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March 30, 2020

Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher provides update on state of the team, injured players, and how they're handling the layoff

Plus, more thoughts on their newest signings, when the NHL could return, and the latest on Oskar Lindblom

There hasn't been any hockey played in several weeks, and that's especially disappointing for Flyers fans, who saw their team vault to near the top of the Eastern Conference standings at just the right time. They were the hottest team in the NHL when the COVID-19 outbreak halted play, and according to some were the favorites to hoist the Stanley Cup in June. 

It seemed like things were finally clicking for the Orange and Black under new coach Alain Vigneault. Their young guys were playing well, their veterans were playing some of their best hockey of the season, if not the last few years, and their road woes from earlier in the season seemed to be dissipating. 

On Monday, Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher held a conference call with reporters and was asked about how his team was able to make that surge in the standings after an up-and-down start to the season.

"Well, I think all season we’ve been showing a high level of resiliency. I think it took us time to get everybody on the same page and to get playing our best hockey, which I think was predictable with the number of changes we made last off-season," Fletcher said. "I think as the season progressed, we all got on the same page from a system standpoint. Our culture grew and the expectations of the group increased. I think we’ve become a pretty good hockey team. 

"I think what I like is the buy-in, everybody is accepting of their role and try to do what they need to do to help the hockey team win, whether it’s Claude Giroux or Joel Farabee. It runs the gambit from our most experienced guys to our rookies. Everybody’s accepting of the role and doing what is asked of them and doing with a smile on his face. I think that’s why this group is so close and we were having the success that we were having at the end of the year."

Unfortunately, we may never get to see the end of this season play out — and we certainly won't get to see how this version of the 2019-20 season would end, because even if they do finish the season, any momentum that the Flyers had built will likely have worn off by then. 

Sure, the long layoff will also allowed some injured Flyers to get healthy, but most would've been ready for the start of the playoffs (or shortly thereafter) anyway. 

Now, everything is up in the air. Many of the Flyers players have returned home, and the front office and coaching staffs are working remotely, changing the entire dynamic. Fletcher was asked about all that and more on the conference call, touching on everything from his injured players to life in the work-from-home NHL to when he thinks there might be hockey again. 

Normally, we'd cut a few answers from his press conference and write a story focusing on that. But since there's literally no hockey news out there for Flyers fans right now, we figured we'd post the entire transcript. You can read it all below, but just a warning that some of the questions and answers have been re-ordered for the sake of keeping it grouped by topic. Hope that helps. 

And, as always, stay safe and stay home.

How is the team handling its business during a pandemic?

Since you don’t know how long this pause is going to be, do you have them treat this like it’s an offseason or try to have everyone stay in shape? How does it go?

Well before I answer that question, I want to acknowledge the obvious that we’re in different times right now and want to certainly mention that our entire organization, and certainly my family and I, we want to thank all the people working on the front lines of this pandemic, the doctors, nurses, hospital workers, our first responders and everyone working hard to keep our essential services operating for the benefit of all of us. I certainly want to mention that before we start talking about the small piece of the world that I work in, which is ice hockey. With respect to our players, we haven’t given them any sort of specific direction. Most of them have returned to their off-season homes. A lot of them have the ability to work out there. I don’t think anybody is skating, obviously, at this point. I think guys are doing the best they can to stay in shape and they are all hopeful that in time we get to a better place in this world, where we’ll be able to come back and play hockey. 

Chuck, how have you been coordinating with the rest of your front office, from Brent to the rest of your scouts and make sure everyone is making use of their time?

I speak to Brent and Barry every day. We have a group text that we keep pretty active in terms of different things that each of us may be doing. Brent is working first and foremost with our scouting staff, our amateur scouts. They’re working hard on getting their lists for the draft, watching video, doing reports, having discussions on players and doing things that they would typically do at this time of the year with the obvious exception that we were are not able to watch games live right now. Barry is working on contracts and cap related issues going forward. Obviously, we’ve been able to sign a couple of our unsigned draft choices, Tanner Laczynski and Wade Allison recently. Barry’s been on the forefront of those conversations. We stay in touch every day and try to coordinate things that we do. Personally, I am trying to reach out to a lot of our support staff and scouts as well as people like Bob Clarke, Paul Holmgren, Bill Barber and Dave Scott to keep the lines of communication going. To speak to people on a regular basis and just to do what we can to stay busy.

