In his first full year as Flyers general manager, Chuck Fletcher was solid. Bringing in Matt Niskanen, Kevin Hayes, Justin Braun, and his deadline moves for Nate Thompson and Derek Grant helped get the Flyers into solid shape. If it weren’t for the layoff due to COVID-19, the Flyers may have carried their momentum from ending the regular season 9-1-0 in their last 10 into the playoffs and fared a little better than a second-round exit to the New York Islanders. That’s neither here nor there. The fact remains that the Flyers made their push and the results happened.
Now with Niskanen retiring and the loss of their trade deadline acquisitions, the Flyers are floundering. Chuck Fletcher instilled little faith in him being able to turn things around during his press conference. A lot of beating around the bush paired with little confidence in being able to swing deals to help this team out. The Flyers seem to be back to square-one almost. Flat cap, COVID, it seemed Fletcher used every excuse as to why this teams deficiencies haven’t been addressed. What remained consistent is many clamoring for action, accountability, and a competitive team.
While looking back on Fletcher’s time in Minnesota, it seems he was at the helm of some teams that resemble some recent Flyers squads. A lot of wildcard teams that snuck into the playoffs, and some others that just disappointed. There were many first round exits and a pair of second round appearances. It’s fair to compare and critique the past teams Chuck Fletcher had control of, and that’s just what we’re going to do.
2009/10 Minnesota Wild
Kyle Brodziak, Chuck Kobasew, Guillaume Latendresse, & Martin Havlat
Marian Gaborik, Kurtis Foster, & Benoit Pouliot
The Wild entered the 2009/10 season after missing the playoffs by two points in the 2008/09 season. Newly appointed GM Chuck Fletcher was tasked with bringing this team back and icing a contender. His early additions of Brodziak, Kobasew, Latendresse and Havlat indicated just that (sound familiar?) It didn’t come without a cost, however. Fletcher lost the services of Marian Gaborik, Kurtis Foster, and Benoit Pouliot.
As the trade deadline approached, Minnesota sat at 30-27-4, just six points shy of a playoff spot. They were fourth in their division and 13th in their conference. Fletcher decided to make a move at the deadline. He brought in Cam Barker for Nick Leddy and former-Flyer Kim Johnsson. The season wound down and the Wild finished 38-36-8, 11 points out of a playoff spot, five more points than they were at the trade deadline. They remained in the same spots in regards to the division and conference. Stagnancy was the name of the game during the 2009/10 season, as Fletcher’s tenure in Minnesota started off with anything but a bang.
2010/11 Minnesota Wild
Jose Theodore, Erik Nystrom, Matt Cullen, & John Madden
With Fletcher’s initial season in the rear-view, he shifted his attention to the next season. With virtually no trades being made before it began, he still brought in an upgrade or two without losing too much. He approached the trade deadline tied for the last playoff spot at 33-24-6. He traded for Anton Khudobin, giving up Jeff Penner and Mikko Lehtonen in the process. Khudobin played in five games and posted solid numbers for the Wild, but it wasn’t enough to get them into the playoffs.
The Wild finished the season 39-35-8, missing out on a playoff spot by 11 points for the second year in a row. After being tied for the last spot in the playoffs at the deadline, Fletcher & Co. lost ground big time and ended up 12th in the Western Conference at year’s finish. The regression during this season would end up being the catalyst for some big moves entering the next year of play.
2011/12 Minnesota Wild
Mike Lundin, Darroll Powe, Dany Heatley, Charlie Coyle, & Devin Setoguchi
Chuck Kobasew, Jose Theodore, & Cam Barker
Expectations were up in the air entering the 2011/12 season for Chuck Fletcher and the Wild. A few key departures but also some solid acquisitions left people wondering just how it was going to work. The Wild carried a 28-25-9 record up to the February 27th trade deadline. That put them six points out of the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. Fletcher decided it was time for a shakeup and dealt Marek Zidlicky and Nick Schultz. In return, the Wild picked up two picks, Tom Gilbert, Kurtis Foster, Stephane Veilleux, Nick Palmieri, and Steven Kampfer.
After the dust had settled on the season, the Wild found themselves fourth in the division and 12th in the conference. They were in the same spot at the deadline, but found themselves out of the chase by 14 points at the end of the season. Things regressed, and it was time for Fletcher to prove his worth to the Minnesota organization. After having missed the playoffs in three consecutive years, it was “put-up or shut-up” time for Fletcher.
