Another year, another trade deadline, and yet again the Flyers won’t be able to find the ultimate solution to their problems.
It seems that ever since Chris Pronger began his non-official retirement (and even before then), the defensive woes of the Flyers have been the topic of conversation before big movement days like the trade deadline or the first day of free agency. And year after year, they’ve failed to deliver the goods, although not for lack of trying.
This year’s trade deadline will probably be more of the same.
For the past two seasons, the Flyers have lacked game-changing play on defense, something that has hindered their ability to perform well (or even at all) in the playoffs. Right now, their undisputed best blue liner is Kimmo Timonen, who, despite being rather aged, still largely drives possession for the team. Timonen is great, but I don’t think anyone out there would argue that he is a real game changer on the level of Chris Pronger or Shea Weber.
The rest of the Flyers defense is largely underwhelming. Braydon Coburn plays a decent game, particularly when paired with Timonen, but I seriously doubt anyone outside the Philadelphia market would recognize any of the other names in the defensive corps. They’ve tried to add a coveted defenseman in the recent past (see: Shea Weber offer sheet) and have been burned every time.
This year, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that a game-changing D man is on the top of the Flyers’ wish list going into the trade deadline. Spoiler alert: they’re not going to get it.
The good news, however, is that for the first time in recent memory, the Flyers probably aren’t looking to improve goaltending. Steve Mason has been nothing but solid all year, and even earned himself a nice little contract extension. Would the Flyers pick up a guy like Ryan Miller if it meant giving up little in return? Obviously. But I think it’s safe to say that they won’t be making any push to trade away assets to gain marginal improvement in net.
As for the forward corps, the Flyers seem set. They’re skating three formidable lines right now, and any addition would probably mess with the current chemistry a bit too much. Even their fourth line of Michael Raffl, Adam Hall, and Zac Rinaldo doesn’t need much improvement. Sure, they probably wouldn’t mind getting a better player in the mix down there, but why give anything up for a skilled player that will see severely limited ice time?
With two out of three areas more or less solid, the need for the Flyers to be active with working the phones is diminished compared to prior seasons’ deadlines. Regardless, we all know that the Flyers management is not shy when it comes to making trades. Couple that with the fact that they are currently right on the cusp of making the playoffs, and it’s not hard to imagine a trade or two happening in the coming weeks.
Before we delve into who and what the Flyers might want, let’s first take a look at who they probably wouldn’t mind sending away.
When the Flyers picked up Lecavalier this past summer, it seemed like a decent deal — they were able to find a cheaper and statistically superior player to fill the hole left by the departed Daniel Briere. But while the Flyers had high hopes for Lecavalier, he has been largely a disappointment.
As my colleagues at Broad Street Hockey have pointed out, Lecavalier is an absolute train wreck — he can’t buy a goal, is terrible at driving possession, and reduces the performance of whomever he’s skating with.
Now when you take a step back and look at Lecavalier beyond this current season, he’s certainly not a bad player. The Flyers could very well just chalk this season up as an aberration that’s most likely being driven by lingering injuries. And perhaps his performance could pick up in the future, so why send him packing?
The real problem with Lecavalier is that he simply doesn’t fit anywhere in the line up. As it stands, the Flyers are too deep at center, particularly with guys that don’t perform as well on the wing. Coach Craig Berube has tried putting Laviolette on multiple lines — playing the wing with Giroux or Courturier, or centering the second line — and nothing seems to click. Maybe he’d work well on the fourth line (and make it pretty scary), but I’m sure Ed Snider is loathe to the idea of paying a guy $4.5 million to play such a limited role. Honestly, Lecavalier could leave today and probably only improve the Flyers situation.
That being said, it would be hard to find any buyers. Lecavalier is on the first year of a five-year deal and his stock is pretty low right now. I can’t imagine that any teams scouting the Flyers are inquiring about him, even if they could nab him for pretty much nothing.
Regardless, if a GM comes knocking and asks for a veteran center with proven playoff success, the Flyers just might be able to pull it off.
Nicklas Grossmann has been terrible lately. Similar to Lecavalier, he is one of those players that reduces the effectiveness of his teammates every time he sets foot on the ice. Worse yet, his presence and relatively hefty salary has kept him in the line up despite having Erik Gustafsson waiting in the wings. The long and short of it is that since picking him up from the Dallas Stars, Grossmann has been a huge disappointment.
