VOORHEES, N.J. — The last time Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher met with the media came on the morning of Jan. 28 with the Flyers staring at a 14-point gap between themselves and the last wild-card team in the Eastern Conference.
Even after stringing together three straight wins heading into their bye week, there was little belief that the Flyers would extend that streak to eight games. In doing so, they’ve taken a hacksaw to their double-digit playoff deficit.
Prior to Tuesday night, the Flyers were just five points back of the Blue Jackets, and even the most optimistic side of Fletcher couldn’t have imagined the Flyers cutting off that much fat in such a short amount of time.
As the Flyers have narrowed the gap, one has to wonder how much Fletcher has altered his approach with the trade deadline now less than three weeks away. He stated he wanted to be a buyer and a seller, looking to add a player that could help the Flyers beyond this season.
“We’d like to get some pieces in here that will be a part of this for a few years,” Fletcher said nine days ago. “That’s really where my focus has been and what we talked to the scouts about. I’m trying to make the team better at all costs, I guess, would be the best way of putting it.”
But now Fletcher has to weigh those decisions at the expense of disrupting team chemistry. The transactions Fletcher has made so far have been to fringe contributors — trading Jordan Weal to Arizona and placing Dale Weise and, most recently, Jori Lehtera on waivers — taking up roster spots.
The decision surrounding Wayne Simmonds seems directly tied around the possibility of signing a multi-year extension, and not so much connected to the short-term success of the team.
Moving forward, Fletcher also has the luxury of leaning on his past experience with the Wild, especially in early 2015 when Minnesota was in a uniquely similar situation to where the Flyers are now.
With that team struggling, eight points back in the West and on a four-game losing streak, Fletcher secured stability in net by acquiring Devan Dubnyk from the Arizona Coyotes.
On Feb. 6 of that season, Minnesota was five points back of the second wild-card position.
Over the course of the next five weeks, Fletcher proved to be much more of a buyer than a seller leading up to the deadline. On top of the Dubnyk deal, he added forward Sean Bergenheim from Florida for a third-round pick and Chris Stewart from Buffalo for a second-round selection, while maintaining his philosophy of not parting with a first-rounder for a two-month rental.
Bergenheim was a free agent after that season while Stewart stuck around for two more years.
Defenseman Christian Folin was part of that Wild team and is beginning to see the similarities between that 2014-15 Minnesota squad and this current Flyers team.
“We were not doing well at all. We were struggling and then we got the stability in goal and things started rolling from there,” Folin said. “We got a couple of key guys. Fletcher hasn’t been afraid of making moves towards the deadline. Every year when I was there, we got one or two players to help us out.”
Much like the Flyers have done with Carter Hart recently, the Wild caught fire with Dubnyk in net and Minnesota rode that momentum to a 26-8-2 finish over its final 36 games.
It may take that type of finish to propel the Flyers into the playoffs, and it might take Fletcher making a few moves he hadn’t anticipated just a few weeks ago just to get there.
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