It seems like every year the Flyers find themselves in the same position when the NHL trade deadline arrives, stuck somewhere between being a sure-fire buyer and no-doubt seller. And that’s never an easy place to be for a general manager, trying to navigate between potential short-term additions while also attempting to maximize your team’s long-term outlook.
It’s why, in recent years, the Flyers have been relatively quiet on deadline day, not wanting to shake up the future for a possible run at the Stanley Cup, largely because the types of additions needed to get them to the next level would’ve cost way too much. Last year it seemed to work out well for the Flyers, who went on a post-deadline tear and rapidly climbed the standings before play was abruptly halted by the pandemic.
That ultimately turned out to be fool’s gold, as the Flyers were bounced from the bubble playoffs in the second round. And after getting out to a hot start this season, they have failed to return to the level of play that earned them the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs last year.
The Flyers (18-14-5, 41 points) are currently three points behind the Bruins for the fourth and final playoff spot in the newly-constructed East Division, and can cut that deficit to one point with a win on Tuesday night. But after a rough March that saw his team go just 6-10-1 and fall completely out of the playoffs, Chuck Fletcher will again need to decide whether his team should be a buyer at the deadline.
So far, that seems like the plan.
“We’re certainly not looking at selling right now,” Fletcher said back on March 24. “I would say to you, in my calls with managers around the league, first of all, I have received very few calls. It’s been really quiet in terms of receiving calls. I’ve made many. I’ve been much more aggressive, I think, than a lot of people just looking at different options. There doesn’t seem to be many teams out there willing to take on dollars or term at this point in time. There seem to be more teams that are looking to move some pieces and take on pieces just for various reasons. We’ll take a look. Anything we do, we want to make sure it make sense. If we can fill a box for the long-term right now, we can potentially explore that. Certainly, if we can upgrade our team, we’ll do that.”
Since those quotes, however, the Flyers made the surprising decision to waive Shayne Gostisbehere (he cleared, was placed on the taxi squad, and has since returned). They’ve also had other players’ names pop up in trade rumors as the Flyers remain on the outside of the playoffs looking in.
In other words, anything is in play for the Flyers between now and Monday at 3 p.m. when the deadline passes. Later this week we’ll look at who the Flyers could sell if things go south quickly and Fletcher changes his tune, but for now let’s take a look at some of their options if they indeed decide to be buyers…
Adding a defenseman
This has been the biggest need for the Flyers for pretty much the entire season, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who follows the team closely. No one could’ve predicted just how much they would be missing the play of Matt Niskanen, but after his offseason retirement, the Flyers have been left with a massive void at the blue line, one that’s trickled down to the lower lines as well.
Now, Fletcher has the opportunity to address the position, which is almost a necessity if the team plans on making the playoffs at all, let alone making some noise once they do. According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman on his latest 31 Thoughts Podcast, the Flyers are looking for someone to pair alongside Ivan Provorov and are finding out that top-pair defensemen don’t come cheap.
“I think Fletcher is going to be careful, I think he’s going to take his time. I do think that they look at it now, that they have to solve their Provorov partner issue…I think they’re looking for another right hand-shot ‘D’.
“Is it David Savard? Is there another right hand-shot ‘D’ available? We know that they were interested in [Mattias] Ekholm, but I don’t think they were interested in paying that price.” [via broadstreethockey.com]
Both Savard, who is the top player listed on TSN’s trade bait list, and Ekholm (No. 10 on the list) have been mentioned in the same sentence as the Flyers several times in the run up to the deadline, but would either be the right fit for this team given that both are expensive rentals — and neither hardly guarantees a deep playoff run without the Flyers likely addressing other concerns as well?
Here’s more on both players from Broad Street Hockey’s Drew Meyer, who correctly points out that just because Fletcher balked at the original asking price for Ekholm doesn’t mean that they’re out on the soon-to-be 31-year-old defenseman. After all, people say a lot of things in the lead up to the deadline, and *gasp* some of it might not be 100% truthful…
David Savard, RD, Columbus
Savard would possibly fill the need defensively that the Flyers desperately have. However, there are simply better options out there that will appear later on this list. Savard isn’t a bad defenseman, but the Flyers aren’t on a Cup run, and Savard strikes as more a supplemental piece to add.
According to our good friends at capfriendly.com, the Flyers are estimated to have $4,136,212 worth of cap space by deadline day. Taking magical mysterious cap tricks out of the picture, if the Flyers end up giving salary in return, or if Columbus retain some salary, Savard’s $4.25 million cap hit will be no problem for them. However, he would need to be re-signed and for the calibre of player it is simply not worth it.
Mattias Ekholm, LD, Nashville
[…] We’ve talked a lot about Ekholm since he has been so heavily linked to the Flyers. However, he has dropped down considerably on the trade bait tracker, perhaps suggesting the Predators are less open to trading him than previously suspected. Elliotte Friedman also offered up that the Flyers were not “interested in paying that price” for Ekholm.
A deal could very well still happen for Ekholm, and it makes sense from all sorts of perspectives (more so than Savard). However, it is not set in stone. [broadstreethockey.com]
Those are hardly the only two options for the Flyers. In fact, Ekholm isn’t even the only option on the Predators for Fletcher and Co.
Over at The Athletic, Charlie O’Connor took a look at both of those aforementioned players, plus a slew of others, including Ryan Ellis, who, unlike Ekholm, wouldn’t be a rental. In fact, he’d be quite the opposite. And that’s going to cost the Flyers or any other team that tries to acquire him. Here’s more from Charlie…
Ryan Ellis – Nashville (RHD)
Overview: The Ellis idea is one that has been floated by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman in particular, and it makes sense. Ellis is far from an Ekholm clone, but he brings a lot of the same positives to the table — two-way acumen, experience in a top-pair role, stellar underlying metrics — but also comes with the benefit of being righthanded and under contract at a reasonable cap hit ($6.25 million) for the next six seasons. Right now, Ellis is week to week with an upper-body injury, so a team wouldn’t be bringing him in to save their 2020-21 season. It would be a move focused on the future, and solidifying their top-pair for years to come. […]
The fit in Philly: Ellis would immediately step in as the long-term Niskanen replacement, with injuries and age the only real concerns. Unlike with Ekholm, there’d be no concern regarding looming contract negotiations (Ekholm’s current deal expires in 2022), nor any worries about whether he is suited to play (in Ellis’ case) his natural right-side on the top-pair with Provorov. As with Ekholm, the extra expansion draft cost would be a factor, as is the fact that Nashville has no obligation to trade away one of their best players. [theathletic.com]
As for the cost on Ellis (who is also 30), Charlie says, “Think Ekholm, but even higher.” If the Flyers were hesitant to pay the price for the Ekholm, then it would stand to reason they don’t want to pay for Ellis either, but there is definitely some interest there.
As for other, potentially less expensive options on defense, I highly recommend checking out Charlie’s full story over at The Athletic, where he lists more defensemen than I could even count.
Given the Flyers’ current place in the standings and Fletcher’s history of not going on a spending spree simply for the sake of shaking things up, the safer bet here is that if the Flyers do add blue-line help at the deadline, it will be players on much more reasonable prices. The only exception would be acquiring a guy like Ellis, who they would view as a long-term staple next to Provorov.
Adding goalie depth
While an upgrade on defense is clearly the biggest need for a group that has allowed four or more goals in 11 of 19 games since the start of March, there are other areas in which this team could use some help, the first being between the pipes.
The struggles of Carter Hart have been well publicized this season, especially after the young goalie was recently given a few days off to get his head right. He looked better in his first game back, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Islanders, but that doesn’t mean the Flyers couldn’t still use some help at the position, whether that’s as a depth move or as way to give Hart an even longer break should he regress moving forward — he’ll return to the ice on Tuesday night when he faces the Bruins.
