Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
It’s time for another edition of the THN Hot Seat, an ongoing series of THN.com columns where we focus on one member of each NHL team who will be under substantial pressure in the upcoming season. The Hot Seat nominee could be an NHL player, head coach, GM, or team owner. In today’s file, we’re examining the Philadelphia Flyers.
WHY: Since he became Flyers GM in December of 2018, Fletcher has failed to guide the franchise to the playoffs in three of the past four seasons. It would be one thing if the Flyers narrowly missed the post-season in those three years, but the stark, ugly truth is that Philly has finished in sixth place or lower in all three seasons – and last season was the worst one yet, with the team finishing at the very bottom of the Metropolitan Division standings with the NHL’s fourth-worst record. The Flyers had just one more standings point than the first-year Seattle Kraken. They had only three more wins than the last-place Montreal Canadiens, and the same number of wins (25) as the stunningly awful Arizona Coyotes. By any metric, Philadelphia’s performance was abysmal.
Yet here we are, on the verge of another new season, and Fletcher is still running things. Even more questionable, he has made next to no changes to the Flyers’ roster: Fletcher’s biggest (and only) on-ice move is the free-agent signing of controversial defenseman Tony Deangelo, and in part due to that signing, Philly is $2.5 million over the salary cap ceiling. The mind boggles, but somehow, Fletcher has convinced Flyers ownership he has everything under control.
That has to be the case, right? Otherwise, how could ownership green-light Fletcher’s other off-season move – the signing of new head coach John Tortorella to a four-year, $16-million contract? It’s true there’s no cap ceiling on coaching or management, but that’s still a heck of an investment in a volatile personality like Tortorella’s. Many NHL coaches are limited now to two-or-three-year deals, but Fletcher handed out the fourth year to Tortorella, and there’s a fair chance neither man will be in their current roles by the time that fourth year rolls around.
Without a doubt, there’s pressure on many Flyers players – most notably, on starting goaltender Carter Hart, who is coming off a brutal year in which he posted a 3.15 Goals-Against Average and .905 Save Percentage in a single-season career-high of 46 games. Believe it or not, those numbers are an improvement on the 24-year-old Hart’s stats in 2020-21 (3.67 G.A.A. and .877 SP in 27 games). But it’s not as if Fletcher has helped Hart by bringing in an experienced hand to help shoulder the load in net. After Russian youngster Ivan Fedotov was held hostage by his warring homeland, Fletcher has put 25-year-old Swede Felix Sandstrom in the No. 2 spot in net; Sandstrom has all of five NHL regular-season games under his belt, and his American League SP of .902 was worse than his NHL SP of .910. This is the duo that’s going to push the Flyers back into playoff contention? Sorry, not buying it.
Now, let’s look at the Flyers’ other areas. With longtime captain Claude Giroux now gone, Philly’s top line is projected to be winger James van Riemsdyk (whose $7 million annual cap hit would’ve been traded long ago if Fletcher could’ve found a team to take it on), 29-year-old center Sean Couturier (who appeared in only 29 games last season), and 33-year-old winger Cam Atkinson. That’s not impressive at all, and neither is their second line of wingers Travis Konecny and Scott Laughton, and center Kevin Hayes. Meanwhile, their bottom-six forwards include a pair of thirtysomethings (Nicolas Deslauriers, Patrick Brown) and a pair of 23-year-olds (Owen Tippett, Morgan Frost). Again, nothing to write home about there.
Finally, Philly’s defense corps now includes leading ice-time recipient Ivan Provorov, 31-year-old injured veteran Ryan Ellis, Deangelo, 35-year-old Justin Braun, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Travis Sanheim. This is not a group that’s going to make life easier for Hart and Sandstrom.
No, more likely is another year of pain and letdown for the Flyers. And if they do suffer a similar fate to their finish last season, will ownership continue allowing Fletcher to chart a course for the franchise? If you were a Flyers fan, you'd be highly skeptical and more than a little angry, if they kept going back to a well that has no water in it.
This is not a personal attack on Fletcher. Rather, it’s about wins and losses over a half-decade span. Simply put, Fletcher has not produced the results that should lead to a contract extension. If the Flyers do surprise people and finish the coming year with a good run, it may make sense to try and augment the lineup with accomplished veterans for 2023-24. But for now, all signs point to another dismal showing, which should spell the end for Fletcher’s tenure in Philadelphia.
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NHL Hot Seat Radar: Philadelphia Flyers – The Hockey News
Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports