When the Philadelphia Flyers fired Ron Hextall back in November it was pretty obvious the organization had become fed up with his patient approach to building the roster.
During his time as the team’s general manager, Hextall completed just 14 (mostly) insignificant trades and made only a handful of headline grabbing free agent signings (bringing back James van Riemsdyk).
Among the trades he made…
- One of them involved nothing but draft picks as he moved down four spots in the 2016 first round.
- Two of them were done for the purposes of dumping significant amounts of salary still owed to the likes of Chris Pronger, Luke Schenn, and Vincent Lecavalier.
- There were a couple of minor trade deadline deals involving rentals and mid-round draft picks. Nothing that was ever going to move the needle. The most significant trade was probably moving Brayden Schenn to the St. Louis Blues for Jori Lehtera and two first-round draft picks.
This type of inaction was never going to sit well with a team like the Flyers whose entire existence is synonymous with chaos, whether it be on the ice or making bold moves to re-shape the roster.
When discussing the firing of Hextall, Paul Holmgren (who had his share of completely insane roster overhaul as the team’s general manager) said the front office and Hextall “no longer share the same philosophical approach concerning the direction of the team,” while CEO Dave Scott literally said they were looking for a GM that had a “bias for action.”
Well, Chuck Fletcher has certainly been that, and he continued it on Monday afternoon when he traded restricted free agent Ryan Hartman to the Dallas Stars in exchange for Tyler Pitlick.
It is by no means an earth-shattering trade, and is really only noteworthy for two reasons.
The first being that it shows just how far Hartman’s stock has fallen in a short period of time. Keep in mind, he was traded (from Chicago to Nashville) for a first-round pick not even 18 months ago, and was then sent to the Flyers at this year’s trade deadline in the deal that sent Wayne Simmonds to the Predators.
Now he is off to Dallas for in a one-for-one swap for a fourth-liner that is three years older than him.
The second reason is that it is already the ninth trade that Fletcher has made since December when he was hired by the Flyers, and that number is not counting the two trades he made at the NHL draft over the weekend where he moved down from the 11th pick to the 14th pick in the first round, and then later completed a swap of seventh-round picks with the Montreal Canadiens.
There is your bias for action.
This is already Fletcher’s fourth trade this offseason involving NHL roster players after trading Radko Gudas to the Washington Capitals for Matt Niskanen, trading draft picks to the San Jose Sharks for Justin Braun, and giving up a draft pick for the rights to unrestricted free agent Kevin Hayes and then signing him to a massive contract to keep him off the open market.
When it comes to roster moves and action he is already the anti-Ron Hextall.
But what does this mean for the results on the ice?
Until the offseason most of the trades Fletcher completed were lateral moves, like trading Anthony Stolarz for a few months of Cam Talbot, or dumping veterans at the deadline in what had quickly become a lost season.
But the summer trades have become a little more meaningful and costly.
Adding Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun to your blue line would have probably been a good idea if it was still 2015. But it’s not still 2015. Neither player is what they were a few years ago, their additions added some pretty significant salary to the Flyers’ cap situation, while there is a pretty strong argument to be made that Gudas is better than both new players at this very moment in their respective careers.
As for Hayes, well, he is a pretty good player and would have probably received a similar contract on the open market had he reached free agency, but he is now the third-highest paid player on the roster and currently has one of the 45 biggest cap hits in the league … all for a 27-year-old that has topped 20 goals and 50 points in a single season exactly one time. It seems almost inevitable that within four years (maybe less) they are going to be eating salary in a trade when trying to move that contract to another team.
At the risk of overusing a tired sports cliche when it comes to roster construction, there is a “rearranging the deck chairs” kind of vibe to what is happening with the Flyers so far under Fletcher.
The names and faces are different, but the overall outlook is still pretty much the same.
It was clear that Hextall’s patient approach was not moving the Flyers forward because keeping the same roster in place was only maintaining the mediocrity the team had sunk into.
Fletcher has definitely been more aggressive and proactive in trying to improve the team, but it remains to be seen how much better they are after all of the dust settles.
They are a very different team, yes.
But are they a better team in any sort of meaningful way?
That answer will largely depend on how much Niskanen and Braun still have remaining in the tank and how much you like Kevin Hayes.
More from the Flyers
Flyers acquire Justin Braun as Sharks shed salary
Flyers trade Radko Gudas for Matt Niskanen
Flyers, Hayes agree to seven-year, $50 million contract
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.