So the offseason's here. If it hadn't arrived yet, it did this past weekend, when Bob McKenzie dropped along a pair of tweets that officially gave us something to look out for this offseason. Travis talked in that post about what the possible implications of an Ilya Bryzgalov buyout would be, but let's briefly move to the other part of the discussion: the possibility of moving a young center for defensive help.
Here's what Bobby Mac said, if you missed it:
Also, PHI is in market for D and may be willing to move one of their young centres - B Schenn or Couturier - for the right deal.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 8, 2013
As much as we (and Paul Holmgren) love Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier, this isn't exactly news, is it? We know the Flyers are looking to improve their blue line, and those two (in whatever order) are far and away the most valuable trade chips that the Flyers have to offer. You've gotta give value and get value, and when a team has the type of player the Flyers are looking for, they aren't going to settle for anything short of very promising young talent.
So one potential name came up on Sunday: Phoenix defenseman Keith Yandle. Via The Fourth Period:
Holmgren tried to acquire defenseman Keith Yandle last summer, but fell short and the Phoenix Coyotes decided to hold on to him.
This month, the two sides will resume discussions.
It's believed young Flyers centerman Sean Couturier is the main piece in a deal for Yandle, though Brayden Schenn's name has also popped up in discussions.
Coyotes GM Don Maloney has told TFP that he would be willing to trade Yandle if he received a great package in return that included a young star.
Now, acknowledging that these are just rumors, they aren't unprecedented ones. Heck, not only were these talks apparently happening last summer, they were happening last trade deadline.
Travis wrote about it at that time:
That's not to say it wouldn't be nice to add Yandle, but it all depends on price. And by all indications, the price is insane.
Yandle price is steep. Two impact forwards, including someone who can be No.1 centre. Not getting traded unless offer PHO can't refuse.— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) April 3, 2013
Yeah, uh .... no thanks. That essentially means Sean Couturier and Matt Read ... plus more. We've talked in the past about how Couturier is one of the NHL's top defensive forwards, which is just insane at his age. A lot of people in Philadelphia have soured on Coots this season because of his lack of production, but he's still very young, isn't playing in an offensive role and has an impressive junior-level past that indicates he'll break out offensively sooner than later.
Trading him PLUS other pieces for Keith Yandle seems crazy.
That was back in April, and we've got zero reason to think that Phoenix's asking price has changed much. Friedman's reported price from April jives pretty well with TFP saying on Sunday that the Coyotes are looking for a "great package in return that included a young star."
So is Yandle worth that? Almost certainly not, but we can talk about the guy in the meantime. Travis talked about Yandle's skillset in that post from April, but we'll go through it again, as well as how he may fit in this current Flyers blueline.
Yandle's actually very talented as an offensive defenseman. He was fifth in the league in scoring among blueliners in 2013, while being Phoenix's leading scorer -- quite the feat for a defenseman on any team, even the below-average-offensively Coyotes. This wasn't just a one-year thing for him, either; he's been at or above a half-point per game in each of the last four seasons.
He's durable. He's played every single game for the 'Yotes in those last four seasons while logging a lot of ice time -- 17th among all NHL defensemen in total regular-season ice time, and among the 16 players ranked above him, he's scored more on a per-game basis than all but two of them (Duncan Keith and Dan Boyle).
So with Yandle, you pretty much know what you're getting. A lot of minutes (including power play time) and a lot of points. Sounds great, right?
With all that said, Phoenix has been putting him in positions to put those points on the scoreboard for a while now. A quick look at his usage patterns indicates that the Coyotes have generally been having him face below-average players and mostly deploying him in the offensive end, so while he's been putting up points, it's not like he's been doing it against tough opposition. With the exception of the 2010-11 season, he's generally been about as sheltered as a defenseman can be.
Now by itself that doesn't mean he's a bad player or getting lucky or anything. Someone's going to get the easy minutes on a team -- and wouldn't any coach prefer to use those minutes to play guys who have the talent to shred apart the other team's worst players? It's a plan that works if you've got a good defensive shutdown pairing to handle the tough minutes. And in Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Zbynek Michalek, Phoenix had that this past season, enabling them to drop Yandle in the offensive end and wreak havoc.
In a situation like the Flyers' current one, it'd be a bit tougher to tell how he'd fit in. On the one hand, I actually think he'd be an excellent compliment to either Braydon Coburn or Luke Schenn. With both of them being defensively-oriented, stay-at-home-type defensemen, being paired with a puck-moving type like Yandle would enable them to stay in their comfort zone based on their style.
We talked about this idea with Luke Schenn back in May, and the same would likely apply to Coburn, who clearly struggled when asked to take on more of an offense-initiating role this year. Pair one of them with Yandle and the other with Kimmo Timonen and you've actually got two pretty good two-way pairings.
But it still leaves you wondering: how do you go about deploying them? Do you trust one pairing (presumably Timonen's) with the majority of the tough minutes in order to let the other pairing (presumably Yandle's) kill it in the offensive zone? Do you split the tough minutes and hope Yandle can put up points anyways, like he did in his career year in 2010-11? Does Yandle become the de-facto "No. 1 guy" we're looking for, or do you roll the dice without really giving anyone that designation?
Ultimately, I think there'd be some good in a Yandle acquisition. We've seen what he can do, and it's a skillset that the Flyers could certainly use to pair with a guy like Schenn or Coburn and to further improve their already-impressive power play. But even if they acquired him, there's still uncertainty in how they'd go about handling the defense from there. And that's to say nothing about Yandle's $5.25 million salary that the team would need to finagle under the cap, while already housing the most expensive defense in hockey.
He'd help. He'd absolutely help. But the point still remains that the Coyotes are asking the moon for him, and if the Flyers want to give that up -- in a deal that'd almost certainly have to include the Phoenix-born Couturier, as well as likely another forward such as Matt Read and maybe even more -- they need to be as sure at they can be that what they're getting is the answer to this defense's problems. I'm not convinced.