Fletcher knows ex­actly what he’s in for with Fly­ers

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - SPORTS - Rob Par­ent Columnist Con­tact Rob Par­ent at rpar­[email protected]­tu­ry­media.com; fol­low on Twit­ter @Reluc­tan­tSE

PHILADEL­PHIA >> The pomp and some­what strange cir­cum­stances of the Fly­ers’ gen­eral man­agers change has fi­nally quelled, leav­ing the team to won­der about its im­me­di­ate fu­ture and leav­ing fans won­der­ing when it will start play­ing out the way it should.

New gen­eral man­ager Chuck Fletcher pinned his job in­ter­views on his track record of solid drafts, the oc­ca­sional bold trad­ing move and the 2012 sign­ings of top free agents Ryan Suter and Zach Parise at Min­nesota.

Then there are the on­ice re­sults.

Fletcher’s Wild did not make the play­offs through his first three sea­sons as GM. That ex­tended the team’s early spring streak to four. Wild owner Craig Leipold had only owned the club for a lit­tle more than year when Fletcher was brought into the team’s front of­fice af­ter years as an as­sis­tant GM in Florida, Ana­heim and Pitts­burgh. All three of those teams had ad­vanced to Stan­ley Cup fi­nals dur­ing his time in their front of­fices.

His time to be a GM had come and Leipold bought into him.

For an owner who wanted to win and showed it with that big free agent splash in 2012, Leipold also showed pa­tience. Back then, the West­ern Con­fer­ence was loaded with pow­er­ful teams and Leipold - who claimed about $70 mil­lion in losses dur­ing his ear­lier years of own­ing the fledg­ling Nashville Preda­tors - seemed to re­al­ize it.

He pushed for and signed off on match­ing 13year, $98 mil­lion con­tracts for both Suter and Parise. The pres­sure was on.

“We were try­ing to sign them, too,” Fly­ers pres­i­dent Paul Holm­gren said Wed­nes­day, “and we didn’t get them. So that was a bold move. Five years from now is it still go­ing to be a good move? I don’t know.”

I’m guess­ing not. I’m also think­ing that, de­spite the wild bid­ding process that led to Toronto giv­ing John Tavares a seven-year, $77 mil­lion deal last sum­mer, those dual con­tracts from more than six years ago will be re­mem­bered not only in Min­nesota but around the league as rea­sons not to be­lieve Gary Bettman the next time he poor-mouths about his owners through an­other NHL lock­out.

Af­ter the sec­ond sea­son of the Suter-Parise ex­per­i­ment and fourth sea­son for Fletcher, the Wild fi­nally made it to the post­sea­son in 2013, los­ing to the Chicago Blackhawks in five games. The next two sea­sons, the Wild reached the sec­ond round, but that was as far as the club would go un­der Fletcher.

When the Wild lost in the first round last spring for the third straight play­off sea­son, Leipold’s pa­tience ran thin and Fletcher found him­self out of a job. His forced va­ca­tion wouldn’t last long, first be­ing re­tained as a con­sul­tant by the Devils, then win­ning over Holm­gren and Com­cast-Spec­ta­cor CEO Dave Scott in Philadel­phia.

This for a gen­eral man­ager who in nine years in Min­nesota didn’t see his team make the play­offs for three years, then never ad­vance be­yond the sec­ond round over the next six. Cer­tainly, there is much more to judg­ing an ex­ec­u­tive’s track record than what his team does on the ice. But that’s ex­actly what ul­ti­mately de­ter­mines any­one’s fate in the job.

As an as­sis­tant GM in Los An­ge­les, Ron Hex­tall was part of a man­age­ment team that had to re­build the Kings from a bot­tom feed­ing club to Stan­ley Cup win­ner in 2012, and whose work greatly con­trib­uted to a sec­ond Cup win for the Kings two years later, af­ter Hex­tall had re­joined the Fly­ers.

As a GM, Hex­tall’s Fly­ers made the play­offs three times in five sea­sons, with the out­come of this one very much up in the air when he was fired Nov. 26, the club at 10-11-2 and in an­other mini-spi­ral then.

The hints have been aired to ex­treme over the last 10 days about Hex­tall’s au­to­cratic man­age­ment style even­tu­ally wear­ing thin on Holm­gren. It’s not an in­ac­cu­rate take. Per­son­al­i­ties of­ten play a part in the win­ning and los­ing of jobs. The same is true in this case.

But in his time as GM, Hex­tall did ex­actly what he was hired to do. Job One, just as it had been for his boss Dean Lom­bardi with the Kings, was to re­build a team whose farm sys­tem was alarm­ingly de­void of real prospects. Cap control was a close sec­ond on Hex­tall’s agenda, and even­tu­ally the ex­pec­ta­tion of on-ice suc­cess.

Phase Three ap­par­ently didn’t come quickly enough, with the Fly­ers brass per­haps think­ing Hex­tall went over­board on the first two phases of the agenda. There were po­ten­tial trades and sign­ings that hadn’t been made.

So just as he may have been urged a lit­tle from own­er­ship to make a pair of salary cap-con­strain­ing free agent sign­ings six years ago for Min­nesota, Fletcher comes into this job know­ing ex­actly what his mis­sion en­tails.

Keep draft­ing well, keep the Fly­ers well within com­fort­able pa­ram­e­ters when it comes to the salary cap ... and oh yeah, don’t only get this team into the play­offs, but into the se­ri­ous con­tenders mix. And fast.

Like Hex­tall, Fletcher has re­ceived fa­vor­able re­views from man­age­ment peers over the years. Dave Scott, in a state­ment an­nounc­ing Fletcher’s hir­ing ear­lier this week, took that a step fur­ther.

“Chuck has earned suc­cess through­out his im­pres­sive NHL ca­reer,” Scott said, “and of­fers the right mix of ex­per­tise, busi­ness acu­men and lead­er­ship qual­i­ties that the Fly­ers need to­day as we work to achieve our ul­ti­mate goal, the Stan­ley Cup Cham­pi­onship.”

If it hap­pens, it would be his first.

Of course, one can only live up to a billing of suc­cess if given a chance.

This is Fletcher’s. As with Hex­tall and all their peers, it’s his job to keep or lose.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO - ZACK HILL

Fly­ers gen­eral man­ager Chuck Fletcher got a first look at his Fly­ers team Thurs­day, re­veal­ing its ca­pac­ity for in-game in­con­sis­tency.

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