The Philadelphia Flyers have made it official and hired Chuck Fletcher as their new executive vice president and general manager, replacing Ron Hextall, who was fired on Nov. 26.
“At the conclusion of a rigorous review of GM candidates, Chuck Fletcher clearly stood out from the field of talented and capable executives we considered,” said Comcast Spectacor Chairman and CEO David Scott in a statement. “Chuck has earned success throughout his impressive NHL career and offers the right mix of expertise, business acumen and leadership qualities that the Flyers need today as we work to achieve our ultimate goal, the Stanley Cup Championship.”
“The Flyers are proud to have Chuck Fletcher as the new general manager of our hockey club,” added Flyers president Holmgren. “Throughout his career he has helped shape teams that have consistently competed in the playoffs. In addition, Chuck’s tireless work ethic, wealth of knowledge and experience in the hockey community will be instrumental in leading our team into the future. I’d like to personally welcome Chuck to the Flyers family.”
The New Jersey Devils had employed Fletcher as a senior advisor this season, and when Hextall was fired the Flyers asked for permission to interview the 51-year-old, who was considered the front-runner. Holmgren said last week that the new GM would be from outside of the organization and someone who has a “bias for action,” a shot at Hextall’s desire to remain patient and not make irrational moves in the face of tough times.
Fletcher, who did not have his contract renewed last April following nine years with the Minnesota Wild, takes over a Flyers team out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture and with a number of decisions that need to be made.
• How aggressive will Fletcher be to implement change? Hextall’s patience didn’t mesh with the vision the Flyers’ brass had for the team, and as they kept sinking down the standings and goaltenders continued getting injured, there was no big move made. In fact, Hextall really didn’t make any blockbusters during his tenure. Among his notable moves in Minnesota, Fletcher did acquire the likes of Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Jason Pominville and Devan Dubnyk through trades. He did, of course, sign Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to those massive 13-year contracts and dealt Brent Burns and Nick Leddy away. (He picked up Coyle through that Burns deal, at least.)
• Can he fix the goaltending situation? The Flyers have used five goalies through 25 games, the most by any NHL team this season. Carter Hart, 20, is the future in net, but he still needs time to develop in the AHL before being handed the reins. Stop me if you’ve heard this before but there currently is no answer in goal in Philadelphia. Solving that problem should be atop Fletcher’s to-do list.
• Will Dave Hakstol last? “I hate to say Dave Hakstol’s fate is in the next GM��s hands but it is,” said Holmgren last week. “I’m not going to make that decision.” An 11-12-2 start as December gets rolling isn’t an ideal way to make playoff dreams become a reality. There are certainly names out on the coaching market — Joel Quenneville, Todd McLellan, Alain Vigneault — and you’d expect given all the talk from upper management they’re going to be aggressive to make improvements up and down the team. Replacing Hakstol might be a costly decision, but the Flyers have never been an organization to shy away from splashing the cash.
• What is the future of Wayne Simmonds? The 30-year-old forward is in the final year of his contract. With the addition of James van Riemsdyk and the need to extend restricted free agents Ivan Provorov, Scott Laughton, Travis Sandheim and Travis Konecny this summer, there may not be enough salary cap space to keep Simmonds, who was acquired as part of the Mike Richards trade in 2011.
In Fletcher’s nine seasons with the Wild, he went through four head coaches and the team made the Stanley Cup Playoffs six times, managing to get out of the opening round only twice.
The Flyers haven’t won a playoff series since 2012. Let the fun begin.
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.