PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Comcast Spectator chairman and CEO Dave Scott sat inside Wells Fargo Center’s Hall of Fame room last November after pressing the nuclear button on Ron Hextall’s master plan and had an Ed Snider Lite moment.
Scott, addressing firing Hextall as general manager 23 games into his fifth season, stated three keywords that new GM Chuck Fletcher will ultimately be defined by.
“We’re looking for bright, energetic strategic thinkers,” Scott said Nov. 27, “but also balancing that with a bias for action and really making some things happen.”
That bias for action begins now. The Flyers’ season is over, and despite a furious push back into playoff contention, the ditch was too deep to climb out of.
The Flyers entered the season with real expectations after years of mediocrity while Hextall rebuilt, a rebuild that both the organization and the fan base embraced. Instead, the Flyers tripped out of the starting gate and didn’t get up until Jan. 10.
By then, 44 games in, the Flyers had a new general manager, a new assistant general manager, an interim head coach, a new assistant coach and finally, a goalie.
Despite failing to make the playoffs, there are plenty of positive takeaways from a lost season. Carter Hart looks every bit the prodigy he was billed as during his time in junior with Everett. Ivan Provorov rebounded after a disastrous first two months.
Sean Couturier proved 2017-18 wasn’t a fluke and that he didn’t need Claude Giroux to be a top-line center by joining a group of Flyers legends. Couturier joined Eric Lindros, Bobby Clarke, Rick MacLeish and Rod Brind’Amour as the only Flyers centers to post more than one 30-goal, 70-plus point season. He had a career high 33 goals and 76 points.
Giroux, an all-time Flyer, continued to play at an elite level, Travis Konecny matched his sophomore season, Travis Sanheim took an enormous leap in his development.
But the Flyers are past the point of counting positives. They accepted mediocrity for too long, and Scott made it clear ignoring the NHL product will no longer be tolerated.
Now it’s time for Fletcher to go to work. It begins with a head coach.
Scott Gordon has done an admirable job as interim head coach, but a large portion of the Flyers’ blitz into the playoff race simply was Hart’s emergence.
But it’s not fair to just credit the turnaround on Hart. Gordon deserves some credit. Now, it’s about finding the right coach to elevate this team. It probably won’t be Gordon.
It’s no secret the Flyers will be heavily linked Joel Quenneville, and there are legitimate breadcrumbs to suggest it as a realistic possibility. Todd McLellan and Dan Bylsma are other names to watch.
This season was frustrating. It soured a lot of Flyers fans, but blowing up this roster isn’t the answer. The Flyers very well could be in the mix next season.
Hextall left behind one of the best farm systems in the league and the NHL roster has pieces. Simply trading Giroux and Jakub Voracek won’t solve the team’s problems.
Fletcher needs to add the right players. They need at least one more top-six forward, perhaps even two. They need a veteran defenseman and a backup for Hart.
According to CapFriendly, the Flyers will have nearly $31 million in projected cap space.
The Flyers must upgrade their defense with a capable veteran the young blueliners can lean on. That wasn’t addressed, or even valued, by the previous regime.
Erik Karlsson headlines the UFA class but other names to look out for include Anton Strålman, Tyler Myers and Jay Bouwmeester. A trade could also be the answer.
With ownership applying pressure, the Flyers will again be linked to every big-name free agent. Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene and Jeff Skinner headline the group.
Either Panarin or Duchene, both Blue Jackets, would fit nicely in.
Another route, which has generally been off limits, is the offer sheet. It’s one the Flyers should strongly consider using since they have cap space and prospect depth. They can afford to lose draft picks in compensation.
There is a bevy of young stars hitting the RFA market, including Mitch Marner, Brayden Point, Patrik Laine, Mikko Rantanen and Sebastian Aho, to name a few.
There hasn’t been an offer sheet in the NHL since Feb. 28, 2013, when the Flames inked Ryan O’Reilly to a two-year, $10 million offer sheet. Colorado matched.
Marner and Point are two players who appear likely to be candidates for an offer sheet as both Toronto and Tampa Bay are hamstrung by the salary cap.
The Maple Leafs are in a particularly vulnerable situation with Marner. After signing Auston Matthews to a five-year, $58 million contract extension and William Nylander to a six-year, $45 million extension since December, one has to wonder how Marner fits in.
Marner is a superstar and some have speculated that the Leafs could trade Nylander this summer in order to lock Marner up. The Leafs should not let Marner get away.
But the 21-year-old Marner will demand a massive contract that likely carries an annual average value upward of $10 million. It’s hard to envision a scenario where the Leafs can carry Matthews ($11.6 million AAV), John Tavares ($11 million), Nylander ($6.9 million) and Marner and fill the rest out.
That leaves the Leafs susceptible to an offer sheet. If the Flyers wanted to, they could force the Leafs into a tough situation by overpaying for Marner in an offer sheet.
The Flyers wrapped up another lost season Saturday night. Now, they enter an offseason of unknowns.
Expect change; how much and what kind will be determined.
Buckle up, it’s going to be a wild summer in Philadelphia.