That’s precisely what Pierre LeBrun of TSN and The Athletic reported last week, when he said that the Flyers were discussing adding a goalie.
“My understanding is that the Flyers’ front office is having that discussion internally: Do they go out and get goaltending help before the April 12 trade deadline, allow Carter Hart to have a bit of a reset, work on his game?” LeBrun said on a TSN Insider Trading segment last Tuesday night. “Brian Elliott’s been a pro but he might need help. But on the flip side, what does that do to Carter Hart if you do that? So there’s pros and cons to all of this, and that’s what I believe they’re discussing.”
So who could they be targeting? How about veteran Jonathan Bernier? Here’s more from NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jordan Hall…
LeBrun mentioned how the Flyers’ next seven games before the deadline will carry a lot of weight with the decision because the team needs to stay in the hunt for it to possibly happen. If the club does decide to pursue a goalie at the deadline, LeBrun said he believes Jonathan Bernier is “on the radar of the Flyers.”
Bernier is a 32-year-old veteran who can become an unrestricted free agent after the season. He’s 8-6-0 with a 2.78 goals-against average and .918 save percentage in 17 games for the Red Wings this season. [nbcsports.com]
These next few games, starting Tuesday against Boston, are going to be crucial for the Flyers in this regard. If they feel like Hart has fixed himself, then they would be foolish to go out and add goaltending help. But if they think a longer break might serve the 22-year-old netminder better, adding depth becomes almost a necessity as over-working Brian Elliott, who turns 36 this week, would be begging for injury.
The Flyers will also need to be careful how any move like this would sit with Hart, and whether or not they’d be risking further damage to a goalie they should be doing everything in their power to try to fix.
The early returns for Hart have been promising, so we’ll have to see how the next week plays out.
There’s one other route Fletcher could go as a deadline buyer — adding some offensive firepower. Currently, the Flyers are in the middle of the pack when it comes to goals for (and are second from last in goals against) so it’s quite obvious that the defense is the bigger issue here.
But hey, if you can’t stop ’em, score on ’em … or something like that.
The hottest name out there at the moment is Sabres winger Taylor Hall, the 2018 NHL MVP and one of the top players on TSN’s trade bait list (No. 3). But would he be a fit for the Flyers? Here’s more from Drew Meyer of Broad Street Hockey…
Now this would be a spicy move. However, it isn’t going to happen. Not that the Flyers wouldn’t be interested in Taylor Hall (just theoretically, in terms of the talent of the player), but that they would try and sign him to a cheaper contract (he has an $8.0 million dollar cap hit) as a free agent considering the season he’s had.
TSN have reported there’s a sense that talks for Hall have escalated, and any team trading for Hall will almost certainly want Buffalo to retain salary (which somewhat alleviates the “cheaper contract” talk). However, the theoretical scenario where the Flyers trade for Hall still has too many “if’s and’s or buts” to make complete sense.
Would Taylor Hall shake up the top six? Yes. But brining him in and shipping out who he’ll replace doesn’t play out at the deadline unless Fletcher brings in a third team to take a current member of the top six (since why would Buffalo want them?). [broadstreethockey.com]
ESPN reported on Tuesday that the Sabres would be keeping Hall out of the lineup until after the deadline, an indication that they’re serious about moving him. And while that report didn’t mention the Flyers as one of the team interested in trading for Hall, him becoming available could take another team out of the running for Devils winger Kyle Palmieri, No. 2 on TSN’s trade bait list, who is also being held out of games in anticipation of being traded.
Both of those players, however, will be free agents after the season, so maybe they’re better fits for offseason upgrades than deadline acquisitions. Given his team’s uncertain outlook the rest of this year, perhaps Fletcher employs more of a wait-and-see strategy and then looks to stock up after the season.
“Maybe not now, but maybe it’s at the draft or in the summer,” Friedman said on his podcast, “I think Philly is going to make one or two major changes.”
It seems like a shakeup is coming. And it’s only a matter of time.
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