With the Philadelphia Flyers in need of a complete franchise overhaul, Chuck Fletcher called the shots at the NHL trade deadline and came up empty.
A day later, the Flyers sent Fletcher to represent the team at a town hall meeting for season-ticket holders, where he was about booed off the stage.
HIs week only got worse.
A series of bad contracts, unfortunate injuries, sagging attendance and one of the worst records in the NHL ultimately doomed Fletcher, whom the Flyers fired Friday from his position as general manager and president of hockey operations.
The team promoted franchise great Danny Briere to the interim role, the latest front-office shakeup for an organization that has not won a Stanley Cup since 1975. Briere, who served as special assistant to the GM, is considered a rising star in the front office.
Maybe he’ll have a concrete plan for a rebuild — which could involve more lean seasons — that Fletcher did not over his 4 1/2 seasons on the job.
The Flyers, who had just one playoff berth in Fletcher’s tenure, play Saturday in Pittsburgh. Philadelphia is 24-30-11 this season under first-year coach John Tortorella and well out of the playoff race.
“The Philadelphia Flyers organization has always been defined by grit, determination, and a standard of excellence. Over the past several seasons, our team simply has not lived up to that standard, so today, we will begin to chart a new path forward under a new leadership structure for Hockey Operations,” Flyers Chairman Dave Scott said.
Briere, who helped the Flyers to their last Stanley Cup appearance in 2010 when they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks, was promoted last year from his player development role to special assistant to the GM.
“Flyers fans deserve a better team than what they’ve seen on the ice over the past few seasons, and a clear plan to return this team to Stanley Cup contention,” Scott said. “We know that this will be a multi-year process, and we are committed to doing it right, because we want to put this franchise on a path toward winning the Stanley Cup, period.”
Briere didn’t know how he wanted to stay involved with hockey once he retired in 2015 from a 17-year career — with 307 goals and 696 points.
He met shortly with former Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, who signed Briere to a free-agent deal and invited him to spend time on the administrative side of the operation. Briere learned the business from the ground up — marketing, ticket sales, social media, finance — and caught a break in 2017 when the Flyers’ parent company bought an ECHL team in Maine. Briere largely oversaw the day-to-day operations of the team.
Scott said the Flyers will look to restructure the front office and that starts with breaking the general manager and president roles into two jobs.
“We view this as a critical opportunity to not only re-establish the standard of excellence that our fans expect, but also to bring new energy, accountability, and strategic vision to our organization,” he said.
The Flyers haven’t won the Stanley Cup since consecutive championships in 1974 and 1975, and have advanced to the second round only three times since that 2010 run.
Fletcher’s biggest blunders may have come last week, when he failed to receive anything at Friday’s deadline for James van Riemsdyk or other aging, expensive players.
“The deals that were presented to me were not good deals for the Philadelphia Flyers. Last summer, being more aggressive was not going to be good for the Philadelphia Flyers,” Fletcher said last week. “Maybe in the short run it makes me look better, but we don’t want Band-Aids anymore. We want to build this the right way and we’re committed to doing it. Those are my words, my actions will have to back it up, but we’re committed to doing it.”
He went all out in 2021 with a series of moves that didn’t really pay off. His trades for defenseman Ryan Ellis and forward Cam Atkinson yielded nothing because of injuries, and the Flyers have received little production out of the rich contract extensions given to Joel Farabee, Sean Couturier and others.
Scott noted as much Friday, saying Fletcher faced significant challenges, “including some that were outside of his control.”
Fletcher was hired in December 2018 to replace Ron Hextall — now Pittsburgh’s general manager — and soon fired coach Dave Hakstol, who is coaching the Seattle Kraken. Fletcher hired Alain Vigneault as coach but a promising first season that included a trip to the Eastern Conference semifinals in the 2020 COVID-19 bubble unraveled.
The Flyers became the first team in NHL history to have a pair of 10-game losing streaks within the first 40 games of the season and Vigneault was fired early last season.
Scott said he didn’t see the Flyers undergoing “a three-, four-, five-year rebuild at all” while Fletcher continued even early this season to tout the team as a playoff contender.
Tortorella never saw it that way. The blunt coach who won a Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay has insisted he needs time and patience to turn the Flyers into winners. He might get there, eventually. Fletcher just won’t be along for the ride.
Dan Gelston, The Associated Press