The Real Undoing of Chuck Fletcher, and Talking Trade Value
“He doesn’t win any trades.” “He never gets value for his players.” “He always gives up too much for too little.” By results, all of this is true when Flyers fans say it amid a discussion of Chuck Fletcher’s tenure with the Flyers.
If you look back at the trades Fletcher made, he’s constantly surrendering value in exchange for absolutely nothing. But I want to take a look back in time to examine these trades, and see what they really looked like at the time. I believe that, if you look close enough, a pattern begins to emerge.
The Niskanen Trade.
PHI gets: Matt Niskanen.
WSH gets: Radko Gudas.
At the time of this trade, Gudas was a struggling “hit ’em lots of times but provide no tangible hockey value” defenseman. He had no real market value. He wasn’t going to bring in a haul.
At the time of this trade, Niskanen was struggling through a litany of injuries that sapped some of his juice as an underrated top-pair defender. He was a defensive specialist who had a rare puck moving acumen.
He was a true stalwart on the back end who could not only “eat minutes” against the best, but someone who could win those minutes in both expected goals and actual goals. That’s what Niskanen was when he was healthy and engaged.
With the Flyers, he showed that side of himself again. He became that true stalwart and he took Ivan Provorov to new heights for one season in 19-20.
So, freeze time in this exact moment of 19-20. Chuck Fletcher just traded Radko Gudas–a man of shockingly little value–to the Capitals for Matt Niskanen, a true top-pair defender who gave the Flyers a a pairing at the top that truly won minutes on the back end and provided support to the forward group led by Claude Giroux and Sean Coutorier.
Maybe the career year of a guy like Travis Konecny isn’t such a shock when you take that context into account. The Flyers had the best top defense pair they’ve had since, arguably, 2012.
Well, we all know how that turned out. Niskanen didn’t want to continue his playing career and backed out after that weird 2019-2020 season.
This is all viewed as tremendous misfortune. Just a spate of bad luck. It sure as hell isn’t good luck, but what if it was no matter of luck at all?
This was always part of the risk in the Niskanen acquisition. An aging star who had been battling injuries and was on the verge of hanging up the skates would actually decide–for whatever reason–to hang up the skates, and leave the team that acquired him with a massive Niskanen sized hole.
This was a baked in part of the risk.
Chuck Fletcher took that risk, because he seized a tremendous buy-low opportunity…and do you know what he found out? In the NHL–as in life–you get what you pay for.
This trade is viewed by even Chuck’s fiercest critics as an aberration, his best trade. A brilliant move that just happened to turn bad because of misfortune.
I believe this trade is the trade that defines the entirety of his tenure with the Flyers.
It looked good at the time. Or, it looked okay and you could see the logic…but that’s because the logic only worked in a vacuum and in the immediate future.
The Ryan Ellis Trade.
NSH gets: Cody Glass
VGK gets: Nolan Patrick
PHI gets: Ryan Ellis
Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
Chuck Fletcher managed to turn an asset of extremely limited value–Nolan Patrick, he of the many injuries and the stalled development that derailed his draft year hype train–into a true #1 defenseman who combined defensive acumen with extreme puck moving gifts.
Everyone is trying to figure out how Ryan Ellis mystically stopped being able to play hockey.
While I am extremely sad that Flyers fans won’t get to see the guy in that sweater, wreaking havoc like few defenseman in this league can, I am not at all surprised that things ended this way.
The ONLY reason Chuck Fletcher could turn Nolan Patrick into Ryan Ellis is because Nashville had baked in Ellis’ advancing age and extensive injury history into the player’s profile.
That was the risk which created this buy-low opportunity. The risk was that Ryan Ellis would sustain another injury or something would happen, and he wouldn’t play hockey again.
That’s exactly what happened. Chuck made the same trade AGAIN. He took the same risk that just burned him, and it is not shocking that this burned him again.
It burns teams all the time. Chuck doesn’t have bad luck. He just constantly places himself in situations where getting lucky is the only way to produce a positive outcome.
You want a non-Flyers example?
The Max Pacioretty Trade
CAR gets: Max Pacioretty, young defenseman prospect
VGK gets: literally nothing
The Hurricanes managed to turn nothing but cap space into Max Pacioretty! A premiere sniper in the league! They were hailed as geniuses, but what actually happened?
Patches–a stellar player with an amazing career, let me be clear–ruptured his Achilles tendon twice. The Hurricanes got a total of 2 games and 2 goals out of the star player, which could have easily come from an AHL call up.
Vegas was cash strapped. They needed to move money to keep the lights on, and they decided to move Pacioretty. Why did they choose him? Because of his advanced age and his extensive injury history.
An aging player who gets injured a lot… got injured.
That was always the risk. Now, instead of turning nothing into Pacioretty, the Canes turned nothing into… nothing.
It isn’t a critical mistake. The Hurricanes were in a good position to absorb this blow, because they didn’t use this gambit as a way to build the core of their team.
Pacioretty was a luxury for them. When that luxury fell through, then their team remained elite. The foundation was in place.
Chuck Fletcher, on the other hand, built his foundation on high-risk assets.
So what happened when Chuck invested in Matt Niskanen and Ryan Ellis to fill critical roles and both fell through? Well, that creates a desperation to build the team back up.
Instead of dealing from a position of strength, he has to start dealing from a position of shocking weakness.
