Whether you’re a fan of the moves or not, the Philadelphia Flyers had a very grand off-season. Outside of the 2019 off-season, when the Flyers acquired Kevin Hayes, Matt Niskanen, Justin Braun, and then extended Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny to lengthy extensions, the Flyers have had underwhelming and mundane summers. They were either rebuilding or standing pat under Ron Hextall and last year’s off-season Chuck Fletcher surprisingly didn’t make any moves other than signing Erik Gustafsson.
After a very disappointing season, one where the Flyers had high hopes considering how they finished the 2019-20 season, general manager Chuck Fletcher wasted no time in retooling his roster and trying to change the identity and philosophy of his hockey team. Quantity of moves aside, there were several underlying reasons as to why Fletcher made these moves; leadership, accountability, gutting the negativity and core of his failing hockey club, and having an eye on the future.
A major issue plaguing the Flyers for well over a decade has been their attitude and likelihood of falling behind and not being able to pick up the pieces. Whenever the going got tough, the odds were rarely in their favour to turn things around. Whether it was failed playoff pushes where they actually had a chance to make it or seemingly giving up/not showing up in very important games that dictated their position in the standings.
Accountability and leadership seem to be the root to their problems. Chuck Fletcher made that his MO and every player that he ended up acquiring has been a part of their team’s leadership group at one time or another. The Flyers leadership group won’t be warranted to just one captain and 2-3 alternates anymore. Now they’ll have a slew of outspoken members, for the good and bad times. Ryan Ellis, Keith Yandle, Rasmus Ristolainen, Cam Atkinson, Nate Thompson, and Derrick Brassard will aim to help Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Kevin Hayes moving forward.
No one can pinpoint and exactly say what is wrong with the Flyers locker room and leadership. All fingers eventually get pointed to the most obvious culprit, the captain Claude Giroux. It’s tough to quantify leadership because we can’t see what goes on behind closed doors. We have heard snippets from former players like Mark Friedman, Radko Gudas, and Dale Weise but they seem to be the outliers of the many departed.
It would be foolish to also say that Giroux isn’t the issue, even in the slightest. At the end of the day the captain will always have to fall on his sword but it’s been tough waters to navigate for the captain since 2012, especially with the lack of talent that he’s been surrounded by. Now there are no excuses, with all the leadership pieces that have been added and considering the fact that he’s on his final year of his 8 year contract.
The Flyers core was made to surround Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek for however long they lasted. It’s somewhat unheard of to keep two players for a decade in the modern game of hockey. The core of the team remained unchanged for many years. Wayne Simmonds eventually parted ways, Brayden Schenn was traded, and Scott Hartnell found himself in the doghouse of both GM and head coach. Giroux, Voracek, Sean Couturier, and Shayne Gostisbehere remained heavy fixtures amongst all the chaos.
There was obvious negativity in and around the team. It was something that could be seen from the way they played, to how they responded to questions post-game, to how inconsistent they have been in general. When a team goes through 5 coaching staffs and 3 different general managers, philosophies and identities are bound to clash, especially when the core players have remained.
That negativity was very obvious this year with how Alain Vigneault and his coaching staff deployed his players and how the lines were constructed. For Gostisbehere, the writing has been on the wall even before Chuck Fletcher came around. Trade rumours for the once explosive defensemen were always running rampant. His ice time decreased, his playing time dwindled, and his offensive numbers disappeared. He was only 3 years removed from his career high 65 points but over that time, injuries and inconsistent play ruined his chances.
Nolan Patrick was a distressing case because of how excited the fanbase was when the Flyers jumped 11 spots in the draft lottery to even have the opportunity to drafting him. He was supposed to be an elite talent, he was what the Flyers needed in a potential top 6 centre, and his offensive game was undoubtably there. His injuries all throughout junior hockey didn’t deter Ron Hextall in picking him over Cale Makar or Miro Heiskanen, who scouts were imploring the general manager to select instead.
Patrick could never figure out his game in Philadelphia and missing an entire year because of concussion-like symptoms and migraines only derailed his future even more. Whenever he returned for the 2020-21 season, expectations were tempered but he still didn’t meet them. His hesitancy to get into the corners and dig or fight in the battles was probably because of the migraine issue he dealt with but the intensity, consistency, and overall mindset was never apparent.
If the Flyers were going to shake the core it was going to come down to either Giroux or Voracek. Two of the longest tenured Flyers (outside of Couturier), two players who have been through it all, and two players who have had to carry this team. Voracek’s play has spiralled in the last few years. He is still good for assists but his defensive game is suspect at best, he doesn’t even hesitate to pass the puck on odd man rushes, and his inane ability to try to do things on his own accord has costed the Flyers several goals against and subsequently games and wins.
It also didn’t help that several Flyers players complained to Chuck Fletcher about the coaching staff at season’s end. No names were mentioned as to who those players were but the odds are very high that the three players previously mentioned had the biggest problems with the coaching staff. It was said that Patrick had actually changed agents because he wanted out of Philadelphia due to how he was being treated, represented, and he didn’t like the coaching staff.
Chuck Fletcher has been the strongest supporter to Alain Vigneault, as he was in fact his hand picked coach. He drew the line in the sand, stood by his coach, and had the most obvious reason to cut out the negativity emanating in the locker room.
A lot of the moves that Fletcher executed weren’t just for the present because they had heavy implications for the future. Ryan Ellis is signed for another 6 years, Cam Atkinson has 4 years left on his contract, he extended Travis Sanheim for another 2 years, Carter Hart got a 3 year extension himself, and the biggest news of them all were the early long-term extensions to Couturier (8 years) and Joel Farabee (6 years).
Players like Rasmus Ristolainen, Keith Yandle, and Martin Jones only have one year remaining on their contracts but in the case of Ristolainen, it’s more of a prove-it year for him. Yandle and Jones could return next season if they need the depth and as long as they don’t break the bank. However, Ristolainen could very well be a core piece of the defense for short and long term, depending on his output and impact this season.
Goals, points, and all those other stats can be good barometers for assessing and analyzing trades and free agent signings. Whichever way you want to look at his moves this summer, it needs to be understood that there were more reasons other than on ice play. He understood that he couldn’t bring back the same players, he understood that this team needed a shake up, and he understood that the biggest deterrence to this team was accountability and leadership.
There might not be an elite superstar or generational talent amongst the group but the talent is there. The Flyers have several players up and down the lineup that can produce and give this team the much needed depth that they sorely lacked from 2013-2019. The successful Flyers team of recent memory had one key common denominator and that was experience and accountability. Whether it was Mike Richards, Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, or Mark Streit, there were several strong voices to keep things in check.
That’s exactly what Fletcher brought in this off-season and it should shake up the core and locker room alike. It will be understood that Giroux is still the captain but it’s been often said that he’s more of a quiet leader who tries to lead by example on the ice. If that remains the same then players like Ellis, Hayes, Couturier, and Yandle, will most definitely take on a more vocal role.
It’s a new era of Flyers hockey and hopefully a successful one. The pieces seem to be in place and their window might be slightly open moving forward. The new core is larger and doesn’t specifically revolve around Giroux anymore. He has finally received the help that he’s needed for so long and it’s now or never for this Flyers team. Contracts are coming off the books, extensions have been handed out, and term was acquired through trades. This window is going to fully open sooner rather than later and the Flyers better ready to seize it by the horns.