So the NHL trade deadline is rapidly approaching, and the rumors are swirling around the Flyers as always. Some make sense, like the interest in Eric Cole; some don't, like supposed interest in Nabokov. The question becomes, basically, what should the team really target at the deadline and what could they give up in return? Does it even make sense to mess with the squad that is atop the NHL standings? And should Holmgren go all-out for winning the Cup this year to the possible detriment of the salary cap for next season?
First, let's consider the starting point of any discussion - should the Flyers be looking to make any moves at all, considering where they are in the season so far? It may seem silly to play around with what has been a winning combination through the first half of the season. With 71 points out of a possible 100, the team is flying high (if you'll excuse the mild pun) and their +44 goal-differential ties them with Vancouver for best in the league (not to mention a league-leading 174 goals scored). There are three lines scoring for the team and one making good use of fourth-line ice-time, three effective defensive pairings splitting time nearly evenly, and two goalies with save=percentages above .900 and GAA below 2.50. All this would certainly seem to argue against doing ANYTHING at the trade deadline.
But the elephant in the room is the salary cap, and its effect on next season. Sure, the Flyers could stand pat, and be favorites to run to the Finals again this season ... but then what happens next year? Zherdev, Boucher, O'Donnell and Leino are UFAs; Carcillo, Powe, Nodl and Syvret are RFAs. Surely, Leino deserves a decent raise - the current rumored number is about $2.3 million a season (an increase of $1.5 million), and I wouldn't be surprised if he could command somewhere closer to $3 million on the open market. Powe has consistently played his role - he leads the team in hits, he blocks shots and plays on the penalty kill, and he's relatively inexpensive at an RFA qualifying offer of about $800,000 (assuming no one else makes him an offer). O'Donnell looks to be slowing down, but has been pretty steady - I believe he'll need to be reconsidered at the end of the season for wear-and-tear, and I doubt most other teams would be interested in taking him on in a trade. Nodl has his moments, but I have the sense that this is his year to prove himself with the organization- otherwise he may get got, so to speak. Zherdev and Carcillo have been in Coach Laviolette's doghouse ot various times this season. Zherdev looks to be putting his best foot forward in the last couple games, but he's done that before and then regressed to playing lazy selfish hockey. Hard to argue with his puck-handling ability, and he is scoring goals. Carcillo looks like a guy who doesn't know what to do with himself. He's frustrated when he sits out, and once he gets the ice time he rushes around like a dervish trying desperately to win the coach's favor ... at times to his and the team's detriment. Boucher has been a class act, and given good efforts in goal ... but I think he'll be a victim of simple numbers next season. Leighton is already signed, as is Backlund, so barring a move there's already 3 goalies with NHL contracts for next year without Boosh.
Therefore, there's a few points to consider from all that. One, the team needs to clear cap space in order to give some raises out (Leino and Powe for sure). Two, there are a few forwards who have value, but their contract status may make them expendable (Carcillo, Nodl, Zherdev). Three, extending that train of thought, the Flyers have a need at wing more so than any other position, especially considering the multiple-goalie situation and the seven defensemen already under contract for next year. And four, moving certain players would certainly upset the team chemistry more than others or put next season in jeopardy.
So, who on the team is readily available to trade? Obviously, players that have minimal impact on the team would be first on that list, and all the better if they have salary numbers to move with them. Walker, Leighton, Bartulis, and Backlund lead that list. None are playing for the squad now, and each has an NHL contract. Moving a goalie also relieves some of the overstock at that position - as would cleaning the cupboard on defensemen. Next preference to my mind would be moving a peripheral player; someone who has a role but can easily be replaced. Shelley, Carcillo, Nodl, and possibly O'Donnell fit that mold. Each could be moved, and someone else could hop right in and take their spot in the roster without much change. Last choice for a tradeable player would be someone who is an important player, but whose salary doesn't fit in the team's plans for next season and can attract quality less-expensive players in return. For this category, I suggest Meszaros and Hartnell - but in both cases, the return would need to be significant and cost-effective. It is also worth noting that the Phantoms are pretty devoid of quality options to sweeten a deal.
Now, if we agree that the priority for acquisition is a winger (or even two), who should the team be looking at around the league? We've all heard the rumors about Iginla - but seriously, how do you fit a $7 million cap hit onto the team? That would require some significant house-cleaning, to the point of gutting the Flyers depth. Fuggetabouit. I figure the maximum price-point for an incoming winger's salary is around $3 million a season, and even that is a stretch. So what's around that should look attractive? Below, I list a few options that make me consider the possibilities.
Phoenix has a number of decent-quality wingers for reasonable prices. The Cadillac would of course be Radim Vrbata, who carries a cap hit of $3 million but is a UFA at the end of the season. Getting better return for your dollars would mean looking at Scottie Upshall ($2.25 mil, UFA) and Lee Stempniak ($1.9 mil for one more year). All three are around the 25-30 point mark at this point in the season. I personally think that Upshall would make a GREAT fit in Laviolette's system as well. Also on the Phoenix roster are Taylor Pyatt (only $1 million per for another year) and Peter Prucha ($1.2 mil, UFA). However, their recent success may dissuade them from any fire sale.
Columbus carries two players of interest, but I am unsure they'd part with either. R.J. Umberger has similar numbers to Hartnell, and is slightly cheaper at $3.75 million through 2012. And Jakub Voracek is on his entry-level contract for $1.3 million before RFA status at season's end - but he's a big key to their future, so not likely trade-bait.
Tampa Bay has some nice wingers as well in Sean Bergenheim, Teddy Purcell, and (yeah, him) Steve Downie. (I'm also holding out hope for Simon Gagne to return for a discount next season ...) Bergenheim is at $700k with upcoming UFA status, Purcell has 30 points so far for his $750k salary and RFA looks, and Downie has another year at $1.85 million to go with his 17 assists thus far this season (oh, and 111 penalty minutes also). Again, their recent surge may convince Stevie Yzerman to hold pat for now.
Finally I'll look at Nick Foligno from Ottawa (am I the only one that thinks of the Incredible hulk when I say his name) with 8 goals and 11 assists on the season, another year on his $1.2 million contract, nice size and young at only 23 years old. I'd say he wasn't available - but the Senators suck, so anything is possible.
I'm sure there are many other wingers out there that could play a role in Philly, but dollar-for-dollar and odds-on those are my favorites to join the run to the Cup. I hear all the insistence on getting 'veteran' players for the playoffs - but does a team with Pronger, Richie, Kimmo, and so many other leaders need more veteran 'presence'? I think not; any move should attempt to secure the team beyond this season as well as not negatively impact the fantastic run they're on now. There are several teams with plenty of cap space to play with (NY Islanders, St. Louis, Colorado, and Homer's favorite rape victim, Nashville) so perhaps their lineups deserve more scrutiny as well. All in all, I do have confidence in Holmgren making the right moves for the team .. .and if you doubt that, check the league standings again.