful that those players can return and play well."
The team is hopeful that the youth it still has can solve some problems internally too.
Morgan Frost showed signs down the stretch that he is rediscovering his game after missing nearly all of last season. Cam York gained valuable NHL experience moving up and down the defensive pairings. And Cates, Attard, and Brink each flashed promise and are all under contract for next season.
"That doesn't even include the (Tyson) Foresters, (Zayde) Wisdoms, (Elliot) Desnoyers, or (Ivan) Fedotov," Fletcher said. "The good thing is we will have a lot more depth in terms of young assets. Obviously not all of them can make our team, nor not all of them may be good enough to make our team.
"But some of them will. That is going to be a big difference next year when we hopefully will have a few more internal options to plug some holes."
They'll have to be considering the Flyers are up against the cap.
"We’ll have to see from a cap perspective what’s realistic and what we can do," Fletcher said. "But we’re certainly going to aggressively look at every option we can to add more talent."
Sanheim, Joel Farabee, Travis Konecny, and Carter Hart were cited as players that need to keep pushing forward too. Plus the high draft pick that's likely coming provided the ping-pong balls don't have anything to say about it.
So yeah. Lots of moving parts, and a lot that needs to go right.
All things considered, Carter Hart had a pretty decent bounce back from what was a horrible 2020-21 campaign and will be back for next season.
Fletcher's hoping Russian goaltending prospect Ivan Fedotov will be joining him as the backup.
"Yeah, we're hopeful to come to terms with Fedotov in the very near future," he said, adding that things are a bit complicated right now because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. "But we’re still expecting that we’ll be able to get him the proper paperwork and have him here for next season."
Fedotov, 25, was a seventh-round draft pick by the Flyers in 2015. He posted a staggering .943 save percentage through six games in the Olympics and a just as impressive .937 save percentage for CSKA Moskva in the KHL's postseason.
Sam Morin's playing days are over. He's had too many knee injuries to the point where he can't continue his career, Fletcher said.
"Tremendous kid," he said. "Huge heart, huge determination, and did everything he could to be a player. No one appreciated being a hockey player better than Sam Morin, but there's just, unfortunately, too much damage to the knee to resurrect his career."
The big, 6'6" defenseman was taken 11th overall by the Flyers in the 2013 draft, and while considered a project, his development through the years was trending toward the NHL. But then he tore his ACL twice within a 19-month span and could never get back on the ice consistently thereafter.
He made a switch to left wing ahead of last season to save his career, and did end up playing 20 games (scoring his first and only NHL goal), but more issues mounted. He was sidelined for all of the 2021-22 campaign, and now isn't coming back at all.
Fletcher has had some conversations with the 26-year-old about a job within the organization and will talk more with him about it over the next few months.
"Sit down, see what he wants to do, and have those conversations," he said. "Just wanted to give him some time. It's been a long road for him. It's very emotional when you see your career slip away because of things out of your control."
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