Fletcher’s Comments Laced with Contradiction as Deadline Hits for Flyers
For the first time in months, Chuck Fletcher addressed the media on Tuesday. It came one day after another lengthy press conference from head coach John Tortorella that re-iterated the coach’s thoughts on where the franchise is.
“We’re not getting in the playoffs,” Tortorella said on Monday. “We need to concentrate on being who we are, as hard as we can be, and try to win games understanding we have to defend first.”
Making the playoffs was realistically out of the picture when the Flyers lost 10 straight games in November. But in recent weeks, the team had started to play better and get results, even getting to .500 by the end of January. Then came the last few weeks, when the Flyers not only started to pile up losses, but got straight blown out of the water in games.
“It knocks you back, when we’ve had this stretch. Our best month was January and going into the break. We got to .500, after losing 10 games in a row, we found our way to get back there. We haven’t played well enough in the month of February,” Tortorella said. “We can’t look up anymore because of our play. It is what it is.
“Next year’s going to be a grind too. This is a process. It’s going to take time.”
Finally, on Tuesday, Chuck Fletcher seemed to be in agreement with his words. There was no sugarcoating what the week ahead is going to bring.
“We’re selling,” Fletcher said on Tuesday.
One of the first issues is that the Flyers don’t have a lot of goods that will be easily sold. Fletcher admitted that more calls are for players on expiring contracts, the likes of James van Riemsdyk and Justin Braun. Fletcher added that “we’re willing to listen on just about anything if it makes sense,” but it sounds like players with more term and money are going to be challenging to move this close to the deadline.
The Flyers are in this position this season because of their extended stretches of losing. The 10-game losing streak and losing eight of 10 games in February will quickly turn your season into one of selling. But the Flyers being in a position to have to search for answers on how to build this back up to a contender are the result of years of neglect on asset management.
Fletcher expressed a desire to continue to get younger. That can certainly be a method for starting a rebuild, but counteracts the decisions to re-sign Rasmus Ristolainen, 28, to a five-year deal or 32-year-old Nick Deslauriers to a four-year deal, or trading three draft picks for 27-year-old Tony DeAngelo, all moves made in the last 12 months.
If the Flyers wanted to take on reclamation projects and get younger, they should have done it long before they took the band-aid approach of trading away assets to try to patch up a ship that was already sinking.
"We're not looking to take shortcuts right now.”
The last several offseasons say differently. Remember that the team traded away multiple draft picks just to get Shayne Gostisbehere’s contact off the books. Remember that the team traded multiple picks, including a first-rounder, in a deal to acquire Ristolainen. Remember that the team moved three draft picks over three years to acquire the rights to Tony DeAngelo. An “aggressive retool,” as was stated last season, is a lot different than a rebuild.
Fletcher also expressed that everyone in the organization understands where the Flyers are. That’s questionable too, since it took until the head coach issued a letter to fans a month ago to actually discuss a plan of building and express the lengthy timeline that the franchise could be facing. Prior to that, there were no indications of anything that resembled a rebuild.
Fletcher is right in saying that a rebuild doesn’t have to mean tearing it down to the studs. There are younger players on the roster – the likes of Joel Farabee, Noah Cates, Owen Tippett, Wade Allison, even Carter Hart, Ivan Provorov, and Travis Konecny – who could remain in the picture on the other side of such a build. But Fletcher tried to salvage too much during the previous offseasons – deals for players who have spent the entire season out with injury, deals for players who have lengthy contracts that will strap the team for years – that there is no easy fix here.
The Flyers have done part of the job in their rebuilding process plan by hiring John Tortorella to weed out the players with the process vs. those not in it for the long haul. The head coach has been nothing but honest and transparent from day one. His goal has been about accountability and restoring the culture of the Philadelphia Flyers. He’s lived up to that every step of the way. No player is safe from a benching or reduced ice time if he’s not going to play to Tortorella’s standard.
But that’s only the first step of the process. Fletcher once again expressed that the team “needs more high-end talent.” That’s an evergreen comment at this point. It was stated at last season’s trade deadline. It was stated again in the offseason. Commonly, it is the last step of the rebuild, at least from an acquisition standpoint. The Flyers aren’t going to trade for any big-name stars or sign any top free agents in their current cap situation.
That’s the other part of the equation, which is why various names like Kevin Hayes, Ristolainen, Provorov, Travis Sanheim, DeAngelo, have all been floated in trade rumors. They won’t be easy contracts to move, but any decisions on them moving forward will be key to getting the Flyers out of the salary cap hell they have created.
The main question has always remained who is the right person to oversee such an operation. After last offseason’s debacle, it seemed clear that Fletcher and company were not equipped. Yet, here they are, handling another trade deadline and trying to carve out a path for building the Flyers back to what they once were.
All it creates are questions. Questions about why Fletcher continues to get these opportunities. Questions about who will ultimately stay or go among the big contracts still remain. What will even happen come Friday, if anything, as the Flyers continue to be lapped by the competition?
The Flyers are very much in a process. Just don’t expect people to be vocal in their trust in it.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.