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Philadelphia Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher will be given “a blank check” to turn the team around, chairman Dave Scott said Wednesday.
“I like the way he’s built this organization,” Scott said. “I like his style. I like his leadership. He’s smart, he’s collaborative. … I think he deserves a shot to really right this thing. I’m going to give him a blank check. We’re going to get this right, whatever we need to do.”
Fletcher was named GM on Dec. 3, 2018, replacing Ron Hextall, who was fired a week earlier. Philadelphia is 105-91-29 and has reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs once under Fletcher.
The Flyers (13-22-8) are last in the Metropolitan Division this season and have lost 13 straight games (0-10-3). Coach Alain Vigneault, who was hired by Fletcher, was fired Dec. 6.
Philadelphia announced Tuesday that Mike Yeo, who replaced Vigneault, will remain coach for the rest of this season.
One big question Fletcher and the Flyers need to address is the future of captain Claude Giroux, who is in the final season of an eight-year, $66 million contract ($8.25 million average annual value). The forward can become an unrestricted free agent after the season and has a full no-move clause in his contract.
Giroux leads Philadelphia with 34 points (15 goals, 19 assists) in 40 games. The 34-year-old is in his 10th season as captain and is second in Flyers history in points (892; 288 goals, 604 assists) and games played (983), behind Bobby Clarke (1,210 points; 358 goals, 852 assists in 1,144 games).
“Claude has a no-move clause in his contract and ultimately that’ll be his decision,” Fletcher said. “We’re at the halfway point, we’re two months to the [NHL] Trade Deadline (on March 21), so I guess the best way to put it is we’ll continue to have conversations and ultimately a decision will have to be made one way or the other. But it’ll be Claude’s decision.”
Fletcher said he has held contract talks with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, also a pending free agent. He was acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres on July 23 for defenseman Robert Hagg, a first-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft (forward Isak Rosen) and a second-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. Ristolainen is in the final season of a six-year, $32.4 million contract ($5.4 million AAV).
He is averaging 21:00 of ice time in 39 games and is second among NHL defensemen with 135 hits.
“It’s difficult to get physical defensemen, never mind physical right-shot defensemen,” Fletcher said. “You look at that game last night (a 4-3 loss at the New York Islanders), the Islanders are a big, heavy team and we had our hands full. We need to do a better job of competing in that area as we go forward, and Ristolainen can certainly be part of a six-man defense corps and bring an element that not a lot of people have. The goal when we traded for him was to keep him. He’s a pending UFA and he will control a lot of that discussion, and we’ll work with his representation to see what makes sense.”
Fletcher said he doesn’t believe major changes are needed before the trade deadline but said “everything is on the table.”
“We’re going to try to aggressively retool here,” he said. “Right now we’re really focused on trying to win some games and get better. The math is daunting. So in view of that, if this continues, clearly we’ll look to do what we can at the trade deadline to improve this team going forward.”
Philadelphia hasn’t won since a 3-2 overtime victory at the Seattle Kraken on Dec. 29.
The Flyers have eight regulars out of the lineup because of injury, including No. 1 center Sean Couturier, out since Dec. 18 because of an upper-body injury, and top-pair defenseman Ryan Ellis, who has played one game since Oct. 20 because of a lower-body injury.
Couturier skated Wednesday, but there is no timeline for when, or if, he or Ellis could play again this season.
“They’re both working hard,” Fletcher said. “I think it could go either way with both players. There’s a chance they could come back this year and there’s a chance that they will need procedures that will take them out for the rest of the season. We’re trying to do everything we can to avoid surgery in both cases.”
The Flyers thought an offseason when they added Ellis, Ristolainen, forwards Cam Atkinson and Derick Brassard, defenseman Keith Yandle and goalie Martin Jones could get them back into the playoffs after they did not qualify last season.
“I think this is probably the biggest disconnect I’ve ever felt between what we should be, in my opinion, and what we are,” Fletcher said. “Obviously I’m the guy in charge, that falls on me, and right now we are where we are. My mindset now is there’s going to be opportunities to get better and we have to take advantage of them. We can’t undo what’s been done.”
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