Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher met with the media on Tuesday at the Skate Zone in Voorhees to wrap up the team's disappointing 2018-19 season and discuss some of the parameters for what will be a crucial offseason for the franchise. The GM said that the search for the next head coach of the team -- with interim head coach Scott Gordon being one of the candidates -- will begin in earnest immediately. He also said that the team will actively scour both the trade and free agent markets for upgrade opportunities.
In the big picture, however, the GM wants to see the team collectively shape an identity of playing a better 200-foot game: making life easier for the defensemen by the way the forwards play, forwards and defensemen alike giving the goaltenders reasonable opportunities to make saves and the team collectively being better in the offensive zone so that the team spends less time defending and more time attacking.
"It goes beyond systems, it goes beyond players even. It comes down to mindset. How you manage the puck, how you manage the puck at certain times of the game... It's not just mindset, it's actual details. It's doing things the right way repeatedly. But you need the mindset to embrace the habits. I think that's going to be a focus in training camp, trying to do things day after day early when you have the practice time. It's difficult once you get into the season," Fletcher said.
Where does the change in mindset start? Fletcher said that it has to start with planning from the top down and getting buy-in to a teamwide mindset of playing the right way.
Video: Media address Chuck Fletcher following 18/19 season
"It starts with me, then it goes to the coaches, then to the leaders and then players," Fletcher said." We have some bad habits right now, flying the zone before we have possession of the puck, not getting in shooting lanes, not keeping the third guy high, turning pucks over in the neutral zone when there's no time and space to make a play, and just recognizing things. It's [adhering to good habits], but you need the mindset to embrace the habits."
In terms of the search for a new head coach, Fletcher did not want to discuss specific candidates apart from saying that he thought Scott Gordon did a fine job in the thankless role of interim head coach and is one of the candidates who will be considered on a full-season basis.
"For me, I just think it's prudent to take a little bit of time, decompress. We're less than 48 hours after our last game. Let the emotions subside. Do a little bit of thinking, do some due diligence. I think the right decision will be easier to come to in a little bit of time," Fletcher said.
In terms of player personnel, Fletcher said that he will try to address as many areas of need as he can over the summer, but certain things are beyond any team's control.
"We're going to be active in trying to improve our team. How that translates this summer, we'll find out. You can't control the marketplace, you can't control the trade market. Sometimes things happen, sometimes they don't," Fletcher said.
It goes without saying that finding an experienced goaltending partner to work in tandem with Carter Hart -- whether it's one among impending unrestricted free agents Brian Elliott or Cam Talbot or an outside candidate -- is an item on Fletcher's off-season agenda. The GM said he'd also look to add some experience to the blueline and another offensively productive forward who is also committed to a 200-foot style of play.
"Certainly a veteran defenseman could help. I think some help up front as well. I think we score, but finding another experienced guy that can help with that mindset -- playing the right way, and that could contribute both ways. Another part, you could look outside for help but you can get better defensively [as a team], which is a key," Gordon said.
There is also an internal component: the continued maturation of the team's young defensemen as well as young forwards such as Nolan Patrick, Travis Konecny and Oskar Lindblom. The GM said it will not preclude him from trying to bring in upgrades via trades and free agency but the team's group of young players remain important pieces of the puzzle moving forward.
"That has to be part of it. You can't go outside your group and add four or five guys every year. It's just hard to expend all those assets to go outside your system, so we're going to continue to need growth from the payers that are here. We're going to actively look for some outside solutions, but part of getting better next year will be see continued growth from the key young players," Fletcher said.
Fletcher was asked if, come next season, Patrick is ready to produce at the type of offensive level that a bonafide No. 2 center in the NHL is expect to contribute (roughly, 55+ points).
"That's a fair question. I think he could be. I would suggest there's 27, 28 teams that would probably like to find a #1 or #2 center-man. It's a hard thing to find. Certainly if you can find a top center-man, I think any team should jump on it. We'll certainly look [outside] but Nolan has the capability of being a #2 center-man. Whether that's next year, time will tell," Fletcher said.
IN OTHER NEWS...
* Fletcher said that no decisions would be made on assistant coaches until there is a new head coach in place.
Said Fletcher, "The way I operate is I usually work with the head coach on naming the assistant coaching staff. I take a lot of direction from the head coach and just make sure we're sort of in agreement on them. Once we get the head coach, we'll work quickly on that."
* Fletcher said that the team got through the season relatively healthy. There are no players who need surgeries that will significantly affect their off-season training regimens. One or two might need minor procedures, but final medical determinations have not been made in those cases.
* A large contingent of Flyers players will play for their countries at the upcoming 2019 IIHF World Championships in Slovakia. James van Riemsdyk (USA), Sean Couturier (Canada), Carter Hart (Canada) and Jakub Voracek (Czech Republic) have already committed to their respective national teams. Other possibilities include Oskar Lindblom and Robert Hägg (who was selected last year but ultimately declined because he was banged up late in the NHL season) for Sweden, Radko Gudas for the Czech Republic and Michael Raffl for Austria.
* Ivan Provorov (Russia) is an impending restricted free agent. On Sunday, Provorov said he was undecided about whether he would play at the Worlds.
* Flyers team captain Claude Giroux, whose wife is carrying the couple's first child, has elected not to participate in the World Championships this year.
* Fletcher said that he anticipates collegiate prospect Wade Allison will go back to Western Michigan for his senior season. A fellow college draftee, Ohio State's Tanner Laczynski, wants to take some time off and then determine whether he will sign an entry-level contract with the Flyers or return for his senior year. The Flyers hold signing rights on both players until Aug. 15, 2020.