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Fletcher & Flahr Discuss Offseason Agenda: 5 Key Takeaways

Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher along with Assistant GM Brent Flahr held a press conference to discuss their offseason agenda in general

by Bill Meltzer @billmeltzer / philadelphiaflyers.com

On Tuesday morning, Flyers general manager and president Chuck Fletcher along with assistant general manager and vice president Brent Flahr held a press conference to discuss the upcoming NHL Expansion Draft, NHL Entry Draft, the start of free agency season and their offseason agenda in general. Here are five takeaways from the session.

1. Fletcher is considering a variety of moves.

The Flyers roster could look significantly different come opening night of the 2021-22 regular season. These next few weeks are critical in terms of moving around salary cap dollars (cap space, in and of itself, has become a desirable and highly-sought asset) as necessary and making trades and free agent signings. Fletcher aims to be proactive. The Expansion Draft may offer opportunities to make trades with the Seattle Kraken or with other teams that prefer to deal a player they fear could otherwise be lost for nothing in the Expansion Draft.

Generally speaking. Fletcher said that he's not looking to acquire high-cost rental players (unrestricted free agents come 2022) for one season. He has placed a top priority on players who can help the Flyers both by immediately filling a roster need and also remaining in Philadelphia as contributors in future seasons. In terms of trading capital, Fletcher said that he may be willing to deal certain assets depending on the return but he's not looking to gut the farm system or to severely deplete future assets for short-term fixes.

"We're looking at everything. It's an exciting time, in a sense that with the Seattle Expansion Draft, with the flat cap, you might see maybe a few more trades, a few more hockey trades throughout the week. The draft is always an exciting time. We're picking higher than where we want to pick yet having the 13th selection will give us an opportunity to get a pretty good player. There's going to be hopefully some exciting additions to our club over the next couple months. And probably a few moves around the league that you normally wouldn't see because of expansion and because of the flat cap. We're going to continue to try to make moves and make us better. We know we have a lot of work ahead of us. And we'll do the best we can," Fletcher said.

During a typical NHL offseason, there's an initial frenzy of trades around the time of the Entry Draft and signings in the first few days of free agency. Subsequently, things quiet down. The deeper it gets into the offseason, the more the initial sellers' market turns into more of a buyers' market. There can be useful players available at reduced signing/trade acquisition cost. If the price is right, Fletcher may also make an additional roster move or during the latter portion of the summer.

2. 1st Round Pick is available for trade (at the right price)

Flahr is like most every NHL assistant general manager, player personnel director and scout in that the NHL Entry Draft is his favorite weekend of hockey calendar: the culmination of a season of scouting, rating and debating prospects until, at last, it's time to make selections on the Draft floor. Nothing excites scouts more than when their team acquires extra picks (especially early in the Draft) and they agonize over the thought of their organization trading first-round picks before there's a chance to make the selections.  

As the overseer of the Flyers' scouting and drafting operations, Flahr prefers to keeping as many picks as possible. Moving up or down in a round is another matter. Logically, he knows that sometimes upcoming picks get traded beforehand in order to make immediate NHL roster additions.

On Tuesday, Flahr and Fletcher were asked about the organization's willingness to trade the 13th overall pick of the 2021 Draft.

"Depends on who you ask," Flahr said.

Replied Fletcher, "Yeah, Brent wants me to keep it. Look, it's a really good asset. If we use our first round pick to select a player, we're obviously going to be able to draft a high quality player that'll help us [down the road]. Yet, because it's of high asset value, I think we have to explore what we can do with it. The likelihood is you normally end up keeping your first round picks, but this offseason, in particular, I think I'm more willing to look at moving it."

Reporters asked Flahr to assess the caliber of players available in the 2021 Draft.

"I don't think there's any generational players in it. However, there are some quality players at the top end and there is some depth to the draft. There are some different tiers like every year. Our group has done a pretty good job identifying those, but I do think there's some depth through the second and third round this year that our guys are excited about and even beyond. We'll continue to work through that this next week and be ready for next Friday," Flahr said.

