‘Fire Fletcher’: GM Change Should Only Be Start of Flyers Overhaul
Saturday, Nov. 26 marked four years to the day that former Flyers GM Ron Hextall was shown the door. Ironically, the day prior to his four-year anniversary of being fired as the team’s GM, the current Pittsburgh Penguins GM watched as his team won the annual Black Friday game in Philadelphia, 4-1, marking the ninth straight loss for the Orange and Black. The streak has since hit 10 games with another loss the very next night against the Islanders.
At this time four years ago, there were plenty of calls for change. Hextall’s prospects weren’t showing signs of growth, his head coaching hire was floundering, and the team was well on their way to flushing another season.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
On Friday afternoon, with Hextall in attendance, current Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher’s name was reverberating throughout the seating bowl of Wells Fargo Center. With the team down, 4-0, in the second period, chants of “Fire Fletcher!” could be heard.
Change is needed for the Flyers in many ways. GM is one of them. But that is something that has been an issue for much longer than this season.
Fletcher has made decisions in the last calendar year that will impact the Flyers for years to come in the salary cap world. On the day the team fired Alain Vigneault, coming up on a year ago on Dec. 6, it would have been plenty logical if Fletcher was out the door with him. Instead, Fletcher stuck around.
His hands were on the trade deadline, where longtime captain Claude Giroux left the team with an ultimatum in trading him to a specific contender. The best Fletcher could do in return from Florida was Owen Tippett and a 2024 first-round pick.
They let him handle this past offseason, which saw a lot of stancing for aggressive retooling, trading three draft picks for Tony DeAngelo and start to clear cap space for a potential big signing with a buyout of Oskar Lindblom’s contract, only to pivot last second and be out on any free agent sweepstakes.
They allowed him to re-sign Rasmus Ristolainen for five more years at the trade deadline in 2022. They allowed him to extend Travis Sanheim for eight more years prior to the start of this season. They allowed him to work free agency in a different way, only bringing back Justin Braun and adding Nicolas Deslauriers.
The Braun deal was at least a one-year reunion, a commitment for only the season ahead. Deslauriers’ deal came with a four-year term. These are decisions that will impact the franchise for years to come and have only prolonged where things are now.
That said, if you think removing the current GM from his position is the only move, you haven’t been paying attention to the franchise. In the grand scheme of things, it barely puts a dent into the changes that need to be made.
If the Flyers were to fire Fletcher, who would even take over? Would they choose to give the reins to Danny Briere, who just last year officially joined the front office to be molded as a potential GM of the future? Would they name an interim from among the management-by-committee senior advisor group that includes Bobby Clarke, Paul Holmgren, and Dean Lombardi? Can that group of senior advisors be trusted to head the search for the next GM?
The bottom line is that the Flyers need to make an admission, one that needs to come from ownership on down. The franchise needs to admit that the state of the franchise has never been worse. They need to admit that the only way out is to allow the whole thing to bottom out and that includes the management group as a whole.
There are no shortcuts to what the Flyers need to do on the ice. It starts this season with a draft that could land them a generational player. But that can’t be a one-and-done operation. The Flyers picked fifth overall in last year’s draft and may have a piece worth building around in Cutter Gauthier. That remains to be seen in the years ahead. But that is also the first of several years of drafting high, performing low, and accepting the reality that is rebuilding.
It’s a word that the organization has seldom, if ever, used. But it needs to become part of the regular vocabulary. This type of rebuilding process has resulted in recent Stanley Cups for Tampa Bay and Colorado. It has amounted to teams like New Jersey, Toronto, and Detroit to actively hold playoff spots today.
It’s time for the Flyers to catch up to today’s way of building in the NHL. It is imperative to get on course and get on-board with a plan designed to build it properly. It may be even more critical to make the changing of the guard as soon as possible too, not for the sake of this season, but to stop the continuous damage being done by the current regime in the front office.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.
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