Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher, who recently returned from scouting the CHL Top Prospects Game and conducting meetings with the organization's amateur and pro scouting staffs, met with the media at the Skate Zone in Voorhees on Monday.
He discussed a variety of topics, including his thoughts on the weeks leading up to the trade deadline, the areas in which the team needs to improve, injury updates, and more. Here are my key takeaways from the media scrum:
1. BUYER, SELLER... OR BOTH?
The NHL trade deadline is Feb. 25 - exactly four weeks from today. Fletcher said that he does not plan to add any rental players (i.e., impending unrestricted free agents) this year. However, he does not rule out making some roster additions to the current team if he acquire players whom he sees filling needs beyond this season. He also anticipates making some trades involving players on the current roster.
FLETCHER: "We could both buy and sell, but I guess my point is, every decision we make, if we're going to try to improve our team going forward and we can get that player now, great. There's always opportunities. So for me it's not the next eight games or even the rest of the year. From this point forward, we have to get better. To be better next year, we may have to try to get better this year. That's what we're trying to do, whether it's the coaches on the ice, or adding players, or whatever we have to do."
In terms of trades involving current roster players, Fletcher said there are multiple players whom it probably would not make sense to trade under realistic scenarios but that team captain Claude Giroux is the only absolute untouchable. Otherwise, it depends on the deals that are out there to be made.
Specific to alternate captain Wayne Simmonds, a potential unrestricted free agent come July 1, Fletcher said that he expects the matter to resolve -- whether via a contract extension or a trade -- within the next few weeks. He would not tip his hand on which outcome he anticipates. Fletcher said that he's had discussions both with Simmonds and his agent, Eustace King, and both sides are clear on where the other stands.
FLETCHER: "Everyone is going to have ups and downs, but Wayne's a good player. I don't think he needs to prove anything to us. There's different factors you have to consider when you're going to sign a player. We have lots of holes and a certain amount of money in which to do it with the salary cap. We're just trying to balance everything and make the right decision, but certainly in a few weeks I think it will be resolved one way or the other."
2. THREE IN THE CREASE?
With four of the six Flyers goaltenders currently under NHL contract having spent at least one stint on the injured reserve list, the Flyers are currently carrying three goalies on their active NHL roster: standout rookie Carter Hart, Anthony Stolarz (recently activated from IR) and veteran backup Mike McKenna. Veterans Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth remain on IR with respective lower-body injuries, while Lehigh Valley Phantoms starter Alex Lyon is day-to-day with a groin pull, per Fletcher.
Given the precarious health situation, Fletcher indicated that the team may continue to need three goalies on the NHL roster, at least for now. Specific to Elliott, Fletcher said the goaltender is finally making substantial progress in his rehab. Neuvirth is still not feeling right and has no timetable at present. Elliott will soon begin taking shots at practice and, from there, a potential return date can be narrowed down.
3. YOUNG PLAYERS UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
Some of the young players on the Flyers, such as Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom, took a strong stretch of play into the bye week and All-Star break. Moving forward, Fletcher said the success of younger players over the remainder of the season will be a big component in how he assesses what the team's needs are in planning for next season.
FLETCHER: "It's critical. It's not practical to go out and sign a bunch of $5 million players. If you look at how highly successful teams are constructed, a large portion of the core consists of talent that the organization drafted and developed."
Fletcher said that the same applies to the recently recalled Mikhail Vorobyev and other young players as well. He feels, for example, that Phantoms defenseman Philippe Myers has played to a level in the AHL in recent months where he has played his way into deserving a shot at some NHL ice time time season. Samuel Morin, rehabbing from ACL surgery, will rejoin the NHL team after undergoing a conditioning stint with Lehigh Valley following his anticipated clearance to play in February.
That said, Fletcher added that he's not going to jettison veteran players for the specific purpose of creating extended playing time for young players.
FLETCHER: "Consistency is always the key. At this level, you have to move your feet and make that second-effort, third-effort play. You can't make plays just with your hands and your head for the game. It's a harder game up here. It's not work ethic. It's the confidence to play with pace."
4. FORGING STRONG RELATIONSHIP WITH GORDON
Fletcher stopped short of pledging that Scott Gordon would have the "interim" title removed from his stature as Flyers head coach. However, the general manager praised what he's seen from Gordon and said that he and Gordon have begun to forge a strong working relationship.
FLETCHER: "We're working together every day, and I've been really impressed with the job he's done. Scott, he's very demanding, but he does it in a very professional way. He's a strong communicator. The players know exactly what he likes and doesn't like. He's not afraid to take ice time away, and to give ice time to players that do the right things."
FLETCHER: "I think that's what you have to do, and I think the players respect that. No one's confused as to what the expectations are, and he's working hard. Working hard on trying to give up fewer chances, how we defend, as I've said repeatedly here today. We don't defend well enough, and he's working at it every day. Habits, details away from the puck, positioning, and he's working hard. I give him credit, and that's going to pay dividends for this franchise going forward."
5. THE WEISE SITUATION
Fletcher clarified the status of veteran right wing Dale Weise. The forward was placed on waivers last Tuesday, allowed to start an early bye week after clearing waivers the next day and was loaned to the Phantoms on Sunday. The GM said that Weise did not request a trade. It was Fletcher's own determination that Weise would not be part of the roster plan moving forward, similar to his determination on Jordan Weal prior to trading him to the Arizona Coyotes.
Weise will report to the Phantoms this week and be available to play for the AHL team when it's post All-Star break schedule resumes. Fletcher is currently trying to work out a trade that would enable Weise to compete for an NHL spot elsewhere.