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December 05, 2018

New Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher doesn't rule out bringing up Carter Hart this season

Following his introductory press conference on Wednesday, Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher was headed off to Lehigh Valley to check out his new organization's minor-league affiliate in action, which could include a look at top goalie prospect Carter Hart.

Currently, the Flyers have a mess of a goalie situation, with neither Brian Elliott or Michal Neuvirth seemingly able to stay healthy for any extended period of time. In fact, they've already used five goalies this season, more than they used all of last season. 

None of those five goalies — Elliott, Neuvirth, Calvin Pickard, Anthony Stolarz, or Alex Lyon — seem to figure heavily into the team's future, at least not in the way Hart does. The Flyers' faithful have been ready to see the 20-year-old Canadian goaltender for some time now, and many had criticized Fletcher's predecessor, Ron Hextall, for his patience in bringing Hart along. 

Unfortunately for those fans, Fletcher seems more in line with Hextall's thinking when it comes to brining up a guy that young to be the starting goalie — at least for now. He did, however, very much leave the door open for Hart to join the big club this season, and possibly as early as next month.

"Yeah, I don’t know if it could ever be a one size fits all," Fletcher said when asked about his philosophy on bringing up a young goalie. "But I can’t remember of any twenty-year-old goalies that have played in the NHL. Luongo did a bit, even Brodeur played in the American league, Patrick Roy did, I remember Felix Potvin coming up as a highly touted prospect, he played a full year in Saint John’s so it’s a tough league. It’s a tough league to learn. 

"Carter’s doing well, he played great against the Toronto Marlies last week and won a big game for them. He’s going in the right direction, he’s going to be, we hope, a very good goaltender in the National Hockey League. But I really believe goaltenders need seasoning, again, whether that means it's two months, four months, a year, I wouldn’t want to bring Carter Hart up right now. 

"That’s not to say in a month or two or three I wouldn’t, or next year. But he’ll tell us by his play, by the consistency of his play, when he’s ready."

To hear Fletcher tell it, it seems like the decision won't be one arbitrarily made in advance by the team — like what Hue Jackson tried to do with Baker Mayfield before getting fired by the Browns — but rather a decision made based on the way Hart has been playing. 

They say they want to see consistency, and that's exactly what they need. Because their goaltending has been anything but consistent this season.

MORE: Carter Hart wants his Flyers’ future to begin now

Hart's play won't be the only thing Fletcher will be evaluating this season; he's also be keeping a close eye on his head coach, as he decides whether or not to bring Dave Hakstol back for another year.

"I spent some time with Hak yesterday, and again this morning, talking about what we want to do for the upcoming road trip, the number of players we’re going to bring on the trip. He’ll get tired of me. I’m around after every game, I’m around every morning, I like to have coffee with the coaches and just get a sense of what they want to do each day. Again, I think you have to give people a chance to show how they’re going to work with you. It’s easy to have opinions on the outside, but I think when you’re talking about making a decision on the future of a coaching staff you better have a little bit more specific information than what I have right now. 

"I want it to work, I want to be successful with this group. It’s not threats or anything, but if we don’t have the solutions in-house, we’ll look outside. There’s no time table for any of that, other than we’re just trying to get better. We want to make the playoffs this year. We want to win a Stanley Cup as soon as we can. Every decision we make will be towards that goal, but right now we’re just, for me, we’re just starting."

Fletcher was asked about much more than that on Wednesday. Here's more from his first back-and-forth with the Philly media:

On what made the job appealing... 

Chuck Fletcher: Well, it’s an iconic brand, historic franchise. Could use a lot of different phrases. I mean, you look at the original six teams in the NHL, obviously there a long time and you put Philadelphia right with them. It’s just a tremendous market, tremendous franchise, great history, Stanley Cup championship history. Then when you dig in deeper, I certainly want to acknowledge the job that Ron Hextall did. The cupboard is full, there are a tremendous amount of prospects. This year we have nine draft picks, we have an extra third and an extra seventh. We have cap space and we have good players. Beyond that, it’s a great organization with a lot of great people that I’ve been meeting with in the last two days. There’s everything here to be successful and that’s our goal and that’s what we’re going to do. It’s set up for success. The history. The city. I called it a dream job the other day and it truly is. 

