Mixed messages? Flyers make puzzling decision to cut York


VOORHEES, N.J. — At his end-of-the-season press conference, just four days after a 57-loss season, with fans wondering if there was anything to infuse hope, Chuck Fletcher brought up Cam York.

"Cam York, to me, is a young man that's going to have a very bright future in this league, precisely because the attributes he brings are exactly what we need," the Flyers' general manager said May 3.

As training camp commenced two weeks ago, Fletcher pointed to the excitement around the Flyers' youth.

"To me, that’s the main storyline of this camp — let’s see what we have, let’s see how good these kids are," he said.

And his new head coach John Tortorella had an early edict: "I'm going to play the kids, I'll tell you right now."

York, a 21-year-old, catch-me-if-you-can defenseman with a game that addresses some of the Flyers' most glaring issues, was sent to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley on Wednesday.

"That's the thing that York and I have discussed through camp is there are so many God-given abilities he has that other players don't. We want to try to get to it. I don't think we got to it," Tortorella said Wednesday. "That's part of my responsibility. I don't think we got to the abilities where he could help us right now with our defensive core.

"For me, with Yorky, it's not the physical skills. I think it's the mental skills. I think it's him learning to, first of all, wanting to be a guy that's going to make a difference and then being the player to make a difference.

"Just remember guys, this is a young man playing a really important position in our game. This isn't bad. This is a process of building a team. We feel he's going to be a very important part of this team when we find our way. When we find our way, I have no idea. But this is the right thing for Yorky."

He didn't make it to final cuts.

The Flyers still have decisions to make. Their roster is at 34, including injured players, after cutting York, Tyson Foerster, Olle Lycksell, Adam Ginning, Max Willman, Louis Belpedio, Adam Karashik, Pat Nagle, Adam Brooks and J.R. Avon.

Willman, Belpedio and Brooks must clear waivers in order to report to the Phantoms. Avon is headed back to his junior club Peterborough. The rest have been assigned to the Phantoms.

York didn't have a great camp but he didn't have a bad camp, either. He was OK, like so many others on defense. He played five of the team's six preseason games and took on big minutes. He blocked shots. He played 30 games for the Flyers last season. And the California kid then trained in Voorhees, New Jersey this summer at the team's practice facility.

The Flyers had an NHL-worst 12.6 power play percentage last season. York is considered a power play quarterback. They surrendered a combined 3.56 goals per game — tied for the worst in the NHL — over the last two seasons. York is a guy that skillfully gets the puck out of the defensive zone to help you defend less.

But he won't be in the 2022-23 season-opening lineup Oct. 13 when the Flyers host the Devils.

"To me, I know it seems like he's a high pick and it's a big deal, we're sending him down. I don't think it is. I think it's the right thing to do," Tortorella said. "I think it's so important these decisions that are made are for the right reason, to help this organization win. We can't talk about winning without doing things to win. To me, this is a real small one in trying to find a way to win and a young man that we project to be a part of that winning team. Right now, he's going to do it down there. And hopefully we'll see him soon."

York has been pushed by Tortorella and the club's new coaching staff. And that's good.

He has embraced that.

"You can't have soft skin," York said Tuesday morning. "You've got to accept what he's saying. In the moment, you might be frustrated and annoyed, but it's for the better.

"Just continuing to build a relationship with him and the staff is going to be important."

The Flyers can push York. He should be pushed. He needs to be pushed.

But why not push him up here? Let him play, let him help you, let him grow through playing up here. Tell fans: Come watch Cam York, our 2019 first-round pick, a kid we liked over Cole Caufield and you'll see why.

A concern is playing too much with a young kid's confidence. You can't overstate the importance of keeping a prospect in a good frame of mind, keeping him on the same page.

Have there been mixed messages with York? Should he play a safer and steadier game?

"I think the management, Torts' staff and myself are looking for him to make the simple play," Lehigh Valley head coach Ian Laperriere said Sept. 24. "He's got that great ability to skate up the ice and he's got his head on a swivel all the time. But at the NHL level, the play that you see, it's the best play. Sometimes those kids — he's not the only one — are looking for a better play. Well, the more the camp's going to advance, those plays won't be there. So I think the management and myself are looking for him to play a simple game, make that play and most of the times, he'll make a nice pass."

Or should he push the envelope?

"I want him to take control of games, I think he has ability to make more of a difference," Tortorella said Wednesday. "I want him to attack the game. Attacking the game isn't banging for him; it's using his legs to get us out of the end zone. I think with some of his ability, he could be a breakout for us. Just get the puck and go. I don't want him just slapping the puck away and getting rid of the puck.

"There's so many different aspects of the game that I think comes down to him concentrating on, 'I'm going to be the best guy out here, I'm going to be that player that's going to make the difference here when the momentum has changed, it's coming at us, I'm going to get going the other way.' Those are all things that I consider mental toughness."

How did York take the news?

"You'll have to ask him," Tortorella said. "He was very quiet with me. We were very honest with him with our assessment. He knows how we feel about him. Those meetings, to me it's a positive meeting. Although it kind of sucks for you. But I felt we were all honest with him — honest with him of what the improvement we need out of him, but honest with him about what we project him to be. I think that's important that he hangs his hat on that, too."

The Flyers have nine healthy defensemen remaining on their roster. There's a good chance one of or both Ronnie Attard and Egor Zamula join York in Lehigh Valley, with Nick Seeler opening the season as the Flyers' sixth blueliner and Kevin Connauton the seventh.

"I still think they're going to need work and it'll probably be in the minors," Tortorella said about Attard and Zamula. "But if you think I'm sending down Attard today after what he did last night and fought Ross Johnston, you're out of your mind.

"This is kind of what I'm talking about, it's the care level, it's the determination of a game. Yorky, where I think he's kind of feeling his way through, where Attard has had a great camp, I still think needs work, I think will probably see some time in the minors, but high marks last night standing in there.

"Those are important things to me in watching players. It's not always what you see as far as skill, goals, assists and all that. It's those intangibles."

A major task to Tortorella's job of trying to turn around the Flyers is instilling accountability. The club needed his demanding style from Day 1 and it's definitely getting it.

"Nothing's for free," he said. "No matter how much you make, who you are, draft pick, stature, whatever it may be — it doesn't matter. I think we have to get down the road as far as who's supposed to be here, who earned their spot here, is here.

"There's no locks in probably half the team here as far as I'm concerned. So it could be very fluid with us and the minor-league team."

For now, the Flyers are starting the season without York. To see what they have in one of their top kids, they'll have to make the trip to Allentown.

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