The biggest decision since the Lindros trade made as Flyers hire Chuck Fletcher

Reports began to trickle out that Chuck Fletcher was the potential frontrunner for the vacated Flyers General Manager position almost immediately after Hextall’s dismissal. Other candidates were to be interviewed, including Columbus Blue Jackets Associate GM Bill Zito, but as of Monday it became clear Fletcher is Philadelphia’s choice. According to Bill Meltzer, it’s a done deal.

While we will no doubt debate the merits of Fletcher vs other potential candidates and many will dissect his record as GM of the Minnesota Wild, it’s clear, this decision was a massive, course changing, responsibility for the Flyers. The decision, now final, is the biggest decision since the Flyers traded for Eric Lindros.

To this day, some would argue the trade and arbitration process that awarded him to Philadelphia and not the New York Rangers, was both a blessing and a curse. Some would suggest the 659 points in 486 games that he produced weren’t enough to justify the loss of a then-unproven Peter Forsberg, Steve Duchesne, Ron Hextall, Kerry Huffman, Mike Ricci, Chris Simon, two first round picks and 15 million dollars in cash. It’s hard to argue a move of that size, which didn’t ultimately end in a Stanley Cup parade and saw Peter Forsberg become an all-world talent himself, was entirely successful, but that’s not my point.

The Lindros trade in June of 1992 was one of the most defining moves in the history of Flyers hockey. It began a period of rebirth, expectation and contention for the Cup, after years of near .500% finishes and no playoff appearances. In 2018, the hiring of Chuck Fletcher is no less significant. In fact, it will likely have a much larger overall impact. So is this potentially the biggest decision since Lindros? I think so.

Yes, the Flyers have hired GMs and fired coaches before. Of course, they’ve traded for players since Lindros. They’ve even traded away players like Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, but Chuck Fletcher will walk into a turnkey operation and he will likely be asked to hit the ground running. Much like an investment adviser, Fletcher will decide how we spend the currency we’ve earned over years of painful saving. This isn’t just an acquisition or another normal hire, it’s re-charting and changing an entire way of life for Flyers hockey.

It’s no secret that Hextall’s plan was “patience”. To listen to him speak you almost never got the sense that he was in a rush to do anything, but that was always the largest part of his plan. Hextall’s biggest ally was time. Unfortunately, time was also the challenge he never quite understood was a challenge… until it was too late.

Paul Holmgren called his former GM “unyielding”. He was unyielding by design. To date, Hextall’s plan had brought the Flyers relatively little success at the NHL level, where they missed the playoffs as often as they made them. Much like the Lindros trade, you can argue the validity of the decision the organization made to fire Hextall, but this change and the results that prefaced it, aren’t that different from those of the Lindros era.

What is different is the future. Fletcher comes to the Flyers with a vastly different view of hockey an internal edict from management to make things better, not tomorrow, but today. He has experience in the GM’s chair, having brokered many trades, both good and bad, as well as having managed the Wild to a 359-265-80 record over his previous tenure. What he also now has is a much better situation than the one he began with in Minnesota.

It’s been well chronicled over the past week or so just how many prospects Hextall amassed and how careful he was to avoid making trades that impacted the club negatively. Some may argue that caution was overreaching and that his protective nature smothered some legitimate chances to accumulate NHL talent, but that was the way of the last era of Flyers hockey.

As the Flyers move forward, they’ll do so with a young core group of defensemen who are under 25 (Gostisbehere, Provorov, Sanheim and Hagg), as well as the makings of a similar core at forward. Nolan Patrick (20), Travis Konecny (21), Oskar Lindblom (22), Scott Laughton (24) and Sean Couturier (25) are all poised to be NHL players for a long time. They also have a wave of signed and unsigned prospects that would make many perspective GMs drool.

Morgan Frost (19) is having another terrific OHL season and regularly displays high end hockey sense and the timing of an NHL pro. Carter Hart (20) has made the full time move to the AHL and he’s recently started to show flashes of his full potential, making highlight reel saves. Philippe Myers (21) is having his best AHL season to date and regularly displays skating ability on the back end that most 6’5 defenders cannot match. Even a prospect like Wade Allison (21), who only recently returned from an injury that likely cost him a potential Hobey Baker award last year, has pro level finishing ability. The next wave is just around the corner.

For Chuck Fletcher it’s not just about what do to with the prospects. It’s not just about waiting and patience, as it was for Hextall… it will be about action. Dave Scott said as much when he said in a recent press conference that the Flyers were looking for “bright, energetic thinkers with a bias for action”. That job description may as well be a mission statement and Fletcher will no doubt understand it’s full meaning before his first day in office. The question is: how will he interpret those words?

Will the Flyers re-sign Wayne Simmonds? Will they trade away a core piece like Jakub Voracek (who had oddly, seemingly, become something of a fan whipping boy throughout the last year)? Will he be a buyer at all costs or do players like Radko Gudas become expendable at the deadline if the Flyers fail to gain momentum? Does the new GM view Andrew MacDonald and Jori Lehtera as players he can afford to wait to subtract or pieces he must surgically remove?

Dave Scott’s “bias for action” may also not just be related to possible trades or signings. Fletcher is likely going to be making a major decision about the coaching staff, during a time when the 2nd winningest coach in NHL history is on the open market. Does he give Dave Hakstol a chance to show what he can do with a (likely) improved roster or does he view the opportunity to get Joel Quenneville as such a rare and momentous opportunity that he immediately makes the call? Does he already have an altogether different coach in mind already? We know he has some ties to Quenneville, but he likely has just as many ties to other potential candidates, should he elect to change coaches.

These decisions are all important. When the Flyers made the decision to acquire Eric Lindros they impacted one area and yes, that move absolutely impacted additional areas of the organization throughout the years, but Philadelphia’s new general manager will impact virtually every area right away. The potentially over-indulgent patience of a man who thought he had more time has put the Flyers and their fans in the position of feeling a sense of urgency to move.

For Fletcher, now the custodian of power in Philadelphia’s die hard hockey market, the table will be set for glory or heartache. His choices will redefine the next era of Flyers hockey. Is he the correct hire?

The correct hire, in my view, would balance the need for action with the knowledge to not act unnecessarily, even if the fans demand it. The correct hire would know which prospects the team should retain and which can be deemed expendable for the right NHL talent. Fletcher’s moves will now either vault the Flyers closer to Stanley Cup contention or into a second wave of rebuilding, but it’s the time invested that makes this hire in Philadelphia more meaningful this time around.

This decision isn’t just so important, because of its wide-reaching impact. This decision is critically important, because of what Flyers fans and this team invested. The Flyers and their fans are not typically known for their patience, but they extended it to Ron Hextall, even after similar mediocrity had preceded him. They “trusted the process” and waited through six years of alternating first round losses and non-playoff finishes. They invested in this team, emotionally and financially, even when they were not delivering. Chuck Fletcher now inherits that debt and the responsibility to pay back their investment.

So while we’ve seen the Flyers trade for Chris Pronger and subsequently ship out captains like Mike Richards, it’s unlikely we’ve seen a single decision as important as the choice the Flyers have apparently just made. With Fletcher now poised to begin whatever process he sees fit, we can only hope he has not only the “bias for action”, but also the hockey sense and intelligence Dave Scott mentioned in his own verbal job description. Here’s hoping the return on all of our investments brings us the thing we’ve been waiting on for the last forty three years.

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