The difference between Grossmann and Lecavalier is that the Flyers might have an easier time finding a taker for the Swedish defenseman. He makes $3.5 million a season — pricey compared to what younger guys on entry-level contracts make — but not so out of line with the salary of a veteran player.
He’s consistently among the leaders for hits and blocked shots, so teams looking to add a little grit might find him attractive. In the advanced stats hockey world, people tend to look down on these metrics as largely misleading, but NHL teams are kind of Luddites when it comes to looking at alternative measures. This might help the Flyers unload a guy that, once you dig into the data, is a pretty disappointing player.
Neither Grossmann nor Lecavalier’s name has popped up in the rumor mill — I’m simply saying the Flyers should try to move them. Andrej Meszaros, however, has been talked about as a potential target of opposing teams.
Meszaros has seen a bit of time in the press box this season in favour of Erik Gustafsson, and it’s unclear how the coaching staff really feels about him. He’s been mentioned as potential trade fodder since the summer, and it’s entirely possible that he could wind up on a team needing depth at defense like the Boston Bruins.
When he’s played he’s been decent enough, but nothing earth shattering. If the Flyers can get a decent enough return (probably not much more than a third round pick), they might not be able to pass up a deal.
His appearance on this list is more or less based on the fact that the Flyers have a number of 6th and 7th defenseman. While Hal Gill might be a better option for a trade (he’s seen pretty much no ice time this season), it’s unlikely that any team would want to take him, particularly considering there’s little evidence of whether or not he can play well anymore. Given that, if the Flyers are looking to shed some of their lower-level defenseman, Meszaros may be the most realistic option.
Of course, all of the players listed above are just ones that the Flyers would probably ideally like to move. That doesn’t mean that GM Paul Holmgren wouldn’t be willing to part with other players to get what he feels is a fair return. I suspect that as long as a lucrative deal comes by, they’d be willing to part with anyone not named Claude Giroux.
It’s a little harder to tell whom exactly the Flyers might be looking to add. It’s pretty clear what they’d like to get (i.e. a stud defenseman), but talking about that would largely be an academic exercise. Rarely do big impact trades get made at the deadline, so looking at more reasonable options is probably best.
There’s been relatively little chatter about the Flyers on the trade front (beyond your typical speculative Bleacher Report articles). Trusted sources like Bob McKenzie really haven’t had much to say in recent weeks, and not being an “insider” myself, I feel putting together a comprehensive list would be feckless.
That being said, we can still go ahead with some degree of informed speculation. Looking at the usual spots (like pending free agents), it just doesn’t seem like that is going to happen. The only top tier defenseman who is set to be a free agent is Dan Girardi, but given that he plays for the New York Rangers, I think it’s safe to say that’s not going to happen.
There was a little talk a while back about the Flyers showing interest in Carolina’s Ron Hainsey. Hainsey has had a pretty good season in Carolina after some sub-par bids in Winnipeg. He faces relatively tough competition every night, yet is still able to come out on the positive side in the possession game. I can’t imagine that if his name came up, the Flyers wouldn’t at least try to get something done.
Hainsey’s appeal is pretty much directly tied to what his price would be. We all know that when the trade deadline comes around, defensemen are highly coveted, which drives up the asking price from selling teams. Hainsey could potentially garner a first round pick (more has been given for less in the past), and if that’s the asking price, the Flyers might pass. If they could get him for a later round pick or some package of mid-level prospects, that could prove to be too enticing to pass up.
Of course, beyond Hainsey, another option might be the someone from the perennial flood of available 6th and 7th defensemen. Rather than going through a comprehensive list, I’ll just come out and say the Flyers probably won’t show any interest in them. They already have perfectly capable third-pairing guys regularly sitting in the press box, so adding anything here would be unnecessary and potentially damaging if it cost too much.
The thing to take away here is that the Flyers face limited options to improve the team mid-season both in terms of who they would realistically offer and who they could realistically grab.
I suppose there is a small chance that a blockbuster trade could happen — the kind that the Flyers kind of need — but I’m not holding my breath. And unless they can make something big happen, the best strategy might be to stay pat.