In the wake of Ron Hextall’s firing, the Philadelphia Flyers continue to conduct their search for their next GM, but team president Paul Holmgren made it clear that his desire is for this search to be over sooner rather than later.
Already, the news has been rolling in about potential candidates, too. Former players have been said to be in the running, as have those who recently lost their own spots running the front office of a big club. There are also some familiar faces who haven’t been around in some time popping up in the conversation, as well as a few names that might not be all that familiar in casual circles.
So, who ends up getting the job? As top candidates emerge, here are five who could step into the role as the Flyers look for a GM to take them to the next level:
Current: Sr. Advisor, New Jersey Devils
Former: GM, Minnesota Wild; Asst. GM, Pittsburgh Penguins; Asst. GM, Anaheim Ducks; GM, Florida Panthers
Fletcher was coming up on a decade with the Minnesota Wild when his tenure came to a halt. Despite putting in the work necessary to build a perennial playoff contender — he left with the Wild on a streak of six consecutive post-season berths — Fletcher’s inability to put together a group that get to a conference or Stanley Cup final was ultimately what led to his demise. Minnesota wanted change, and Fletcher was let go this past summer.
That he’s considered a frontrunner for the gig should come as no surprise, however. Fletcher was incredibly well respected for what he hand a hand in building in Minnesota, and maybe the biggest feather in his cap, and one thing that might especially entice the Flyers, is that when the Wild were in need of a goaltender, Fletcher went out and plucked Devan Dubnyk for a third-round pick. Philadelphia could use some similar magic. Plus, Fletcher has shown an element of off-season aggression: the signings of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise were his two most notable and have set the franchise off in their current directions.
The negatives with Fletcher? Well, his trade record isn’t, frankly, all that great. The Martin Hanzal acquisition stands out as especially poor, but barring the Dubnyk acquisition and landing Nino Niederreiter for Cal Clutterbuck and a third, there’s very little else that stands out as a clear win.
Current: Asst. GM, Columbus Blue Jackets; GM, Cleveland Monsteres
It’s only a matter of time before agent-turned-Columbus Blue Jackets assistant GM Zito gets his shot running a club in the NHL. The telltale signs are there. Not only does Zito have very obvious history with player negotiations, he has worked behind the scenes on a franchise that has steadily risen since he joined Jarmo Kekalainen in Columbus. The Blue Jackets have not only risen to become a playoff contender throughout Zito’s time with the franchise, but some consider the team to be in the best position to emerge from the Metropolitan Division by season’s end.
If that doesn’t help raise Zito’s stock, though, how about what he’s done away from the Blue Jackets? The development track in Columbus is clearly working, and part of that has been thanks to Zito’s work with the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters. True, the Monsters have missed the post-season in consecutive seasons, but the Calder Cup victory in 2015-16 came under Zito’s watch. Not only that, but Zito was given a chance to head up Team USA’s World Championship team at the 2018 tournament. The group fared awfully well, too. After missing the podium in consecutive competitions, USA ended the tournament on a positive note last year by capturing bronze.
The only thing Zito doesn’t have to his name is a track record in the big chair with an NHL club, but if the Flyers want to go in a new direction, there’s no reason why he can’t or shouldn’t be the guy.
Current: GM, Team Canada (Spengler Cup)
Former: GM, Carolina Hurricanes
Francis feels like a GM who deserves another shot at the helm of an NHL club, because even though he didn’t manage to push the Hurricanes into the post-season and snap the league’s longest playoff drought, Carolina always seemed just one piece away.
Did Francis make some missteps in Carolina? Absolutely, one of which the Hurricanes attempted to correct yesterday when they placed netminder Scott Darling on waivers. But overall, Francis’ track record in Carolina is fairly impressive. Acquisitions of Kris Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom worked out, for what they were, and taking on Bryan Bickell’s salary to land Teuvo Teravainen was a stroke of genius, one that leveraged a pick previously acquired in the Eric Staal trade to the New York Rangers.
What Francis was best at, though, was assessing talent and understand development curves. Look at the contracts handed to Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and Trevor van Riemsdyk. Those three deals are all well-priced or team-friendly contracts. If Victor Rask can rediscover his form, too, his $4-million cap hit will look like a song. Francis did a good job in Carolina and was let down by his goaltending repeatedly. (Insert perfect fit in Philadelphia joke here.)
Current: Consultant, Anaheim Ducks
Former: GM, Toronto Maple Leafs; GM, Vancouver Canucks
It’s been a few years now since Nonis was shown the door by the Maple Leafs, a departure that coincides with Toronto’s rise to prominence, but there is at least one feather in his cap from his time in the Big Smoke: the 2012-13 playoff appearance. And while that trip thte post-season was punctuated with an unforgettably heart-breaking loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the first-round series, it was the only taste of playoff hockey Toronto had had in eight seasons. That’s a small victory.
From a trade perspective, Nonis’ time with the Maple Leafs was rather uneventful, save the acquisition of Jonathan Bernier. In fact, Nonis’ free agent record didn’t have on it many home runs, either. Though, it did have one notable miss: the David Clarkson signing, which was later corrected by shipping him to Columbus for the uninsured contract of Nathan Horton. Nonis’ biggest successes in Toronto were on draft day, where he used picks to acquire notables such as Morgan Rielly, Connor Brown, Andreas Johnsson and William Nylander.
Current: Sr. Advisor, Tampa Bay Lightning
Former: GM, Tampa Bay Lightning, VP of Hockey Ops., Detroit Red Wings
It might be a pipe dream, at best, but the Flyers have to at least gauge Yzerman’s potential interest, right? He’s inarguably the best and most proven GM not presently working. He’s won a conference championship, pieced together one of the league’s very best teams and only left his post with the Lightning because he was entering the final year of his contract and wanted to be closer to his family. If Tampa Bay had it their way, he may have had a Ken Holland-esque tenure with the club.
Yzerman’s track record really speaks for itself. Not enough can be said about how he managed contract situations and his roster. His trade history reads like a greatest hits, too, particularly in recent years with him pulling off the Mikhail Sergachev-Jonathan Drouin swap and the Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller for Vladislav Namestnikov-plus transaction. He expertly leveraged the market to get Nikita Kucherov to a team-friendly bridge deal before his recent big-money extension, and waited out Steven Stamkos and then signed him to a deal that looks better by the season in comparison to the money paid to top stars.
Everything Yzerman did in Tampa Bay was well received. He did excellent work. And none of this is even to mention the pair of Olympic gold medals as GM of Team Canada. So, yeah, if Yzerman wanted to head to the Flyers, they’d roll out the red carpet. Only problem is there may be another job he has his eye on.