2012/13 Minnesota Wild
Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Torey Mitchell, & Zenon Konopka
Kurtis Foster & Guillaume Latendresse
Chuck Fletcher decided to splurge heading into the 2012/13 season, signing Parise & Suter to matching 13 year, $98mil contracts. They also brought in Torey Mitchell and Zenon Konopka to round out the acquisitions. The new-look Wild weren’t messing around, and neither was Chuck Fletcher. As the deadline approached, the Wild were leading their division and sitting at third in the Western Conference. Prior to the deadline, the Wild went out and traded for Mike Rupp. Adding Jason Pominville and Jeff DesLauriers at the deadline, the Wild set themselves up to make a run for the Stanley Cup during the second half of the season.
Things didn’t go as planned for the Wild during the last stretch. They dropped from first in the division to second. Even more alarming, they dropped from third in the conference to eighth, just sneaking into the playoffs. A first round matchup with the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks sealed their fate on the season. Minnesota lost in five games in the opening round, putting the kibosh on Fletchers first year in which he fielded a pretty competitive team.
2013/14 Minnesota Wild
Matt Cooke, Jonathon Blum, & Nino Niederreiter
Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Cullen, Justin Falk, & Devin Setoguchi
After a letdown of a year the season prior, Chuck Fletcher retooled and approached the 2013/14 season with a little more sandpaper and skill. The addition of Nino Niederreiter added some skill, while bringing in notable “tough-guy” Matt Cooke added a physical presence to the lineup that Call Clutterbuck’s departure left in its wake. Minnesota got to the deadline sitting in fourth place in their division and seventh overall in the Western Conference. Their 34-21-7 record was good for 75 points on the year. Fletcher brought in Cody McCormick and Matt Moulson at the deadline, and added Ilya Bryzgalov as well. Bryz went 7-1-3 the rest of the way, helping the Wild into a playoff position.
Minnesota held steady with their place in the division and conference, entering the playoffs as the seventh seed in the Western Conference. Their first round matchup was a success, taking the series in seven games against the second-seed Colorado Avalanche. They entered the second round looking for redemption from last year’s playoffs, facing off against the Chicago Blackhawks. They dropped that series in six games. Bryz had a rough playoffs, going 3-6-0 with a .885 save percentage and 2.63 goals against average. All-in-all, it was Fletcher’s most successful season to date, and gave him something to build off of moving forward.
2014/15 Minnesota Wild
Justin Falk, Stu Bickel, & Thomas Vanek
Nate Prosser, Dany Heatley, Matt Moulson, Clayton Stoner, & Cody McCormick
The 2014/15 season was the season Chuck Fletcher was supposed to build off of his success from the season prior. The rentals from 13/14 were gone, but the signing of Thomas Vanek proved Fletcher wasn’t about to mail it in. He was coming back for more. Minnesota reached the deadline sitting in fifth place in their stacked division and seventh in the conference. It was time to make some moves, and make those moves he did. Fletcher went out and brought in Devan Dubnyk and Sean Bergenheim prior to the deadline. At the deadline, he moved to acquire Chris Stewart and Jordan Leopold.
The moves at the deadline paid off, as the Wild climbed up to sixth in the Western Conference and faced off against the second-seed St. Louis Blues. Minnesota pulled off the upset, toppling the Blues in six games. They moved onto the second round for the second time in as many years, facing their kryptonite once again, the Chicago Blackhawks. To the surprise of absolutely nobody, the Blackhawks took care of business, sweeping the Wild in four games on their way to the Stanley Cup once again. Two straight second-round appearances is good news, and moving forward something to definitely build off of. Stagnancy however, isn’t something Fletcher should settle for.
2015/16 Minnesota Wild
Chris Stewart & Kyle Brodziak
In a relatively calm offseason, the Wild basically entered 15/16 the same team they left 14/15. Bold move by Fletcher, and it wasn’t exactly paying off towards the trade deadline. Even with the Wild sitting on the fringe of a playoff spot, Fletcher made mostly AHL-level deals, acquiring Conor Allen and Scott Sabourin. He acquired David Jones from the Calgary Flames, but that type of move didn’t make much of a splash considering his three points in 16 games for the Wild. The Wild climbed one spot in the standings, sneaking into the playoffs as the last seed in the Western Conference.
