Ask a Flyers fan about their least favorite memory of the team and there will be a few popular answers. Leon Stickle’s missed offside call. Pelle Lindbergh’s tragic demise. Eric Lindros getting caught with his head down for the last time as a Flyer. Patrick Kane’s goal line shot under Michael Leighton. The common theme is the undoing of contending teams through plain old bad luck. Today, the Flyers are not a contending team, nor are they unlucky; they stink and are doomed to stay that way thanks to the worst front office in the NHL. Coming up just short is now a fond memory for a team that has to matter at all. The team had the chance to change that during a wild trade period wherein Stanley Cup hopefuls found themselves in an expensive arms race. Instead, Chuck Fletcher froze up, outmaneuvered by smarter GMs and better-run franchises.
A month ago, the Flyers were in a position to come out of the trade deadline rife with cap space and draft capital. They were no more relevant to the playoff picture then, but their general overachieving landed eyes on veteran players like James van Riemsdyk, Kevin Hayes, and Ivan Provorov. At 3:01 on March 3, though, the only Flyers traded were fourth-liners Zack MacEwan and Patrick Brown. The Flyers, 14th in their conference and not a dime under the salary cap, came out of the trade deadline with Brendan Lemeuix, a 5th-round pick, and a 6th-round pick. Quite the foundation for a rebuild.
Chuck Fletcher was not asleep at the switch on deadline day; the GM had tried to broker a deal with the Detroit Red Wings for van Riemsdyk but ran out of time. His failure came in the weeks prior. The Flyers had suffered through an abysmal February, and fans were ready for the inevitable firesale that would kick start their years-overdue rebuild. Suddenly though, they were not the only team with proven NHLers for sale.
The St. Louis Blues hit the kill switch on an anemic season by trading star Vladimir Tarasenko to the Rangers on February 9. GM Doug Armstrong would later send middle-six center Ivan Barbashev to the Golden Knights and captain Ryan O’Reilly to the Maple Leafs. The talented trio was out of contract, and Armstrong decided to cash in on their value and live to fight another year. Must be nice.
Next to begin selling like there was no tomorrow were the Nashville Predators. The Predators put up their “everything must go” sign despite sitting just a whisker out of the Western Conference wild card. David Poile, the only GM in team history, decided that the aging team was unlikely to make a run, and set about stockpiling draft assets just after announcing his impending retirement. Poile traded Nino Neiderreiter for a second-rounder from Winnipeg before flipping young power forward Tanner Jeannot and veteran blueliner Mattias Ekholm to the Lightning and Oilers, respectively. Three players with no All-Star appearances between them transformed the future outlook of a perennial playoff team.
Lastly and most shockingly, the Capitals entered the fray as one of the trade deadline’s big sellers. The Caps had previously been content to constantly re-up their 2018 Stanley Cup victors to no avail. This season, a rash of injuries culminating in captain Alex Ovechkin’s return to Russia to grieve his late father convinced the franchise to at last reevaluate. GM Brian MacLellan traded UFAs Lars Eller, Dmitry Orlov, and Marcus Johansson for assets that came to include young defenseman Rasmus Sandin in a roundabout way. The oldest team in the league acted as its championship window rapidly closed.
By the time the nine players listed changed scenery, along with prized pieces Patrick Kane and Timo Meier, the market for Flyers vets like “JVR” had evaporated. If Neiderreiter is worth a second and Ekholm netted an impressive return despite his age and salary, why couldn’t van Riemsdyk or Provorov fetch a high price? That Fletcher could not see the market snowballing is a testament to his incompetence. That a Predators team that has made 8-straight postseasons and two of the last five Stanley Cup champions knew to blow it up before the Flyers did shows that this team does not have a clue. Why, then, do they deserve the money and interest of their fans? They are getting less and less of both. Flyers fans typically fall into the “sell the team” and “at least the Sixers are good” categories these days. If the Flyers cannot overhaul their roster then they need to overhaul their management.
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