Fletcher: ‘We Need to Change the Mood in the Room’
It started with a deal for Ryan Ellis a week ago, adding the much-needed top-pairing defenseman the Flyers lacked last season. Then Shayne Gostisbehere was sent to Arizona in a trade to open up cap space. That was followed by another defensive acquisition in Rasmus Ristolainen. And on Saturday, Chuck Fletcher capped off an incredibly busy week with his fourth trade, sending Jake Voracek to Columbus for Cam Atkinson.
For the better part of a decade, the Flyers have utilized the same core group and struggled to consistently put together successful seasons. After their most frustrating one to date, Fletcher knew action was necessary.
“We just can’t keep bringing the same players back year after year and expect different results. We had to make changes this year,” Fletcher said. “The players that we’ve added are all what I would call high energy, competitive people. How often have we talked about our slow starts over the past two, three years since I’ve been here and allegedly a lot longer than that?
“We need some juice. We need some energy. We need to change the mood in the room and the energy in the room. It’s nothing against the players that we had here before. It’s about trying to create a new group, a new leadership group, new chemistry. All these guys we have acquired besides being good hockey players bring a lot of those qualities, bring a lot of experience, bring a lot of professionalism to our roster.”
All three of Ellis, Ristolainen, and Atkinson were part of the leadership group with their previous teams. It became noticeable to Fletcher what new leaders from other locker rooms in the league can do when coming to a new team and how having more leaders in a room can better everybody. That was especially felt by the absence of Matt Niskanen.
“Culture, to me, is sometimes one of the more overused terms in sports and culture, to me, really just means it's the environment that you create. That's created by the players and their work ethic, what they do on and off the ice, how they treat their teammates, and their team orientation," Fletcher said. "All three of these guys, from the research we've done and the people we've spoken with, love to play hockey. They love to come to the rink and be with their teammates. They want to win. They want to compete. They're willing to take on whatever roles asked to them and they're good hockey players. It was a really important part of re-establishing that leadership group.
“Frankly, when Niskanen left, that group changed a bit. He brought a lot to the group as we've all talked about for the last year. That was one of the ones that maybe people don't recognize as much as for what he did. Even for guys like [Claude] Giroux and [Sean] Couturier, they could look to Niskanen for all his experiences. I think we're bringing in people that have played and been on good teams, bad teams, and seen the ups and downs. They're going to bring a lot of those experiences with them.”
In doing so, Voracek becomes the latest member of last year’s Flyers to depart, certainly a shakeup to the previous core. Fletcher noted that the move with Columbus was best for both sides.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Jake, and he’s one of the best players in franchise history. Love him as a person. We've had great conversations all year and for the three years I've been here. Gotten really close to him," Fletcher said. "It's definitely a mutual thing. I think he would say the same thing. I think it was time for Jake to go to a new team and re-energize. It was time for us to bring in different players and get going in a different direction. It's as simple as that.”
Again, Fletcher came back to the mood of the locker room from the previous season as an indication that it was time to make changes to the group and restore some experience, leadership, and energy.
“Last year wasn't good for any of us. I think I said it earlier, just felt like there was a malaise around the team all year," Fletcher said. "There was no energy, no juice. Nobody smiled. We didn't play well. Look, we’ve got to get back to being a team. We got to get some energy here.”
Fletcher has certainly taken action and put a lot of energy into this offseason and the moves he’s making. With four trades completed since last Saturday, he’s seemingly worked tirelessly to make different moves that he feels make for a better team.
“It's been a grind, making these trades. In a cap strapped world, you have to move out to add in. We wanted to get ahead of the free agent frenzy and felt that by making trades, we could control the price point better and the assets that were coming in and out," Fletcher said. "We felt very comfortable with what we did. We like our team and we think we're a better team today than we were at the end of the season. Having said that, we still have work to do. Obviously, we have to add a goalie. I think I would certainly look at another defenseman and another forward up front to add some more depth and yet we know we have some good kids that are going to push for opportunities.”
Fletcher later added that he has spoken to several players and noted the excitement that is felt throughout the organization.
“I think we're going to be a deep team. We’re going to have maybe a little bit more experienced, particularly on the blue line. I think we're going to have some guys coming back hungry and energized, ready to go," Fletcher said. "I've spoken to several players in the last 24 to 48 hours and they're fired up. They're excited. They finally feel like last year's in the past and that it's going to be a different world, a different camp, a different and, in my opinion, a better team.”
Throughout his press conference, Fletcher was very straightforward and honest about what seemed to plague the team a year ago. Given all of the activity and all of the salary cap gymnastics, which Fletcher joked about, it would be reasonable to assume the Flyers are essentially done. Fletcher still thinks there could be more excitement to come.
I think part of it was the environment that everybody dealt with. All of you, everybody. We certainly didn't have it worse than anybody else, but it was just a weird, awkward season. We clearly didn't deal with it as well as some other teams and then you combine that with the fact that we started to lose. It just wasn't fun,” Fletcher said.
“We needed to change things and we talked at the end of the season press conference about change. Many of you asked me questions like, does the leadership group need to change, does the culture need to change, can you win with this group, and what about your defense? Believe me, we've looked at everything that all you guys are looking at. We have a big to-do list and we're chipping away at it. I think we're making good progress. The exciting thing is I think we can still add over the next few days. It's going to be different and, in my opinion, better team. We'll see next year, but there'll be energy next year. The world's coming back to normal a little bit more for all of us. Look, it was a tough year. Clearly our play was part of it, but there's obviously outside factors.”
One move that could come in the coming days is the re-signing of unrestricted free agent Sam Morin. Fletcher said a deal appears to be close. Fletcher also needs to add another goalie to play with Carter Hart, Hart needs to be re-signed along with RFA Travis Sanheim, but there may also be room for the Flyers to add another depth defenseman or forward.
Throughout this process, it’s clear Fletcher has focused on leadership, and took a lot of responsibility for not adding in that area ahead of last season.
“I don't think it was so much the leadership group had to change in the sense that the guys there were the wrong guys. I think we needed to add more people to it and get some different people in that hadn't been here for a while," Fletcher said. "Niskanen did a lot of that. Kevin Hayes has brought some different dynamic to the team and obviously Justin Braun, Brian Elliott, and different guys over the years.
“I thought we were young in places last year. We let some veteran players go and lost some veteran players. We replaced them with kids. Frankly, I think it was too much to ask of certain players and of the group as a whole. It was less a reflection of the inability of the leadership group and more reflection on the fact that I didn't provide enough leaders for the group. That's what I mean that we needed to change that. We needed to bring in a different dynamic, bring in more voices, some different voices to complement what we have here.”
With three former alternate captains in Ellis, Ristolainen, and Atkinson joining the team, it appears to Flyers have brought some new voices, and hopefully that new energy to the locker room. Atkinson’s press conference earlier in the day certainly showed just how energized and excited he was to be going to Philadelphia. That rubbed off on the Flyers GM.
“All three are very excited to come to Philadelphia. I got so pumped up talking to Cam Atkinson today,” Fletcher said. “I’ve been not sleeping a lot for the last week and I didn’t need another cup of coffee after my conversation with him. He’s fired up and ready to go. Today was a good day for the Flyers.”