"As far as the strengths of the draft, I think there's some quality defenseman at the top of the draft. There's some quality centerman. There's wingers. It's publicized that there's a couple goalies [Jesper Wallstedt and Sebastian Cossa] that'll likely get into the first round here. Should be an interesting and we'll see how it plays out."

3. Defensemen and two-way forwards are top priority

In 2019-20, the Flyers ranked 7th in the NHL both in team goals against average and in goals per game: a combination that is a virtual guarantee of a high playoff seed. In 2020-21, the Flyers ranked dead last in the NHL in goals against average, which is a virtual guarantee of missing the playoffs no matter how many goals a team scores. 

The Flyers entered March 2021 with an 11-4-3 record because the club ranked 4th in the NHL in goals per game but that sort of winning pace was unsustainable with the team's defensive struggles. In March, the team GAA exploded (the worst single month team GAA in team history) and the offense eventually imploded. The club never truly got back on track the rest of the season, and the Flyers missed the playoffs after having the league's highest points percentage through two months.

Fletcher confirmed on Tuesday that his number one goal this offseason and throughout next season is to see the team significantly lower its GAA. Outside acquisitions will be made to assist in this process but it will take a teamwide recommitment to two-way play -- which has an offensive component to it as well as a puck possession element on top of playing responsibly without the puck -- to get back to where the club was in 2019-20.

"I think there's been a lot of focus on the blue line. To me, the number one priority is our goals-against. It was just ridiculous how many goals we gave up last year. That goes back to everything. It goes back to the coaches having a great training camp and using the practice time early in the season to reinforce our systems and our structure. It's our goaltenders playing better. It's our defenseman playing better. It's our forwards managing the puck better. We're going to need to look at upgrades to our roster. There's no question. We're also going to need the players that are returning to play better, in particular, without the puck and structurally. We're going to need our coaches to get our players back in that structure and reinforce the system. It's not just one thing that led us to fall from seventh in the league defensively to the bottom of the pile," he said.

"You have no chance -- no chance -- to win in this league unless you're at least in the top half of the league defensively. We have a lot of work to do. Again, we have holes we need to fill and we have players that are currently on our roster that need to play much better. It's got to be a holistic approach. It's not just one player that's going to turn it around. It's everybody, starting with me that has to be much better this year and that has been conveyed to everybody in the organization."

4. RFA negotiations will begin in earnest later in the summer.

The Flyers have three notable restricted free agents this summer: goaltender Carter Hart, center Nolan Patrick and defenseman Travis Sanheim. Among the three, only Sanheim is eligible to file for salary arbitration this offseason. Fletcher anticipates getting all of the team's RFAs signed this offseason but said that it's not his top immediate priority.

"I will say that with the RFAs, it hasn't been a front burner issue. There's plenty of time to get to those. We have to make the qualifying offers by the Monday after the Draft. We'll make those sometime between now and then. Typically, the ball gets rolling from there. I've had some preliminary talks with a few of the guys you've mentioned, but at this point, we have time and we'll get to those in due course," Fletcher said.

5. Changes have been made in hockey operations personnel.

Fletcher did not yet want to run down a full list, but he indicated that the organization has made changes within the hockey operations side this offseason. He did not go into specifics.

"We've made a lot of personnel moves that we'll announce in short order. We've spent two months doing this stuff, so we will have a lot of changes to announce here in the new in the near future. We've worked pretty hard to that. I think we're in pretty good position going forward," he said.

On Monday, the Pittsburgh Penguins announced that Brett Hextall, who had been a player development coach with the Flyers since 2017-18, has been hired for the Penguins' development staff. The organization, with former Flyers GM Ron Hextall and assistant GM Chris Pryor at the helm, also announced that former Phantoms assistant and 2019-20 interim head coach Kerry Huffman has been hired as a pro scout.

As such, one of the upcoming Flyers announcements will relate to new Phantoms head coach Ian Laperriere's staff in Lehigh Valley.

WATCH THE FULL PRESS CONFERENCE

Video: Fletcher and Flahr speak to media

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