Flyers GM Fletcher: ‘We Are What We Are Right Now’
In the midst of a six-game losing streak and with their Tuesday night contest against the struggling New York Islanders postponed, it was as good a time as any for Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher to meet the media and address the current state of the team.
It went about as well as a Flyers power play.
Fletcher leaned on the difficulty of the team’s schedule and injuries over the course of the first 20 games of the season, placing more emphasis on a few early-season successes and less on the noticeable struggles the team has had over the last couple of weeks.
“Look, we're not where we want to be the last 10 games, the last six in particular,” Fletcher said. “We haven't won. 2-6-2 in the last 10. There are parts of our game that have really taken a step backwards from the first 10.
“To me, those are two separate issues. There's no question if Kevin Hayes can play tomorrow, he makes our team better. When [Derick] Brassard gets back and [Ryan] Ellis gets back, they make our team better. Having said that, we need to play better with what we have, too. Everybody deals with injuries and illness, so we need to get better.”
For many fans, it has already been time to push the panic button, as bad habits from last season have returned and the team’s overall style of play leaves a lot to be desired. Even if a coaching change or something of the sort doesn’t change the fate, it’s worth a look, right? Fletcher, known for his patience, isn’t ready to go that far.
“I'd really like to see what we have before we start making changes,” Fletcher said. “I don't feel I've been able to see that to this point in time. We're always looking. I'm talking to teams every day. If there's ways to make us better, we'll look at it. Right now, if you just look at how we played the first 10 games versus the last 10 games, clearly, one segment was way better than the other. We've shown the ability to play better than how we are right now. That's the most important thing. We got to get back and get playing better. Then from there, we'll get a sense of what we really are and then we can make those decisions.
"I look at the first 10 games, we were 6-2-2. Goaltending was great. PK was good. Power play was 14th in the league, I think 21%. We weren't perfect. We didn't have the puck enough for me. We're chasing a little bit that way, but we were defending well. Everything we talked about this summer, goaltending, defending, PK, competing, having the puck a little bit more. We were making progress in all those areas. The last ten, we slipped back. There's no question. Now the onus is on our group to get it back. When injured players come back, it makes it easier. We can't kid ourselves. We have to get better.”
One of the most noticeable and frustrating areas of the Flyers’ struggles has been the power play. Fletcher addressed that head-on, but made some interesting comments regarding it.
“We haven't had a good power play since 14-15. That’s the last time. I think it's six years, seven years. We've had a couple of 14th place finishes, 17th, 18th and 24th. We were 14th in the first 10 games. We were 29th in the last 10 games. Power play since I've been here has been an everyday question and clearly going back to 14-15, it has been an everyday question here.
“It's something personally, I think that way too much blame or even credit gets attached to the power play coach. I think there's certainly things we can do. When I look at our power play right now, the biggest thing to me is just our entries. We're really having a hard time entering. I think in-zone, we need to shoot the puck more. There are certain things we need to do, but when you can't enter and successfully set up, you can't shoot the puck because you're not in there. We're spending a lot of our power play going back retrieving pucks and coming down. The biggest thing to me that we have to fix right now, coaching is a part of it. A lot of it is execution and mindset. We have to find a way to enter the zone more successfully. That's clearly something that's dropped off for me the last year or two. In-zone, there's up and down. I don't think we're getting enough shots, but yet the first 10 to me, there were signs of good things happening. In the last 10, nothing's happening. We got to get it going.”
There’s a lot to unpack there. For one, Fletcher makes it out to be a personnel issue more than a coaching issue. In that case, he’s directly responsible for that, since his job is to construct the team in the first place. Secondly, even if the Flyers finished middle of the pack in a lot of those seasons he refers to, they never had a power play that was this dreadful. Not in the couple of seasons with Craig Berube at the helm. Not in the Dave Hakstol era.
As for even-strength play, a lot of the problems are similar in Fletcher’s eyes. It comes back to the lack of effective forechecking, the lack of entries, defending too much, and the struggle still, a quarter of the way through the season, to find that chemistry.
“There's no question that has to get better. It starts with our transition game and our entries,” Fletcher said. “We're working on some systemic things to change how we play a little bit. Changing the lines around to try to find different chemistry. Look, it's a process, but the first 10 to me was still quite a bit better than the last 10. There is no question. The last 10, things have slipped. We didn't have the puck nearly enough. We didn't defend quite as well as a result probably of having to defend all the time. There's certainly an ability to get better and the first 10, I think we showed a lot of promising signs.”
While Fletcher can try to look at the first 10 games and the 6-2-2 record that came with it, the signs that the underlying flawed process of those results was already evident. That hasn’t changed, it’s only magnified when you get caught in a losing streak such as this. It leads to a lot of questions and possible finger-pointing. Fletcher turned a lot of that back on himself, but noted this is an organizational challenge.
“I'm responsible. Talk about head coaches, power play coaches and players and I'm the one ultimately responsible for everything. You feel responsible for everything, and you want to look for solutions,” Fletcher said. “I do know right now; I truly believe our best hope for a quick turnaround is by internal improvement, by getting some guys back but also by having our guys that are here play better.
“I like the look of our lines today. It's no secret a big part of our offensive woes is a lack of production in our bottom six. You add Kevin Hayes. I don't know what you call our third line. If our third line is [Claude] Giroux, [Morgan] Frost and [Cam] Atkinson, that’s a good third line. It’s giving us a chance to maybe produce a little bit more, be a little bit harder team to check. I think we have ways here to get better quickly. We're going to have to because it's difficult to go to the outside and keep looking for help from the outside. We got to look to the inside. We have good enough players. We’re a good enough team and that's where our focus is.”
So that’s where the Flyers stand for now. They are holding internal belief that things will turn around, both for the players struggling on the ice right now and with reinforcements coming back from injuries. All that’s just hope though. Hoping, perhaps against hope, that this will course-correct itself.
There will come a point where the Flyers will have their identity for this season. It could happen in the next 10 days, as the Flyers play one game on Wednesday night, then get five in seven nights. That will be six games toward their next 10-game segment. Maybe it takes more than that, maybe it doesn’t require anything more. Maybe a change will be made. Maybe the Flyers will get past the point of no return and be stuck where they are for the season.
But if things don’t change quickly, the Flyers will be looking back on another failure of a season at the end of April, missing the playoffs for the second straight season for the first time in this dismal decade. As much as Fletcher knows it, he also seems to acknowledge the fact that everything rests on the current group with no lifeline or safety net coming.
“We are what we are right now. We got to get better. We recognize that,” Fletcher said. “Nobody recognizes it more than we do. The coaches were here all day yesterday, looking at the power play and looking at how we can have the puck more often, our entries, our forecheck. We're looking at everything every day or line combinations, practice, load management, everything. We're looking at everything every day.
“I saw the energy in the group today and that's what still gives me hope. I've been doing this 30 years. You can see when players are frustrated and lack confidence and you can see when players don't believe. There's a big difference. We still believe. We got a lot of work to do and that's our mindset is at.”