As fans lose more patience, Flyers want to ‘aggressively retool,' not rebuild


VOORHEES, N.J. — Back in April 2019, about four and a half months after he was named general manager, Chuck Fletcher said the Flyers didn't need to start over.

"It's not like you have to gut this thing," Fletcher said then.

After a promising first season under Fletcher's guidance, the promise from 2019-20 has dissipated significantly. Halfway through Fletcher's third season, the GM's handpicked head coach Alain Vigneault is no longer here and the Flyers are on path to miss the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since the 1992-93 and 1993-94 campaigns.

As Fletcher and Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott met the media Wednesday for a midseason address, the Flyers had just capped off a franchise-record 13th straight loss the night before. In 43 games, the 2021-22 Flyers are 13-22-8, in last place of the Metropolitan Division and own the NHL's third-worst goal differential at minus-42.

The Flyers' 6-2-2 start seems like forever ago. The club has been besieged by injuries and everything that can go wrong has pretty much gone wrong.

And fans have shown their frustration by not showing up.

The listed attendance for the Flyers' last home game was 14,868, a smaller crowd than what the club drew on a preseason game Oct. 2 when it had 15,114.

"From where I sit, we're in a terrible spot right now," Scott said. "I can tell you I'm angry, I know our fans are more than angry and the whole organization's angry. We're sick of losing.

"I just want to address our fans for a second and really just say I’m sorry, you deserve so much better than what we’re dealing with right now."

Is it time to gut it?

Scott, Fletcher and the Flyers don't believe so. After all, Fletcher was brought in to expedite the Flyers' process to contention. While the Flyers feel like they're not staring down a massive rebuild — and time will tell if they're right — they are expected to make more serious changes to the roster. And those changes should start to come around the March 21 trade deadline.

More: Trade Giroux? The captain's in charge and 'Claude's decision' is nearing

"Everything’s on the table," Fletcher said. "We’re going to try to aggressively retool here. The trade deadline typically, as you all know, the teams that are clearly going to make the playoffs are often looking to add guys on expiring contracts. The teams that aren’t making the playoffs have a chance to maybe add some future assets whether they’d be draft picks or prospects. You do get the occasional hockey trade at the trade deadline, but we’re at the 43-game mark, right now we’re really focused on trying to win some games and get better.

"The math is daunting, so in view of that, if this continues, then clearly we’re going to look to do what we can at the trade deadline to improve this team going forward."

The Flyers have a lot of players under contract for considerable term, players like Joel Farabee, Carter Hart, Sean Couturier, Ryan Ellis, Kevin Hayes, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny and Scott Laughton. Some of the younger players are conceivably foundation pieces, but Fletcher admitted there's no question the Flyers "need more top-end talent." They're hoping prospects Cam York and Tyson Foerster, this regime's two first-round picks, will be big-time difference-makers in areas of need sooner rather than later.

But the Flyers will have to shake things up to acquire more franchise-changing talent.

"The easiest way to get top-end talent is through the draft, historically that’s been proven year after year. Bottoming out? I don’t think that’s what we feel we need to do," Fletcher said. "I do believe we have good pieces. Realistically, players like Couturier and Ellis are going to come back at some point. When they come back, we’re a significantly better hockey team.

"But we need to take advantage of the opportunities that we do have in the draft, we have to look at trades and you can always supplement your roster in free agency. Look, we need more top-end talent and the draft is the easiest way. But we’re not going to trade all 20 players on our team and try to get 15 picks every year. I don’t think that’s the right approach.

"I do believe there’s a group of players here that can be part of a winning core. But we definitely need to add more pieces and that will be the focus going forward."

And finding the next head coach to teach those pieces how to win. Vigneault, who ranks in the top-eight all-time in victories, couldn't get it back on track. Mike Yeo, who has over 500 games of head coaching experience and a Stanley Cup ring as an assistant, hasn't had any luck, either.

The Flyers are currently without Farabee (upper body), Hayes (abdominal), Couturier (upper body)Ellis (lower body), Derick Brassard (hip), Nate Thompson (shoulder), Patrick Brown (MCL sprain) and Wade Allison (MCL sprain).

"I don’t really see this as being a three-, four-, five-year rebuild at all," Scott said. "I don’t think Chuck does, either. We have a pretty good core, I think it really starts with a healthy Coots and Hayes, Farabee, we’d love to have Ellis back. We’ve got a core group to build on. I think as we look at the reality of it, two, three pieces would be great, maybe a little more.

"But the core is good. We’ve just got to get healthy. Our job is to make sure Chuck’s got all the resources he needs to make this a success, and he does. I can tell you, everything’s on the table. We’re looking at the front office, we’re looking at the coaching staff — which we have been — our players, investment. Whatever we need to do to improve this team. But I don’t see it being a three-, four-, five-year thing. We should get this thing right and we should be in it next year."

Scott backed Fletcher, expressing confidence in the GM and the club's current hockey operations department.

"Right now, Chuck's my guy and we're trying to build around that," Scott said. "Trying to strengthen his front office team as much as we can, made a lot of positive changes that way. So I'm excited about that. I feel like I'm personally surrounded by great hockey people. We've got our four advisors, I've got Chuck, I've got his staff, Brent Flahr. We've got a deep bench of talent on the hockey ops side. I'm not lacking anything at this point.

"I like the way he's built this organization. I've worked with some of the predecessors over time. I like his style, I like his leadership, he’s smart, he's collaborative. I’ve never seen the front office working this well together. This is my ninth season. I liked what we did going into this season. On paper, it looked really solid and good. Injuries happened; no excuses for it but it did happen.

"He deserves a shot to really right this thing. I’m going to give him a blank check, we’re going to get this right. Whatever we need to do. I don’t want to wait, I want to deal with it now."

Fletcher will be busy.

"It's been extremely disappointing because I think this is probably the biggest disconnect I've ever felt between what we should be, in my opinion, and what we are," Fletcher said. "Obviously I'm the guy in charge. That falls on me. But right now, we are where we are. My mindset is now there's going to be opportunities to get better. We have to take advantage of them. We can't undo what's been done.

"First thing is we've got to find a way to win a game here. We've got to take the temperature down, we've got to stabilize and we've got to get a good environment back around here so we can make objective, smart decisions."

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