Philadelphia Flyers general manager (GM) Chuck Fletcher and Chairman and CEO of Comcast Spectacor Dave Scott, who governs the organization, met with the media at the team’s practice facility in Voorhees, NJ on Wednesday. They entered the room to face the music in the midst of a franchise-record 13-game losing streak. Fletcher offered minimal rationale for optimism in an ugly situation in Philadelphia, and Scott showed a complete lack of recognition for the magnitude of the team’s failure and the need to make major changes moving forward.
Scott, Comcast Lack Understanding of Flyers Landscape
Scott dismissed the notion that the organization has become disconnected from its fan base since the passing of co-founder and long-time chairman Ed Snider in 2016. “I don’t think it’s changed,” he said in response to a question about how the Flyers have approached relationships with their fans in the past six years.
Former defenseman Chris Therrien publicly blasted the organization in November for handling its 2021 Hall of Fame inductions and alumni activities poorly. His criticism was largely based on fans not getting the chance to enjoy the ceremonies. Flyers fans on social media have ruthlessly criticized the organization in numbers that shouldn’t be ignored. 97.5 The Fanatic, the radio home of the Flyers, typically hasn’t dedicated much of its regular sports radio programming to hockey talk over the past decade. On Wednesday, all three of the station’s full-time hosts and their callers intensely criticized the Flyers at length.
According to Adam Hermann of NBC Sports Philadelphia, the Flyers are on pace to finish outside the top 10 in NHL attendance per game for the first time in the 21st century. Their paid attendance numbers don’t accurately reflect the actual number of fans present at the Wells Fargo Center in recent weeks. Claude Giroux used the phrase “rock bottom” after Philadelphia’s 6-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday, and he wasn’t off base.
Scott blamed the strict public health protocols in the city of Philadelphia for the attendance drop. The Philadelphia 76ers, who also play at the Wells Fargo Center, rank second in the NBA in attendance per game. The notion that nothing has changed in the relationship between the organization and its fans is misguided.
Flyers Won’t Rebuild
The two executives dismissed the notion of bottoming out in a full-scale rebuild with hopes for a greater long-term benefit.
“I don’t really see this as being a 3, 4, 5 year rebuild at all.”
Flyers media and fans have become justifiably frustrated with the struggling team and have identified some of the issues plaguing the franchise. Their dissatisfaction with the present failure has led to a desire for something brand new. Part of the interest in a full-scale rebuild is rooted in this frustration. Given the structure of the current Flyers roster, however, this type of commitment isn’t necessarily a great fit. SportsNet insider Elliotte Friedman also pointed out the potential factor of financial ramifications during a long rebuild. Fletcher presented his intention to “aggressively retool” in a formidable way even if fans didn’t want to hear it.
“This (season) is probably the biggest disconnect I’ve ever felt between what we (the Flyers) should be, in my opinion, and what we are.”
Scott dismissed the thought of a rebuild without any acknowledgment that the continued failure of the organization to produce a winning product is the driving force behind the suggestions in the first place.
Scott Makes Excuses
Instead of taking accountability for the overall failure of the franchise, Scott used the club’s rash of injuries as an excuse for their poor performance.
“If you were to ask me what our number one challenge is today, it’s injuries. It’s not an excuse. It’s our reality.”
He doubled down on the statement later in the press conference.
“I like, again, what we did going into the season. On paper, it looked really solid…Injuries happened. Again, no excuses for it, but it did happen. I think we’ve had more than anybody I’ve seen.”
He repeatedly insisted that he wasn’t making excuses while blaming injuries, a factor largely outside of the organization’s control, as a way to justify failure. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Penguins, their arch-rival on the other side of the state and the franchise the fan base frequently measures the Flyers against, have dealt with injuries to their trio of aging superstars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang for significant stretches of the season. Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan has found ways to adjust and lead a resilient team to yet another outstanding first half without making excuses.
Scott’s Evaluation of Fletcher
Fletcher hasn’t succeeded since taking over as the GM in December 2018. Barring one of the unlikeliest second-half playoff chases in NHL history, the Flyers will miss the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1992-93 and 1993-94. Their only playoff appearance under Fletcher came in the Toronto bubble after the 2019-20 season. They lost to a notably superior New York Islanders team in the Eastern Conference Semifinals that season.
“I like the way he’s built this organizaton.”
Fletcher deserves as much blame as anybody, but Scott ignored the glaring lack of success and gave an emphatic public endorsement to a highly culpable member of the organization. Significant portions of blame for the failure of the Flyers as an organization since December 2018 should fall on ownership, the coaching staff, the players, and the previous regime in the hockey operations department. However, Fletcher built a roster that finds itself in the bottom tier of the NHL.
Evaluation of the Flyers Roster
Fletcher spoke more realistically than Scott throughout the press conference. However, his inconsistent statements about the team’s roster construction became a vital flaw. During the 2021 offseason, he confidently stated that the Flyers “couldn’t bring the same group of players back and expect different results” than a sixth-place finish in their division in 2020-21.
However, he emphasized the same team needs on Wednesday that he spoke about consistently throughout the offseason. When talking about the future of impending free agent Rasmus Ristolainen, he pointed to the need for physical play. He mentioned the lack of shooters among the forwards, which was a major reason for the acquisition of Cam Atkinson.
The Flyers sit dead last in the Metropolitan Division. If Fletcher felt he couldn’t repeat the strategy that led to a sixth-place finish in 2020-21, why isn’t there a sense of urgency to change the strategy that has led the team to an eighth-place position midway through the 2021-22 season? He also expressed confidence in a young core currently on the roster, specifically winger Joel Farabee. However, he also called Giroux the “best offensive hockey player” on the team and hinted that they need to replace the aging captain with “top-end” NHL talent.
Scott and Fletcher were not in a position to fix the state of the Flyers organization during their media availability. They were unlikely to please large portions of the media or the fan base even if they did announce major changes. However, their lack of accountability worsened an already bleak situation in Philadelphia and created even more doubt that the franchise can ever return to Stanley Cup contention.
Colin Newby is a freelance journalist from Delaware County, PA covering the Philadelphia Flyers for The Hockey Writers. He is an encyclopedia of useless sports knowledge with an uncanny ability to rattle off Flyers goaltending stats from 2004 and every Stanley Cup winner during his lifetime. The depths of his knowledge stem from spending his entire life following the Flyers and the NHL, from fan favorites like the Legion of Doom and Claude Giroux to no-namers like Andy Delmore and Branko Radivojevič. Colin also writes fictional sports stories and covers the Philadelphia Eagles.