The Philadelphia Flyers have announced this morning that they have released Chuck Fletcher from his duties as President of Hockey Operations and General Manager.
In addition, former Flyer Daniel Briere has been named Interim General Manager while the team begins the process of permanently filling two separate positions: a President of Hockey Operations and a General Manager, indicating that the team is pursuing the split structure that other clubs, such as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens, have employed.
Dave Scott, Chairman of Comcast Spectacor and Governor of the Philadelphia Flyers, issued the following statement, that begins:
The Philadelphia Flyers organization has always been defined by grit, determination, and a standard of excellence. Over the past several seasons, our team simply has not lived up to that standard, so today, we will begin to chart a new path forward under a new leadership structure for Hockey Operations.
The full statement can be read in the team’s release. While circumstances outside of the organization’s control have definitely played a part in the Flyers’ struggles in recent seasons, the fact that this change has ultimately been made should not come as a surprise to anyone who has followed Philadelphia recently.
Fletcher was originally hired by the Flyers to replace former general manager Ron Hextall, whose patient, sometimes overly passive approach to team-building was believed to be holding the Flyers back. At that point, led by Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, and some ascending young players, the club believed that they had all the right ingredients (and the right head coach in Alain Vigneault) to win them hockey glory.
That belief held some merit, as the Flyers nearly made it to the Eastern Conference Final in the “bubble” playoffs in 2019-20 before ultimately falling to the New York Islanders. That belief that their club was on the cusp of true Stanley Cup contention, however reasonable at the time, proved to be the underlying mistake that inspired much of what went wrong in Fletcher’s tenure.
When the wheels fell off in 2020-21 and the team stumbled out of the playoff picture, it was despite their intention on competing, and so although the team had disappointed, the organization remained steadfast in their belief that true contention was not far away. This led to some questionable team-building decisions that, while undoubtedly made as part of a collaborative effort on behalf of multiple decision-makers in the organization, ultimately are Fletcher’s responsibility as he was at the top of hockey operations.
It began in the summer of 2019, when the Flyers signed career second-line center Kevin Hayes to a seven-year, $7.14MM AAV contract.
Hayes had reached the 20-goal mark just once in the five seasons prior to signing the mega-deal, with 25 goals in 2017-18 with the New York Rangers. He had hovered around 2o goals multiple times, but hardly had warranted a long-term contract, but the Flyers were desperate for a scoring center.
Hayes had a solid first season in Philadelphia, with 23 goals and 18 assists for 41 points in 69 games, but did not take the offensive leap the Flyers were hoping for. Hayes has struggled to stay healthy since that first season, appearing in less than 60 games the next two years, but has rebounded a bit with 17 goals and 32 assists for 49 points in 64 games.
With three seasons left on that contract, Hayes is now looking like an odd man out in Philadelphia, although the large hit against the cap will make moving him a difficult task.
In 2021, the Flyers acquired defenseman Ryan Ellis from the Nashville Predators, taking on a contract with a $6.2MM AAV running through the 2026-27 season. Ellis has played just four games for the Flyers, and has missed the entire current season due to injury.
The trade for Ellis saw center Nolan Patrick, the No. 2 overall pick in 2017, shipped out for a quick fix on the blueline. Ellis had been a strong member of a stout Nashville Predators blueline for a few years, and on paper looked to be a strong acquisition for Philadelphia.
Ellis surely would have aided in making the Flyers a more difficult team to play against, and his absence hasn’t made things easier.
Another move that has resulted in a highly paid player not producing as much as the team would like was the trade for forward Cam Atkinson from the Columbus Blue Jackets for forward Jakub Voracek. Atkinson brought a lower cap hit to the Flyers, but has missed the entire season due to injury.
Another move made for a defenseman in the summer of 2021 brought Rasmus Ristolainen from the Buffalo Sabres. The Flyers signed Ristolainen to a five-year contract with an AAV of $5.1MM. Ristolainen has been on the ice for the Flyers, but hasn’t provided much of an impact, especially offensively with just two goals and 12 assists for 14 points this season.
Fletcher’s legacy with the Flyers is the construction of an expensive roster that has performed nowhere near expectations. The Flyers are in a tough spot, as they stare down the abyss of a potential rebuild while also boasting some solid talent depth on the roster, although much of that depth is signed to long-term contracts that would be difficult to part with.
It will be interesting to see how Briere moves into the role, as he is likely auditioning for a chance to be involved with the Flyers’ hockey operations decision-making moving forward.