It was all going so well for the Flyers during their unofficial start to the 2022-2023 season at the NHL Entry Draft. Though their lottery bad luck cost them a chance at top-OHL prospect Shane Wright, they seemed to strike gold at 5th overall with Cutter Gauthier. The future BC Eagle has been compared to Mark Scheifele and Max Pacioretty and immediately becomes Philadelphia’s prized prospect. If taking the big centerman was a step in the right direction, in typical Flyers fashion it was followed by six or seven steps backward. The team dealt three picks over three drafts from the second, third and fourth rounds for embattled defenseman Tony DeAngelo. The trade proves that Chuck Fletcher has learned nothing from years of stockpiling good-not-great players and casts doubt over the Flyers’ chances of righting the ship.
Tony DeAngelo is not the problem with this trade. Many fans and analysts have already decided that DeAngelo’s erratic personal history makes him a ruffian with no place in the NHL; there is little the New Jersey-native can do to change that perception now. Rod Brind’Amour kept DeAngelo on a leash in Carolina. Odds are John Tortorella can do much of the same. Moreover, the puck-moving DeAngelo will immediately inject life into an anemic powerplay and balance out the negative traits of stay-at-home left-handed shot Rasmus Ristolainen. The problem with Fletcher’s pursuit of DeAngelo is not the player, but the continued trend of costly deals that do not move the needle in the win column.
Kevin Hayes started the unsustainable business model as Fletcher’s first big signing and has not played or scored enough to justify his salary of over $7 million AAV. Last offseason, perhaps fearing for his job, Fletcher paid steeply for the duo of Rasmus Ristolainen and Ryan Ellis in the hopes of shoring up the Flyers’ league-worst 2020-2021 defense. Instead, the Orange and Black limped to a horrendous 25 wins as Ellis, who is still not cleared to play, missed all but 4 games. The Flyers of 2021-2022 proved that no scrap heap of good third-liners, bad second-liners, and average top-four defensemen will create a winning roster. Bizarrely, that failed experiment did not result in Fletcher’s termination in another fumble by the Comcast ownership group.
By giving Fletcher a stay of execution, Comcast has empowered him to make more floundering moves in the hopes that former Stanley Cup-winning coach Tortorella can take a mediocre roster to the next level. Fletcher’s strategy of gambling until a slightly-above-average NHLer miraculously becomes a star is clearly folly, and yet he persists by trading for DeAngelo. DeAngelo, a solid special team option and second-pair defenseman, will not suddenly turn into Adam Fox under Tortorella’s guidance. Nor will Travis Konencny turn into Brad Marchand or Hayes into Anze Kopitar. The bottom line is that this team lacks the talent to contend, and has to level its few valuable players into future assets like Gauthier. In the meantime, youngsters like Cam York, the team’s top defensive prospect, Wade Allison, an effective if injury prone power forward, and Noah Cates, who came out of college in March to collect a respectable 9 points in 16 games, should be getting as much NHL exposure as possible with the big club.
Instead, Fletcher continues to mortgage the franchise’s future in increasingly desperate attempts to make himself look good, Comcast continues to be asleep at the wheel, and the 76ers continue to be Philadelphia’s team to watch from October to June. DeAngelo the player will improve the Flyers’ zone entries and powerplay setups. DeAngelo the asset, on the other hand, will ensure the Flyers remain in limbo until Comcast learns how to run a hockey team.
Photo: Chris Seward/AP