Chuck Fletcher's first offseason as general manager of the Flyers could make his work much less stressful at the Feb. 24 trade deadline.
Last summer, the GM wasted no time putting his imprint on the Flyers. In June, over a span of 11 days and before the calendar hit July 1, Fletcher had added Kevin Hayes, Matt Niskanen, Justin Braun and Tyler Pitlick.
Those four players have helped steer the Flyers back into playoff contention this season. The Flyers entered Thursday two points out of third place in the deep Metropolitan Division, holding the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot and with a 61.3 percent chance to make the postseason, according to Hockey-Reference.com.
Because of the improvements, the Flyers might not have to search extensively for external help as the trading season heats up.
“I don’t think we need to mortgage the future to try to get into the playoffs this year," Fletcher said Wednesday in an interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia's Taryn Hatcher. "I think our team is more than capable of getting into the playoffs with what we have, but if we can find a way to improve our team for this season and going forward, we’ll definitely not be hesitant to make a move right now.”
Much of the emphasis behind Fletcher's offseason motives was to clean up the Flyers' defensive issues. In 2018-19, the Flyers had a minus-37 goal differential and yielded the NHL's third-most goals per game at 3.41 as the team missed the playoffs with 82 points, its fewest over a full season since 2006-07.
This season, the Flyers are allowing the league's 10th-fewest goals per game at 2.87 and own a plus-13 goal differential.
The accomplished Niskanen is second on the Flyers in minutes per game (21:54), plays both special teams and has helped relieve pressure off the shoulders of Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere and Travis Sanheim.
With 17 goals, the 27-year-old Hayes is projected to break his previous career high of 25. He has four shorthanded markers after the Flyers scored four such goals all of last season.
Braun, a veteran of 84 career playoff games, has been solid defensively and on the penalty kill.
And Pitlick has given the bottom six a quiet boost with five goals, eight assists and a plus-7 mark.
“These players play the right way, they’ve brought some heaviness to our team, some size, some experience and that defensive accountability has been massive," Fletcher said. "Kevin Hayes is tied for the team lead in goals scored, so he’s brought some offense as well, but those players were brought in to help us dramatically reduce our goals against and we’ve done that. They’ve all been a big part of it and they’re all high-character people.”
Tune into Thursday's edition of Flyers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSP to watch Part I of our interview with Fletcher. Part II will air Saturday (6:30 p.m. ET/NBCSP) and Part III Monday (6:30 p.m. ET/NBCSP).
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