On how he compares philosophically to Hextall... 

Fletcher: Maybe somebody else would have to make that, I’ve never worked for Ron or with Ron. I have a lot of respect for him. Certainly, dealt with him over the years scouting. We both like to scout. We’ve both been in rinks over the years since he was in Philadelphia. Spoke to him all the time, but with all due respect, I don’t think I can answer that since I haven’t work with him. 

How he describes himself philosophically...

Fletcher: Well, again I think it’s…the NHL and the cap system these days, you have to build your team through the draft. That has to be the core of your team, there’s no other way to do it. We all can’t go out and buy twenty players. It has to be built through the draft and hopefully that homegrown talent believes in your identity, believes in your culture and besides bringing talent they bring those intangibles to the rink every day. And as you build up that base of talent, then you start to look outside to find out how you can supplement and compliment those players wherever you feel there’s gaps and holes. I’m a big believer, you need all three phases to build a championship team, again mainly the draft, but you also have to use trades and free agency. You have to have good people, everybody has to be pulling the same way. I do think culture is very important in any organization to be successful. Hopefully you have good health and you can get a bounce or two along the way, but build a good team and be consistency good for a long time.

On why he thinks the Flyers have struggled this year... 

Fletcher: I’m just sort of getting into that now. Clearly, I made a couple comments the other night, we’ve used five goaltenders this year in twenty-five games and that’s not all performance related, there’s been injuries. There’s been some tough breaks, there have been a few performance issues, so clearly there’s been some instability in goal. I think if we can get some guys healthy, perhaps that could be an antidote to that, where we can get that consistency back. It is a small sample size, sometimes that’s not what people what to hear, but twenty-five game is not even a third of the season. We have a lot of runway left here. We have an opportunity, this group, these coaches, these players, all these staff members, we all have a group to find a way to push and make the playoffs. That has to be our goal. We’re right there, we’re a few points back, but we’re as strong as any of the teams right around us. Hopefully we can find a way to become a very good team as the season moves on.

On how this compares to his time in Minnesota...

Fletcher: You know, there are different situations. Again, I would have to say that I’ll get to know the prospects a little bit better, but I’ve watched most of them play, probably not all of them, but over the years. Once you get in-house, you get a chance to meet them and get to know their personality, their medical history, their character and how they interact with their teammates, you can form a better opinion. But, this is as deep a prospect group as I’ve seen. There’s a lot of good pieces there and again, there’s good players here. I think that this is a very favorable situation to walk into and Ron worked hard to build it. Ron and the staff. I’ve been very impressed with the staff that I’ve met so far, haven’t had a chance to meet with the amateur scouts. I do know many of them personally, I’ve worked with a couple of them before. The pro scouts are in, spent a lot of time with them. I’m getting to know some of the development people. I’m going to Lehigh Valley tonight. It’s a strong, strong foundation of talent, both players and staff. It’s hard for me to compare, a little in some ways, but again, I’m very fortunate to walk into this. 

On how realistic it is that he'd make major personnel changes in the short-term... 

Fletcher: Short-term can be defined different ways. Certainly, I’m not making a trade today- well I don’t know about today or tomorrow, but I can’t imagine I’d make one in the next couple days. Next week we get on the road, we go through Western Canada. Within about ten days I’ll have watched the team five or six times. I’ve watched them a few times live this year when I was working with New Jersey. I believe I can get up to speed pretty quickly. More importantly, there’s a great group of people surrounding me. Scouts, people that know the game. There’s a great resource obviously in Paul Holmgren. I spoke to Bob Clarke last night, my first boss, a long-time mentor. He watches every game. Dean Lombardi, very bright men. All three of these men have been general managers with more experience than me, so there’s a lot of people I can lean on. Scouts, front office people, Barry Hanrahan. There’s a lot of people that I utilize. 

When I make the decision, I make the decision because somebody has to pull the trigger, but it’s with a lot of inputs that go into the decision making, a lot of people that have an opinion. I’ve made decisions before, where at the beginning, I didn’t even agree with what we were going to do. But, you know you listen to people, you trust your people. I do have a pretty good trust already with many of the people that work here. Sorry for the long-winded answer, but the first order of business is to look for in-house solutions, I think you have to give people a chance. Players, staff, everybody. If we can get this thing going the right direction, maybe we don’t have to go out and be aggressive. But, if things aren’t working or we’re not getting traction, then I think you have to look at every angle.

