The news of change should be exciting. But is it?
On Friday, the Philadelphia Flyers announced a change at general manager as they fired Chuck Fletcher and gave former Flyer Danny Briere the interim GM tag, signaling what they hope is a new direction for a franchise that has been on the decline for the better part of a decade.
Change sparks optimism. But fans shouldn’t expect too much with the current setup.
Although a large chunk of it is on Chuck, not all of this mess is on the outgoing GM. It would be foolish to think that every hockey decision over the last five years was made by Fletcher with no input from a list of senior advisers that wore orange and black during the 1970s.
Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber and Paul Holmgren are three of the four senior advisers in the Flyers front office, along with former San Jose and Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi. Those former Flyers have an undying loyalty to the franchise that is both admirable and detrimental to the organization. And while they are still here pulling the proverbial strings, nothing is going to change. Not under interim Danny Briere, who has no formal NHL experience as a general manager. And not under whomever follows when Briere’s time inevitably grows stale in Philadelphia.
They pushed out Ron Hextall, too. Hextall had hoped to perform a patient rebuild but was confronted with the need to retool quickly instead. That tug-of-war put the franchise in a win-now mode without the proper pieces to do it and it ultimately failed.
Was Fletcher a scapegoat, too? In some ways, yes. But it was a change that absolutely needed to be made. Fletcher did nothing to improve the team within the path that was laid out by higher forces.
His poor management of assets in giving away draft picks to get rid of Shayne Gostisbehere, only to shed more assets to sign virtually the same player in Tony DeAngelo, will be seen as a major miscalculation for years to come.
The contract extensions to Travis Sanheim and Rasmus Ristolainen instead of trading for assets put the team further in a salary cap conundrum with less hope of digging out.
His inability to get anything for pending unrestricted free agents James van Riemsdyk and Justin Braun at the trade deadline might have been the final nail in the coffin.
Sure, there were other factors that derailed the Flyers over the last handful of seasons, namely the sudden retirement of Matt Niskanen, the disappearance of Ryan Ellis and major injuries to Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson. But the Flyers’ impulsiveness to spend every penny of cap space on guys like DeAngelo and Nick Deslauriers erased any wiggle room the Flyers had of making a quick pivot.
Looking at Cap Friendly, the Flyers have only $7.2 million in cap space for next season with about four spots to fill next year. Let’s call it about $14 million with Ellis’ contract staying on Long Term Injured Reserve. That only allows for the signing of a few $3 million to $4 million players or maybe a sizable one and a few Band-Aids. Is that enough to turn around a team that missed the playoffs the last three years and will likely be a bottom-10 team in back-to-back offseasons?
Not even close.
Maybe Briere disrupts the stagnant thinking of the Flyers strategies and pulls off a few major trades in the offseason. Maybe he attracts and signs a free agent who kickstarts a rebuild with other future free agents wanting to follow. Maybe the Flyers get lucky and win the draft lottery and get Connor Bedard.
That’s a lot of maybes.
If the Flyers wanted real change and a renewed confidence by its fan base, there needed to be sweeping changes resembling the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones. Until that happens, not much is going to change.
Good luck, Mr. Briere.