The Flyers shocked the hockey world last Monday when they fired General Manager Ron Hextall.
However, it was hardly a surprise this Monday when the team announced his replacement.
Chuck Fletcher, who was hired as the eighth general manager in team history, was rumored as the favorite for the job the minute after news of Hextall’s removal was released.
When Hextall was axed mainly due to his reluctance to speed up the rebuilding plan, Fletcher quickly stood out because he was not just one of the best free agents available, but his reputation is a 180-degree turn from Hextall’s.
Whereas Hextall, in his first stint as a GM, displayed patience and built the Flyers on the back of drafting and developing young players, Fletcher had a more aggressive style, and fondness for veterans, during his nine-year tenure as general manager of the Minnesota Wild.
Then, combine that comparison with Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott’s and President Paul Holmgren’s preference for someone who would not bristle at the idea to accelerate the process and point the Flyers’ trajectory, which has been mostly flat under Hextall the last four-plus years, north.
“The bottom line is, we just thought we needed to make more progress,” Scott said last Tuesday at a press conference on Hextall’s ouster. “So we made the change.”
Through a series of risky and shrewd deals, as well as signing big-name free agents, the Wild made six-straight trips to the postseason while Fletcher was in control.
His boldest moves included inking defenseman Ryan Suter and forward Zach Parise to 13-year, $98 million deals in the summer of 2012, acquiring standout goalie Devan Dubnyk for a third-round pick and adding veteran forward Eric Staal two years ago.
The only problem was the Wild struggled to win in the playoffs. Following a first-round loss for the fifth time, Fletcher was shown the door in April.
The knock on him was while he put together a successful roster that entered each of the last half-dozen seasons as a Western Conference contender, he failed to construct one that was deep enough to sustain a long playoff run.
Along those same lines, his draft record is dismal. Fletcher swapped picks to acquire late-season veteran rentals, who mostly didn’t pan out, which also left the team with fewer picks each June – the complete opposite situation he is inheriting from Hextall.
“I think [Hextall] left us in a really good place,” Scott said. “We’ve certainly got a younger team now, cap space and a good farm system, and we’re feeling very good about that.”
Fletcher’s first full day with the Flyers was on Tuesday and it will take some time to address immediate needs like filling a vacancy for an assistant GM, evaluating the head coach and each player – and even learning where the bathrooms are located at the SkateZone in Voorhees, N.J.
Make no mistake, though. He was handpicked by Holmgren and approved by Scott, to act – and quickly.
“The first thing for me is I’d like to sit down with the coaches and let’s see what we can do,” Fletcher told reporters Monday. “How can we improve? If we can’t find the solutions internally, then I certainly will look externally and do what we can to improve this team.”
“Our goal is to make the playoffs this year and we’d like to find solutions to get there. I can tell you I’ll be aggressive in that sense.”
Music to Scott’s and Holmgren’s ears.