Similar to the discussions with Brent and the scouting staff, how often do you check in with AV and his staff and kind of touch base with him to see what he’s working on with this time off?

He had been working on his golf swing for a while, but right now he’s like the rest of us, he’s going through notes and trying to stay safe. I speak to AV every week, just once a week. I’ve reached out to quite a few of the coaching staff, scouting staff and supporting staff and try to stay in regular contact with them, whether it’s by a phone call, text or email. We’re all trying to stay in touch and do what we can. Again, for obvious reasons, a lot of our business has been shut down right now. Most of the things we can focus on are matters going forward, whether that’s the draft or signing some of our players. Maybe planning some things for the future.

How has the communication been like with players? How frequently have you been in touch with them? Or do you rely on Claude Giroux, like one player to relay information?

I’ve spoken to JVR a few times. He’s our player rep. They have regular calls with the NHLPA. Just making sure everyone is safe and their families are safe and if there is anything they need from us to get through this time and stage where we are all at. We want to help out any way we can. Obviously we have some injured players that we have been trying to get healthy and make sure they are in a good spot. Jimmy McCrossin has been working very hard at keeping in touch with the players that were banged up. Right now, it’s about doing what we can to make sure players are in good spot. Again, as things resolved itself and things get to a different stage and we can start talking about playing hockey again in a more realistic manner, communication will ramp up.

Chuck, have you found yourself having more or less conversations with other GMs now that the league is paused?

Fewer. We have a lot of texts going. Some group chats going. We’re communicating a lot, much more informal. I do reach out and speak to about 4 or 5 managers every week. It’s only been a couple weeks so I certainly haven’t spoken to everybody in the league. Again, trying to stay in touch and see how people are doing. Get ideas for maybe some things that are going. Checking in to see if they are signing anybody. Just things like that. At this stage, it hasn’t been a real big factor on what I am doing on day to day basis.

When might hockey return? What other plans are being made?

There are a lot of proposals floating around. Is there any one that you prefer that the season starts with the playoffs? Obviously it’s going to be later than normal. Is there any playoff format that you prefer?

Not really. We’re fine with anything that they put forward. To me, the more hockey the better. Whatever it ends up being, it ends up being. I’m not particularly led to anything. There’s a lot of ideas out there. A lot of creative solutions. It’s a good way to pass the time right now, but until things change and we have more information, it’s going to be hard to know what will happen.

Chuck, is it important to you that this season does get handed it out, even though it will be late? Is there some point where you just call it and get started again next season?

Well when you have time, use it. I just think there’s no sense in making any decisions until you have to make them. If we’re able to come back and play, that means the world is at a much better spot than it is right now. I think that would be a tremendous sign. Obviously, I hope we have that ability to finish up this year. A lot of work was put in and we got to the majority of the regular season. I think that we’re all competitors and we all want to play. Again, if we’re playing that means the situation is changed dramatically and we’re in a much better spot.

If and when you get a green light to start again at some point, do you think a couple weeks of a camp would be enough to get these players at least close to playing shape?

Guys take care of themselves. We have had other instances where we have had work stoppages and we’ve had shorter training camps to get ready for the season. Players have been able to manage it. These guys are tremendous athletes and they take care of themselves. I don’t know what the exact number would be. Certainly two weeks, in my opinion, would be sufficient to get guys up to speed. Obviously you have normal conditioning and you have game conditioning that may take a little time for guys to get to be where they were when the pause happened. Again, these guys are great athletes and I think that could be sufficient.

Has there been a lot of discussion with the governors about new dates, when arbitrations will be filed and free agency periods will be shifted to?

No, we just don’t know right now. I think the league has a long list of items, critical date issues and issues relating to all the things you mentioned in addition to formats and all that stuff that will have to be resolved once we have more information.

Chuck, how concerned are you about revenues’ being down and how that might affect the salary cap?

Look, we all read what’s going on in the world. I think our industry is no different from any other industry. I think there’s going to be challenges for everybody as we move forward here. Again, at the end of day, there will be host of issues that the league will have to sit down and come to conclusion on and figure out what makes sense for the industry to move forward. Until we have more concrete answers, it’s just hard to speculate on the types of things that we need to be worried about.

What's the latest on their injured players?

Chuck, does this help Nolan Patrick at all? Can you give us an update on him?