On Hextall's recent contract discussions with agents over Wayne Simmonds and Ivan Provorov and whether or not he'll have to put that on back burner while he gets settled in... 

Fletcher: Yeah, fortunately I know their representatives very well. Bob Clarke let me do my first contract in 1993, and in over the 25 plus seasons, I don’t even know how many I’ve done. Barry does a lot of the contracts here so that’s a great resource I can lean on as well. We’ll work together, I know he’s put files together. He’s prepared, he’s looked at what the market is, for not just those two, but any of the other free agents that we have. Obviously, I would like to get to know these players and get to talk to them, and see where they’re at, see how things fit here and how people interact. I definitely plan to reach out to the agents very quickly, just at least to say hello, and get a sense of what’s going on from their perspective and listen to them. When the time is right we will get to the contract, but certainly there will be a lot of work starting right away in terms of, getting to know the file, getting to know the individual, communicating with the agent, and who knows when there’s a fit. But we’ll keep pushing.

On what past GM mistake he's made and learned from... 

Fletcher: Well absolutely. My first season in Minnesota we were looking for a veteran defenseman to come in. We were also looking to dump a little payroll, so I came up with this brilliant idea of trading Nick Leddy to the Chicago Blackhawks. He had been our first round pick the year before. We picked up a veteran defenseman in Cam Barker who had 40 points the year before. We were able to off load another player and save some money, so it was a genius idea. I got under budget, I added a veteran D, and I traded away a young defenseman that may never play. How’s Nick Leddy doing? So, but what I learned about that was there wasn’t a process. And by that, we’ve evolved a lot more. I think there are certain inputs you have to look at when you make a decision. I was kind of just a gun slinger, and again, not every trade they make now works out. Sometimes you can have a process and make a really good decision in a lot of ways, but it just doesn’t work out. Sometimes you get lucky the other way, you’re not prepared, and somebody falls in your lap. There’s no process there, made a terrible decision. I saw Nick later on and said sorry about that, he said, you traded me to Chicago it worked out okay. But, ya know, you learn from those things. And again, not every decision turns out but it’s a process if you go about things the right way.

On balancing his win-now mandate with protecting his assets (prospects) and preserving the future...

Fletcher: I’m definitely going to have the power to hopefully not make bad trades. But you know, Dave and Paul have been clear in the interview process that there are no demands about having to do A, B, or C. We talked about the process and we think, all three of us believe, that this is a playoff team, a quality team. We have to push it and get better immediately. But there’s also the long term. You’re trying to win in the present, you’re trying to win in the long term. There is obviously certain assets you’re not going to sacrifice to win 3 extra games in one season. So, I think you have to be prudent about it, but they’ve given me full autonomy to make the hockey decisions I see fit. We talked about philosophy, and again, we all agree this is a good hockey team. We have to get better, we have some things to improve upon. I think hiring Rick Wilson over the last two days is a small step in the right direction. Rick brings a lot to the table. We have some other issues we need to resolve and we’re starting that right now.

On what specific positions need to be worked on... 

Fletcher: Well the one comment I’ve made is we’ve given up too many goals this year. There have been a couple games that have gotten away from us, that can pad the totals when you’ve only played 25 games. I think looking at some of the metrics, the quality of shots we’re giving up is actually not bad. But we’re giving up too many goals, and that’s not all on the goaltenders, it takes everybody on the ice to give up a goal. I think we need to look at a way to reduce goals, again that’s first and foremost, not a crazy statement to make. You usually need to be in the top half of the league in goals against to make the playoffs and that’s what we’re going to look at. I’m going to reserve judgement on specific players, again I think there’s a lot of good players here and some players that are in the prime of their careers that are moving a long and having good years. And there’s some young players who are, like all young players, can be inconsistent from game to game but are going in the right direction. I’ll spend some time, get to know these guys and then I’ll probably be in a better position to answer that question later on.

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