To be clear, Chuck understood his mandate and acted on it. His mandate was to salvage the Giroux era and turn the incomplete Hextall core into a playoff contender. He went about it in the best way that he knew how. He bought low, which was a good idea.
But he bought low on high-risk assets. And those assets went up in smoke.
And it isn’t just because of injury either.
The Tony DeAngelo Trade.
PHI gets: Tony DeAngelo (an RFA they signed to a 2 year, $5M AAV contract)
CAR gets: 4th round pick 2022, 3rd round pick 2023, 2nd round pick 2024
Tony DeAngelo is still relatively young–prime competing age, to be exact–and has no injury history. There is no high risk that he’ll break a leg, and to this point in his season with the Flyers, he has not. But DeAngelo was still a tremendous buy-low acquisition when viewed in a vacuum: he was a 60 point, top pairing defenseman who played successfully on a Cup contending team. By no means is an assortment of mid draft picks a price too steep for that.
The problem was that Carolina had essentially sheltered DeAngelo from any defensive zone responsibility by having him play with Jaccob Slavin and playing him on the league’s best forechecking team. They simply didn’t play defense very much.
When they did play defense, DeAngelo was always stapled at the hip to the league’s premiere shutdown defender.
The Flyers have a very underwhelming forecheck, and Ivan Provorov is not Jaccob Slavin.
Suddenly, DeAngelo became a third pairing defenseman who could not possibly survive in the top-4. You signed this guy, who you can only play on the bottom pair, to a $5M contract. His final piece of utility–quarterbacking the Power Play–is a completely moot point. The Flyers went from the 32nd ranked power-play in the league to the 32nd ranked power-play in the league.
They didn’t improve at all on the power-play…and by continuing to give DeAngelo that role–because they essentially have to–they’re doing nothing but blocking their top defensive prospect Cam York from developing into a PP1 QB. Chuck bought low, because he believed that he could replicate what Carolina had with Tony. Like Niskanen and Ellis, he bought low for what he believed he was getting.
But in the case of injury in those two cases or poor evaluation in this case, he overpaid. To make matters worse, those draft picks he surrendered are all taking place during rebuilding years for the Flyers. It was an atrocious mistake, and one that isn’t getting nearly enough attention.
But Chuck, on some rare occasions, has shown to “get it.”
That’s what makes him so baffling. When Giroux’s contract came time to expire, Chuck decided–amid a horrific season–that it was time to sell and ship him at the deadline for a chance to win a Stanley Cup.
It was his best trade.
The Claude Giroux Trade
FLA gets: Claude Giroux
PHI gets: Owen Tippett, 2024 1st round pick.
Here’s what the Panthers needed: a bonafide star to bolster their already fantastic team and turn them into a legitimate playoff threat. They needed to cash in and pursue a Stanely Cup.
Here’s what the Panthers didn’t need: a talented young winger who was so far down on their depth chart that he had to become Mike Bossy just to see NHL ice time, or a 1st round pick that will occur in Aleksander Barkov and Arron Ekblad’s prime years.
Owen Tippett and a 2024 1st were both valuable assets, but value can be subjective. They weren’t valuable to the Panthers. The Panthers didn’t lose the trade. They got exactly what they wanted, and gave up nothing they care about.
But the Flyers won the trade. Those assets were very valuable to the Flyers.
Claude Giroux was valuable to the Panthers. He wasn’t valuable to the Flyers, because he didn’t fit the timeline anymore.
Did Chuck “win” this trade?
Yes, but only because both sides got what they wanted.
A lot of the loosely coined “fleeces” in the NHL are actually examples of reciprocity. Here’s one.
The Devon Toews Trade
COL gets: Devon Toews
NYI gets: 2021 2nd round pick, 2022 2nd round pick
The Colorado Avalanche turned a couple of 2nd round picks into a bonafide #1 defenseman, WHAT A FLEECE!
But look into the situation closer. Devon Toews was a 26 year old defender whose arbitration rights were coming, and the Islanders were devoid of both cap space and draft capital.
– By not having to sign Devon Toews, they would have cap space.
– By getting two 2nd round picks in return, they would have draft capital.
And as for the minutes that Devon Toews logged? They felt that they had a younger and capable successor in Noah Dobson. In that estimation of Dobson, they were right.
Would they have loved to keep Toews in hindsight and find someone else to render the odd man out? Probably.
But the Islanders got real, actual value.
Especially because value is not an objective thing. It’s subjective. Devon Toews fits perfectly into Colorado’s system. His blend of skills is a dream for them, and it takes Cale Makar to an entirely new level.
The Avalanche were able to seize a unique opportunity, because they A) correctly estimated the subjective value that Toews provides to them and B) had what the Islanders needed in their subjective estimation of value.
Chuck has made most of his deals as if there is a single, objective measure of value. He’s went about his tenure of GM here trying to “win trades” at all costs.
He has a little app that helps him “determine market value.”
Which, in itself, isn’t a terrible thing. But the problem here is that Chuck has a history of not seeing the subjectivity of value that turns fair trades into duds or fleeces.
He isn’t executing a plan. He’s just making moves that look beneficial on the spread sheet. I’m a “spread sheet” guy. Numbers can tell you a lot about what’s happening, but they can’t tell you how to make positive change. That requires a bit of intuition, and a lot of conviction.
Chuck hasn’t shown himself to be very intuitive, and most of his actions indicate that he utterly lacks conviction.
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