Nolan’s returned home. Generally speaking, he’s feeling well in terms of where he has been over the past few months. That’s hard to say what exactly it will mean when we do come back to play. He’s been trending in the right direction all along. I don’t know if that would have a positive or negative impact other than obviously, the benefit of time that he will have to continue to heal and get back. 

Can you give us injury updates on Myers, JVR and Nate? If the season does return in May, all three would be back?

Myers is doing well. Over three weeks now post injury, he’s doing very good. I believe he would have been cleared to play prior to the end of the regular season as originally scheduled. Thompson’s issues have resolved. He’s cleared to play. JVR’s finger is healing really well. He’s still needs a little time before that is fully healed, which is kind of what we expected when we announced the initial time frame, I believe of 4 to 6 weeks. It would have been somewhere either just as the playoffs started or with the first week of the playoffs. I think he’s still trending that way. Everybody’s doing well and feeling better. That’s all positive. 

Can you give an update on Oskar Lindblom? Is he still in the area? Did he go back home?

No, Oskar’s still in the area, continuing treatments. He’s doing well. 

With the spread of the virus, was there any fear that a player or a staff member was affected or exposed in any way?

I think all of us are concerned about everyone’s health and well-being and trying to take all the precautions we can. I am not aware of anybody that we had to take any particular precautions with, other than once we got back from Tampa Bay, everybody tried to heed the advice of the NHL and self-isolate and do what we can to keep ourselves and our families safe. Be smart members of the community and try to stay out of everyone’s way. Everyone’s doing the best they can to self-isolate and be home with their families. 

How will this impact recent signings and pending free agents? 

You mentioned Laczynski and Allison. Do you see them battling for a job next year or do you think they need a year or two of seasoning in the AHL?

I don’t know if they need a year or two of seasoning. These are players that will be 23 years old next season. They both have put a lot of time in it at the collegiate level. They both have size and strength attributes that typically takes a 19 and 20 year old kids a lot longer to acquire. They’re men. They are good hockey players. I expect that they’ll challenge for spots right away. Whether they can make it, time will tell. They’re players that are very close to being able to step in and play. 

Chuck, you mentioned earlier about Barry and contracts. You have a bunch of pending UFA’s and RFA’s. It’s a weird situation but have you opened negotiations with any of them? Since the cap is uncertain and the season starting back up is uncertain, do you look at that as on the back burner right now?

We haven’t started any negotiations with any of our RFA’s or UFA’s at this point. Part of it is there is a lot of uncertainty at this point. What the cap number will be and when things will start up. There is some uncertainty. Having said that, I think we have some RFA’s, in particular, that we have worked hard on the file for the negotiation. I think we’re certainly willing to have conversations with some of those players. The younger players that we will need to sign under any circumstance. I think if we can get ahead on some of those situations, we’ll look at it. I think there are some situations where we’ll wait to see the lay of the land before we can get too involved. We’ll try to use some of this time to our advantage. Certainly, whether we start the negotiations or just prepare for them, typically this time of year is when you start building your files for the summer negotiations, this year isn’t any different.

You mentioned Laczynski and Allison being signed. Does it look like any of the other college prospects, Kalynuk and Cates specifically, are looking to sign and turn pro?

I think Wyatt Kalynuk and his family are looking at all his options and deciding what they want to do and what Wyatt wants to do moving forward. Again, there’s really no urgency right now with the pause in the NHL season and the NCAA schedule being cancelled. I think he’s taking the time that he has to think through what he wants to do, which is his right. I believe that Noah Cates will return to school next year. Cam York is going to return to school. Bobby Brink will return to school. As they should, I think that’s the best route for all three of those kids.

And finally... 

Obviously, Kevin Hayes is one of the guys that you brought in over the summer because you needed a second line center. His impact is as much off the ice as it is on the ice. The viral videos of him during walkouts before the games. Did you have any idea that he had the much personality and can bring that much impact in the locker room and off the ice as well as on the ice?

Yeah, he’s a beauty. I think we all knew he had a strong personality, but you are right. He’s had a very positive impact on our franchise. He’s played very well. He plays a very important role on our team in that second line center spot as well as power play, penalty kill, even strength, 3 on 3 and even shootouts. He’s had an impact in every area that a player can have an impact in. He’s a good teammate. He’s a really good human being. He cares about winning. He cares about the people in the organization. He cares about the fans.  You can’t make that stuff up. His personality is who he is. He’s a real fine human being.

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