The Philadelphia Flyers are planning to have a very busy offseason.
"I think we're going to be very aggressive in the trade and free agent markets in the sense of looking into every possible situation that can help us," said general manager Chuck Fletcher, who was hired Dec. 3 to replace Ron Hextall. "The unfortunate part is the vast majority of things you look into don't work out. ... So we're going to be very aggressive in trying to fill the holes we feel we have. I don't know if I can say we'll be able to fill all of them."
In a wide-ranging interview with NHL.com at the NHL Scouting Combine, Fletcher discussed where he thinks the roster needs to be upgraded, the status of negotiations with four key restricted free agents, his plans for the 2019 NHL Draft, and the potential of goalie Carter Hart.
Video: CAR@PHI: Hart gloves down Niederreiter's backhander
Where are the holes on your roster?
"We need help everywhere. We need help on defense, at center and on the wing. And obviously, we need another goaltender, at least, if not two. We have a lot of needs. We'll be able to plug some of those holes, whether we're plugging them with players on six-year deals or players on one-year deals as placeholders to buy more time to find the right fit. We'll certainly have our roster upgraded next year, and hopefully we can find three or four players at 26 years old that we can plug in there for the next 6-7 years. I don't know if that's likely.
"We may have to have some Plan B options. We are aggressively looking in the trade market now. At the right time, we'll certainly speak to every agent for a lot of free agents and see if there's a fit, see if there's players that want to come to Philly and if there's the right fit for our club. The good thing is we've got the assets and the [NHL salary] cap space, and sometime in the near future, we'll make some good things happen, and hopefully sooner rather than later."
You mentioned Plan B options, does that include some of the top young prospects, among them forwards Isaac Ratcliffe, Morgan Frost and Joel Farabee?
"Or older guys. You can find some guys in their 30s on one- and two-year [contracts] that are still good players that can help your team until either the young guys are ready or until you can maybe go out and get the great 25-year-old players that you can sign to a seven- or eight-year deal. Sometimes you swing for the fences, and sometimes you have to hit some singles too.
"[The young players] certainly could be [roster options]. I think the odds would be against them making our team coming out of camp. But I don't like cutting players before training camp. I say that because I think our expectation is we'll find a player or two to come in. For 20-year-old kids, in Farabee's case 19, to get some playing time in the [American Hockey League] is always a preferable option. But if they come in and they earn it, and there's been players every year that seem to do it around the League, then certainly we won't hold them back."
You have four key players who each can become a restricted free agent July 1, topped by defenseman Ivan Provorov. What's the status of those negotiations, and also, where do things stand with defenseman Travis Sanheim and forwards Travis Konecny and Scott Laughton?
"I'll loop all four of them together. We've reached out and had preliminary conversations with most of them. The sense I'm getting right now from the player perspective, from the [agent] perspective, I think there's a sense that the market for young players may be shifting and we've seen some contracts over the past couple years that have been market changers and I think they feel that will continue this summer. So I think there's much more of a wait-and-see approach from the player's side. My expectation is, and it's not that much more unusual than most years, my assumption is none of them will get done quickly, but it will get done. We'll just patiently go about it. We've had good dialogue with all the agents. I think we have a sense of what they want to do, but I think there's a sense from the other side, for all of them, this will be a market-changing summer, and I don't think anybody wants to get in front of that."
Video: PHI@PIT: Provorov dives, prevents late scoring chance
The Flyers have the No. 11 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, a number of highly regarded prospects, and a willingness to improve the team. Can you envision moving up in the draft to get one of the elite prospects?
"I think there's probably a strong consensus among the 31 teams as to who the top two players are (Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko). I don't know that there is that same consensus from 3-10. We feel pretty strongly the player available to us at 11 ... we'll have ranked somewhere between 5-8. In saying that, whether you're picking 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, you're probably going to have a player you really like fall to you and probably a player very clearly in your top 10. There are certain players that if they kept falling, maybe I would make a move to try to get in position to draft. But I think this is a draft year where I feel pretty strongly based on what I know right now that at 11, we're going to get a player that our scouts really like and we're not going to have to get aggressive to get that player."
Goalie likely won't be something you worry about high in the draft because of Carter Hart's emergence. Did he do enough this season to solidify his place as the Flyers' No. 1 goalie long-term?
"I've been around a long time, seen a lot of ups and downs. He's 20 years old, he'll be 21 in August, and I still believe there's going to be obstacles he's going to have to overcome in the next couple seasons. He certainly looks like he's going to be a very good goaltender for a very long time. In the short term, can he be our No. 1 goalie coming out of camp next year? He certainly could be. I don't mean this as a threat, but like everybody else, he's going to have to earn that. It's a tough league for 20- and 21-year-old kids. He certainly looks to be a remarkable young player. Over time, I think his talent is going to shine through and he will be our guy for a long time. But I don't want to put all the pressure in the world on him that he has to be our guy coming out of training camp. We'll let his play dictate it and we'll hopefully have some other good options in goal so we have great depth, and that's the way we want to approach it."