Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards made waves during the NBA’s All-Star Weekend by criticizing basketball stars’ tendency to sit games voluntarily. The former number 1 draft pick said that for the most well-conditioned human beings on the planet, missing games arbitrarily was not fair to the league’s paying customers. “These people might have enough money to come to one game,” Edwards said. “That might be the game they come to and you’re sitting out.” If Edwards has an issue with dishonesty to fans, someone should point him toward the Philadelphia Flyers. No professional team has been less transparent about who’s playing and who’s out. Of all of the Flyers’ humiliations under Chuck Fletcher, the team’s constant lies about injury status are the most shameless.
Injuries and load management are different in that the former is an unavoidable reality of life as a professional athlete; there will be times when players are not fit to suit up. By constantly concealing those instances and lying about timetables, Fletcher and the Flyers are no better than the NBA players who take a load off without notice.
The most recent instance of Fletcher being a sleaze was when Travis Konecny left the Flyers’ victory against the Flames after a nasty hit from behind by MacKenzie Weegar. Konecny missed a game. Then two. On Saturday, he was quietly moved to the IR and replaced by talented rookie Elliot Desnoyers. On Monday, coach John Tortorella, who generally has not been party to Fletcher’s reindeer games, let slip that “TK” was “going to be out for a while.” Finally, after eight days of silence about an injury to a young star having a career season, Fletcher conceded that Konency would miss 2-3 weeks, and perhaps the rest of the year. After eight days of evaluation by the best medical professionals available to a billion-dollar organization, Fletcher could finally offer two wildly different timetables for the return of his best player.
It sounds ridiculous because it is. This sort of thing would not happen to the Devils or the Rangers; eight days of radio silence regarding a team’s star player followed by an update that was about as conclusive as saying “I dunno.” It’s not a one-off, either. Fletcher has been pulling the same stunt for two seasons.
Ryan Ellis had the first injury that went from day-to-day to forever. Ellis and Rasmus Ristolainen were brought in during the 2021 offseason at no small expense to shore up the Flyers’ shaky back end. Ellis had an injury history and a pricey contract but was expected by many to be the partner that would finally propel Ivan Provorov to the next level. He did for 4 games before going down hurt. The injury was assessed as day-to-day for weeks before Ellis hit the IR with a hip injury that had bothered him all summer. He has not played since. At 32, the defenseman’s career could be over, yet Flyers fans wondered how soon he would return for half of last season.
Next was Sean Couturier. The star center committed to staying in Philadelphia long-term before a thoroughly frustrating 2021-2022 season marred by subpar play and nagging injuries. Finally, he was shut down for the season to have his back worked on around a year ago. The surgery was just another blow during a lost season, and the former Selke winner would be back to his best for 2022-2023. Then, during the preseason Couturier blew his back again, and got surgery again.
Anyone with a brain could see that his career was in jeopardy. Fletcher, who may or may not have a brain, promised “Coots” would be back for the New Year to help with a nonexistent playoff charge. Couturier, of course, is nowhere near a return to the ice. He only just began skating again this morning. The would-be franchise player has been all but immobilized through his 30th birthday. Fear not, Fletcher has an update. “He shot a lot of pucks,” the GM told the media. “The back is feeling great.”
Unbelievably, the injury shenanigans do not stop there. Cam Atkinson was a rare bright spot in a hideous 2021-2022 campaign. He tied Konecny for the team lead in points with just 52 but was generally a leader on and off the ice and a fun watch. The diminutive winger won the Bobby Clarke Trophy as team MVP for his efforts. Unfortunately for Atkinson, he could not build on his strong first season with the Flyers as a mystery neck injury kept him day-to-day for, you guessed it, weeks on end.
Atkinson returned to practice on December 3, excited to join his teammates and reunite with Tortorella, his old coach from the Columbus Blue Jackets. After being cleared for contact for two weeks, and with no warning from the front office about a change in his status, Atkinson underwent surgery and was shut down for the season.
Fletcher’s failure to keep the fans appraised of Konecny’s injury status is unprofessional but would be a forgivable mistake in a vacuum. This did not happen in a vacuum. Every time one of his players falls to injury, he covers up the severity of their ailment and shouts “all is well!” like Kevin Bacon in Animal House. Chuck Fletcher is a bad general manager. This is the same man that paid Travis Sanheim $6.25 AAV until the end of time and got scooped by the Blue Jackets for Johnny Gaudreau’s signature. The fact that he has all the honesty and credibility of a used car salesman regarding player availability is worse than being bad, though, it is insulting. Fans deserve to know who they can expect to watch when they come to the arena.
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