One Year Later, Fletcher Making Mark on Flyers
Last Monday, the Flyers claimed their first win in a week that would feature four straight to close out the month of November. The Flyers 2-1 win over Vancouver came on Monday, Nov. 25. The next morning marked the first anniversary of the Flyers firing GM Ron Hextall and starting what would be a week-long search for his replacement, Chuck Fletcher.
It hardly feels like it has been a year since the start of significant changes across the board in Flyers management. Two weeks from now will be one year since Dave Hakstol was fired and a coaching change was made. Hard to believe that the Flyers are where they are right now after going through all of that a year ago.
On the morning of Dec. 3, 2019, one year since Fletcher's hiring, the Flyers have a 15-7-5 record and just posted a 10-2-4 record in November, tying a franchise record with 24 points in the month of November for the fourth time in franchise history.
To understand the transformation that has taken place, you have to look to last season. The Flyers allowed four goals in the first period to Buffalo on the night before Thanksgiving and lost 5-2. They came out on Black Friday and picked up a 4-0 shutout win against the Rangers. They traveled to Toronto the next night and fell behind 4-0 in the first period again on their way to a 6-0 loss.
That left the Flyers with a 10-11-2 record through 23 games, a total of 22 points in the standings. After 27 games, where the Flyers are now, they had a 12-12-3 record with 27 points in the standings.
Through 23 games, things didn’t really seem all that different based on record. The Flyers were 11-7-5 entering last week’s action with 27 points in the standings, only a difference of one win and five points.
So what’s different? If the Flyers aren’t dominating play or the records from last season to this season are relatively similar, what are they doing that makes this feel different?
The answer starts with Fletcher, who used the offseason to make additions across the lineup. He re-signed Brian Elliott. He traded for Matt Niskanen, Justin Braun and Tyler Pitlick. He traded for the rights to Kevin Hayes and signed him to a long-term deal.
The decision to re-sign Elliott may be the most important one. Elliott has been stellar this season, doing exactly what he needs to do by being a safety net of sorts for Carter Hart when he needs a break, but also coming up with key saves late in games.
The Niskanen trade was frowned upon initially. After Friday’s game, where Niskanen took a puck to the face, returned in the second period and had two assists, there aren’t many complaints about that deal now. Niskanen is such a steady player -- deserving of the nickname Steady Eddie that his teammates have given him -- and has helped to bring out the best in Ivan Provorov.
The Hayes signing was also met with complaints over the monetary value. Sure, Hayes is not an elite scorer in the league. He has eight goals so far, and that’s a solid number, but the lack of production doesn’t scream $7 million. Here’s what does though: providing stable and solid defense. Hayes has been an excellent 200-foot player this season, so even though the points are not there, the all-around play has been more often than not.
You also have to credit Fletcher on how he handled the negotiations of new contracts for Provorov and Travis Konecny. Provorov signed on the day before training camp with a six-year, $40.5 million deal with an average annual value of $6.75 million. Based on the way Provorov has played this season, that’s going to look like a bargain later in the years to come.
Konecny, meanwhile, did not sign before training camp, but Fletcher worked out a deal that again will prove favorable to the Flyers in the years to come. Konecny leads the team with 25 points and has nine goals of his own.
Fletcher has also shown a willingness to get young players up to the NHL and into the lineup because they have earned the opportunity and make the team better. Neither Joel Farabee nor Morgan Frost was on the opening day roster, but both were up in short order to debut before the end of November.
Finally, there is the crucial off-ice decision that Fletcher was involved in: choosing the new head coach. Alain Vigneault has proven to be the right choice for a team that now operates with a sense of accountability, that plays with more of an edge that in previous years, and that seems to always be involved in a game, even the ones they have no business winning.
In his first year as GM, Fletcher has brought the Flyers back to a place of respect. They are a team that demands it now. They can make you pay with an offensive burst or can silence you for multiple periods with stifling defense and goaltending. Their special teams has come around immensely from a year ago.
The Flyers still need to show that they can do this with consistency and try to replicate the month of November as closely as possible for the rest of the season. But this is certainly a better start than anyone could have expected and Fletcher deserves credit for that.