Well, here we sit...the Flyers are below .500, sitting dead last in the Atlantic Division and sit 5 points outside of the playoffs. So the question is, with 18 games left in the season, and with the trade deadline quickly approaching, what in the world do the Flyers do? 5 points in 18 games doesn't seem like that big of a challenge, especially with Toronto being one of the teams they chase. The point being, the Flyers need to decide whether they want to sell off assets now, or buy and take a shot at the playoffs. There's no doubt about it, the Flyers are not playing well right now, so let us go over the two main options and then what I believe the team should do.
Buyers: The Flyers should go get a big scorer or defenseman
People tend to blame the defense on the Flyers struggles, and don't get me wrong they aren't playing top notch, but the main problem with the Flyers defense lies in the 3rd pair of defensemen. Now normally you would have a couple of kids back there, but this team continues to send out old veterans like Bruno Gervais and Kurtis Foster. Not that those guys have played terribly, but you would rather have an Erik Gustafsson or Marc-Andre Bourdon back there. Andrej Meszaros has been abismal since returning, but at least he has been able to supply his big shot from the blue line on the Power Play. Normally you don't hear much about the 3rd pair from other teams? why is that? not because they're that much better than the Flyers, but when that 3rd pair messes up, then the goaltender is always there to back them up. So this brings us to Ilya Bryzgalov, who has done well at times this season...and badly at times. Bryzgalov's problem is that pure and simple he's a system goalie, if the defense is able to bail him out of every situation by blocking shots, getting rebounds out, and only allowing straight on shots, he's your guy. The more I watch Bryz I see that he is incredibly slow from post to post, struggles on deflections and screens, and on the same note as slow post to post, the 5 hole is ALWAYS open when he has to move, and it is abused, he just can't close his legs fast enough. Is Bryzgalov the only problem? no, that's where the trade comes in. The Flyers could pick up a big defenseman like Jay Bouwmeester or Dustin Byfuglien, but how much would that really help? those two defensemen are strictly offensive defensemen and won't help the goalie out much, but will help a struggling offense that usually bails out the defense which lets in a ton of goals. Some of the targets that the Flyers have been linked to are as follows.
Jay Bouwmeester: Will certainly help out the Flyers offense with that big shot from the point and passing ability, but is weak and struggles in his own zone, not exactly the kind of player we need on the Flyers.
Dustin Byfuglien: Fans may get excited about this one, but here's the thing, Byfuglien has a wicked shot and can destroy players with his hits, but his constant pinching and attempts to play forward despite being a defenseman now allows for a lot of odd man rushes and breakaways, not something you want your shaky goaltender to handle
Those are the main two targets for the Flyers if they choose to add a player at the deadline, the ones they have been linked to of course. The Flyers have yet to put defenseman Chris Pronger on LTIR and will have some cap space to work with if they so choose, the team has already acquired Simon Gagne to help the offense, and he certainly has, but the team as a whole needs to play better, a lot of that could be because of the rough schedule and Laviolettes fast paced system, but we will see about that come Sunday when the Flyers play again.
Plan B: ABORT! ABORT!
Plan B for the Flyers is one us fans are not familiar with at all...dumping valuable assets for young players and draft picks. Some worthwhile trades for the Flyers could be the likes of Nicklas Grossmann, Daniel Briere, and Max Talbot. Talbot has been linked to the Penguins to return while many have speculated a trade of Danny Briere before he becomes a free agent where the Flyers certainly won't resign him given his power output lately and tendency to wait until the playoffs to finally start to score again. How much could the Flyers get for any of these players? not likely a lot, so this plan doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, why not just go for the playoffs instead of cutting off important players you might lose anyway for next to nothing? I highly doubt that the Flyers will become sellers, the team will always fight, but that possibility looms as the Flyers continue to scrape the bottom of the league.
What I believe the Flyers should do: Add a small piece now for a possible run, look to the future in the offseason
There is one player that I have been begging to see a rumor for the Flyers going after, that is Islanders Defenseman Mark Streit. Rumors have him up for sale and the Flyers could use his presence, not as a top defenseman, but as a veteran with great power play ability, very solid defense and awareness. The team could use a guy like him at the price he comes. Adding a player like that could help the team make a run, and the team could also look to acquire a goaltender to back up Bryz, with Leighton having 0 confidence from the coaching staff, someone like Jose Theodore or Ray Emery, someone the team could use then toss to the side or mentor a new young goaltender they may acquire. Which brings me to looking to the future, I highly doubt that the team will bring Ilya Bryzgalov back for a 3rd year and lose a chance to get that bad, bad contract off the books. After the trade of Sergei Bobrovsky, the Flyers have no great young goaltenders in the system, so basically...they need one. Luckily, there are plenty of options on the trade market, the Canucks are looking to trade a goaltender, and it seems as if they have given up trying to deal Luongo's massive contract, so they may, instead of cutting Luongo for nothing, trade Cory Schneider, if he becomes available the Flyers should not waste time giving him an offer, he's one of the best young goaltenders in the league. Another stellar young goaltender on the market is Jonathan Bernier of the LA Kings, who the Flyers have become good friends with lately. The problem is, both of these teams are going to want a lot in return for these great goaltenders, Brayden Schenn isn't going anywhere so it looks like on the chopping block is stud defensive forward Sean Couturier. Don't get me wrong, I do love Couturiers game, but there is a reason he has been doghoused lately, he has been sophomore slumping in a big way. Not even his defense is very good right now, and the problem is with Schenn and Giroux on this team, and Scott Laughton coming up through the ranks, with Coots not being one to play on the wing, could be expendable. Now if the Flyers continue to say no no no on Couturier, there are some cheaper options in the form of Robin Lehner and Ben Bishop from Ottawa. The Senators have 2 great young goaltenders along with Craig Anderson, so they're in a perfect position to cash in, either of them would be great in orange and black.
Bottom line is, the season is not over, The Flyers have to chase down the likes of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and only have to jump the likes of the Islanders and the hard struggling Devils. For the first time in years the Flyers could miss the playoffs, and one could write a novel about all the problems the team is having, but the season re-starts Sunday after a big break, so we shall see what happens next.
Good Night. Good Hockey. Go Flyers.