What was as costly as anything in Fletcher's tenure with Flyers


It was August 2020 and Chuck Fletcher was still in his first full season as the Flyers' general manager.

Year 1 had been a considerable step forward. The organization had just won its first playoff series since 2012 and was set to open a second-round matchup against the Islanders in the Toronto bubble.

The preciousness of the opportunity was not lost on Fletcher.

"You only get so many chances in this business," he said then.

The GM needed to have the same urgency after New York knocked his club out in Game 7. Fletcher, brought in to have "a bias for action," went damningly quiet the ensuing offseason when a serious hole required plugging.

If the Flyers were more aggressive in maximizing their core's window, would things have gotten so bleak and off track?

On Friday, amid boiling pressure on the heels of a scrutinized trade deadline, Fletcher was fired by the Flyers. With Fletcher out as president of hockey operations and general manager, Danny Briere will take over in the interim as GM. The Flyers have started the process of making two separate hires: president of hockey ops and GM.

While Fletcher justifiably faced criticism for not fulfilling an aggressive retool last offseason and failing to trade James van Riemsdyk a week ago, his inaction following Matt Niskanen's retirement in October 2020 may have been most fatal to his tenure.

The Flyers had gone 41-21-7 in 2019-20 before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the regular season. Fletcher had pushed all the right buttons, from his coaching staff to his roster. When play resumed with the summer postseason, the Flyers fell a win shy of the Eastern Conference Final.

Niskanen, who Fletcher traded for in his first offseason running the club, surprisingly retired before the final year of his contract. He was a Stanley Cup-winning, all-situation defenseman that played an instrumental role in the Flyers' turnaround.

In a new flat-cap world, Fletcher stood pat. A tough decision, perhaps addition by subtraction, was needed. Fletcher made a marginal addition by signing Erik Gustafsson. He did not trade for or sign a top-pair caliber defenseman to replace Niskanen and try to augment the 2019-20 progress.

"We’re comfortable with our group, we like our team, we already have a lot of players signed and a lot of kids that we feel can push for ice time and opportunity," Fletcher said in October 2020. "Cap space is a very valuable commodity and if we’re going to use it, we want to use it wisely. Otherwise, we’re very content moving forward with cap space and let things play out."

Over the following three seasons, the Flyers have gone 74-99-30. They've scored 2.65 goals per game, 29th in the league, and have sported the NHL's worst power play at 15.3 percent. They've surrendered 3.46 goals per game and own the 31st-ranked penalty kill at 74.7 percent.

Staggering regression. Not enough talent. Time ran out.

In Fletcher's run as GM, there's no denying the unforeseen obstacles. The Flyers were hit hard by COVID-19 in a 56-game 2020-21 season. They were hit hard by injuries in 2021-22. Very little went as planned and the Flyers didn't deal with it well.

Deep down, as time wore on, Fletcher may have known the reality that the Flyers needed a drastic restart. That more patience would be required.

But he was hired in December 2018 to make things happen. In January 2021, Comcast Spectacor chairman and Flyers governor Dave Scott backed his GM in the mindset of an aggressive retool

"He deserves a shot to really right this thing," Scott said. "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."

A more proactive and aggressive Fletcher following Niskanen's retirement probably wouldn't have won the Flyers a Stanley Cup. But it would have won the GM more time, it would have given the Flyers a better chance at capitalizing on the preciousness of an opportunity.

Instead, it turned into the first of too many missed opportunities.

Last season, the coach was fired and the longtime captain was traded. Now, the curtain has closed on the GM.

The Flyers have truly restarted. And who knows where it all goes.

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