Minnesota was tasked with the Dallas Stars in the opening round. Dallas took the first two games of the series, shutting out the Wild in the opening contest. Minnesota took game three only to drop game four. They attempted to climb back into the series, taking game five only to have Dallas shut the door in game six, taking the series and moving on. This was Fletcher’s second first-round exit with the Wild. On both occasions, Minnesota was ousted by the top overall seed in the West.
2016/17 Minnesota Wild
Eric Staal, Chris Stewart, Alex Stalock
After having gained more than they had lost in the offseason, the Wild were back for another year, trying to get over the proverbial hump that was the second round of the playoffs. They had brought back Chris Stewart for another tour in Minnesota. They also signed Eric Staal in the offseason. It was go-time for Fletcher and the Wild, and their stance at the deadline only furthered that notion. Minnesota approached the deadline as the first-seed in the Western Conference. They had 88 points in 61 games and were pushing for that top seed in their conference. Fletcher wasn’t active at all at the deadline. He made his “big splash” move a few days prior, bringing in Martin Hanzal and Ryan White from the Arizona Coyotes.
The move was enough to keep them in the playoffs, but two seeds lower than they were at the deadline. Minnesota entered the 2017 NHL Playoffs as the third seed in the playoffs, taking on the sixth-seeded St. Louis Blues in hopes of downing them like they did two years prior. The roles were reversed, and St. Louis took the series 4-1. They won the first three games before Minnesota staved off elimination in game four. It wasn’t enough to get momentum on their side as they ultimately dropped game five in overtime. Fletcher was left disappointed and with another first round exit.
2017/18 Minnesota Wild
Kyle Quincey, Matt Cullen, Daniel Winnik, Tyler Ennis, & Marcus Foligno
Martin Hanzal, Christian Folin, Darcy Keumper, Nate Prosser, Alex Tuch, Erik Haula, Jason Pominville, & Marco Scandella
After an offseason which saw the loss of Erik Haula to the Vegas expansion draft, along with Alex Tuch, there was a ton of turnover on the Minnesota Wild roster. Fletcher had his work cut out for him. The first half of the season leading up to the deadline was quite successful. The Wild approached the February 26th deadline as the fourth-best team in the Western Conference. Seemingly in the middle of the pack, Fletcher decided the team was good enough to stand-pat at the deadline, making no move that would impact the NHL roster.
Lo and behold, Fletcher’s complacency was rewarded with stagnancy in the standings. They ended the season as the third best team in the Central Division of the Western Conference and ended up facing the Winnipeg Jets, who finished 13 points ahead of them. The result of that series was lopsided, as the Jets took it to the Wild and won in five games. Minnesota was shut-out in the final two games of the series, leaving a seemingly bitter taste in managements mouth, leading to Chuck Fletcher being relieved of his duties three days after their series loss.
What Can We Learn from Chuck Fletchers Tenure in Minnesota?
There’s a lot to unpack here. First off, nine years with two second-round playoff appearances isn’t good. Combine that with the fact that he snagged the top-two free agents in the market one season only to be ousted in the first round that year is a big red flag. His first three years on the job made it seem like he had a relatively long leash after missing the playoffs in each of those years. Losing to the Chicago Blackhawks twice while they went on to win the Stanley Cup isn’t exactly excusable, but there’s worse circumstances that could occur.
Given the Flyers current situation, it’s fair to assume that Fletcher is falling back into his old ways. There was a lot of patience on his part when dealing with a team that was on the bubble, if you will. When moves needed to be made, he absolutely made them. When he has a contending team, he made sure to keep them at the forefront. His signings were methodical and resembled his thoughts on the team during those years. There were a few years where he stood pat, and that’s a bit concerning. Considering those circumstances, it might have been better suited for Fletcher to have made a deal or two in order to push his team to that next level.
It’s also pretty tough not to get hung up on the fact that Fletcher never made it out of the second round of the playoffs. It’s alarming considering the talent that the Flyers have from the coaching staff down to the players. The Flyers went through the Hakstol era where teams were consistently ousted in the first round, and that just won’t cut it after firing a man who wasn’t ready to take that next step.
It’s hard to digest, but the Flyers might have to endure another year or so before Fletcher really kicks it into high gear and puts this team over the top. That’s how Fletcher seems to have approached the situation in Minnesota. He’s inherited a deeper prospect pool flush with quality. He has more at his disposal this time around. It’s only a matter of time until we find out how he’s going to utilize it. The jury is still out, but time is dwindling.
Photo Credit – Brace Hemmelgarn/Icon Sportswire