Flyers Ignoring Useless Semantics of Rebuild

Philadelphia Flyers discourse regularly focuses on arbitrary terms of classification for roster construction strategy that rarely encapsulate the state of any organization. Large portions of the fan base have called for a long-term rebuild focused on acquiring young talent to succeed years down the line. Some people want a process in the same vein as the Philadelphia 76ers did in the NBA from 2013-17.

Related: Flyers Face More Complicated Dilemma in Rebuild, Retool Debate

The New York Rangers explicitly communicated their plans to rebuild in a letter to their fans in 2018. The Flyers haven’t directly committed to a rebuild in the same fashion. However, the public semantics used by the organization have very little impact on the franchise and the overall plan to build the Flyers back into a winner.

Fletcher’s Strategy

General manager (GM) Chuck Fletcher spoke last season about how the team planned to “aggressively retool” during the offseason to compete in 2022-23. Large portions of fans and media criticized the approach because they felt a full rebuild was necessary.

“We’re not going to trade all 20 players on our team and try to get 15 picks every year. I don’t think that’s the right approach,” Fletcher said during a January press conference.

Philadelphia Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher
Philadelphia Flyers General Manager Chuck Fletcher (Jose F. Morena/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

Fletcher passed on the opportunity to sign Johnny Gaudreau, the top free agent on the market this summer. The South Jersey native openly wanted a homecoming, but Fletcher had concerns about investing too much long-term money in a 29-year-old player who won’t put the team in contention right away. 

However, he also gave up considerable draft capital to acquire Tony DeAngelo and invested significant money in him for a two-year contract. He aggressively overspent on 31-year-old Nicolas Deslauriers with a four-year contract in free agency. In March, he inked Rasmus Ristolainen to a lucrative five-year extension.

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His rationale for the strategy was an attempt to “stabilize” the organization under a new head coach after two embarrassing seasons. His plan to reenter contention contained fatal flaws because it does not address the lack of “top-end talent” on the roster, something Fletcher openly admitted last season. It also did further damage to an already bleak cap situation.

Tortorella, Team Point of View

John Tortorella clearly doesn’t expect the Flyers to compete for a Stanley Cup anytime soon. While all members of the organization have avoided using the word rebuild, it’s clear how Tortorella sees the situation.

“This team needs to be built, and it needs to be built from the footers. We’re not even at the foundation. We’re at the footer position as far as I’m concerned. (We will) try to build this foundation properly,” he said on Thursday.

John Tortorella Philadelphia Flyers
John Tortorella, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

“I love the opportunity we have here to build something from really the ground up…We’re going to go through a lot of pain. When you start feeling that pain, do you change your thinking and panic and readjust how you’re going to go about it?.. Stay with it. No matter how much pain you’re going through, stay with it because when you get on the other side, that foundation is going to be strong. You’re not going to be knee-jerking back and forth. That’s the way I’m going about it. If for some reason, someone thinks different(ly) about it, I’m going to argue because I think that’s the best way to do it here is to build it the proper way.”

Tortorella will not put a label on their current situation, and it’s unlikely that anyone else within the organization will. However, his candor concerning the state of the team sounds an awful lot like the mindset of organizations that have embarked on long-term rebuilds.

Scott Laughton spoke on Friday about buzz words like “rebuild” and “retool” that circulate throughout Flyers conversations. He made it clear that outside chatter about matters out of players’ control shouldn’t factor into the mindset of an NHL team.

“I think you’re aware of it. I think there’s been outside noise about our team for a long time, probably deservedly so,” he said. “You can’t listen to what’s out there. It’s our group in here.”

Flyers Management

Elliotte Friedman also spoke on The Jeff Marek Show about the mindset of the members of the Philadelphia front office. He pointed to potential problems management might have with selling tickets if the team admits they’re pursuing a full rebuild. It’s a concern for any organization that doesn’t plan on competing for multiple seasons at a time. 

“I do think behind the scenes that there’s a lot of conversation going on like ‘Where are we going here?’ I think everybody kind of understands, but sometimes (for) the organizations it’s harder when you’re trying to sell tickets, it’s harder to make those decisions then it is for fans to lean onto a certain philosophy,” Friedman said.

He added the following day, “I don’t know if they expected they’d be great or anything like that (in 2022-23), but I think they thought they were going to be better than this.”

The organization won’t sell a lot of tickets if they announce a rebuild, but they’re not selling a lot of tickets anyway. Their attendance in 2021-22 was the lowest in the history of the Wells Fargo Center excluding the 2020-21 season when circumstances prevented normal sales. Interest in the Flyers is at a low point in Philadelphia right now.

Flyers Face Bigger Issues

The Flyers snapped a 10-game winless streak with a victory over the New York Islanders on Tuesday. They promptly reverted back to their losing ways when they were outclassed by the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday and defeated at home by the New Jersey Devils on Saturday. The talent on their roster does not compare to the teams that will compete for the Stanley Cup this spring, and they’re unlikely to contend for a playoff spot within the next few seasons.

Kevin Hayes Philadelphia Flyers
Kevin Hayes, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If the organization reconsiders its offseason strategy based on how badly the 2022-23 season has gone, what do their changes look like? They might sell off a few veterans at the trade deadline. James van Riemsdyk and Zack MacEwen might be on the move, but they are not signed past 2022-23 anyway. Ristolainen and Kevin Hayes aren’t likely to be traded because of their high salary cap numbers. DeAngelo could bring back a solid trade package before the deadline on March 3, 2023, but other major roster moves don’t look imminent. 

Could they move on from Fletcher? It’s possible, but why would they decide to keep him after two dreadful seasons and allow him to make changes during the 2022 offseason only to fire him when a roster that wasn’t expected to compete for a playoff spot doesn’t perform well? Danny Briere or any other replacement GM would face the same situation anyway.

The Flyers won’t be tanking for a higher draft pick regardless of whether or not fans think it’s a good idea. They will pick toward the top of the draft simply because they are a bad hockey team, which was also the case after the 2021-22 season when they selected Cutter Gauthier with the fifth-overall pick. The players they select and develop will likely factor into the future of the franchise more than the players on the current roster. Is that rebuilding?

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