The end of February can only mean one thing for hockey fans -- the NHL trade deadline is almost upon us. Always the busiest transaction day during the regular season, the trade deadline is a time for contenders to load up for their upcoming playoff runs, while teams out of the race can jettison players on expiring contracts or veterans no longer part of their organizations' long term plans.
For the Philadelphia Flyers, it's decision time. The team is still in the playoff race, five points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. At the same time, Philadelphia is in something of a reloading phase, as they restructure their defense around talented youngsters while trying to move veterans signed to bad contracts.
On Sunday, general manager Ron Hextall clarified which direction he plans to take the team at the deadline.
"We're not looking to add a player who is a rental," [Hextall] said. "That is not going to happen. We're not going to mortgage part of our future to try to push to make the playoffs. We feel comfortable we have enough depth now to make a run."
It certainly does not sound like the Flyers will be buyers. But will they sell any of their talent? Hextall notes that he is comfortable with the team's depth, but tellingly does not rule out the possibility of using some of that depth to add future assets.
But what players could be shipped out at the deadline, if Hextall chooses to go that route? Truthfully, almost half of the Flyers' roster could be considered realistic trade candidates. If a player is not part of Hextall's long-term plan, he could be expendable at the deadline. That could be due to age, contract status, or an inability to impress the current coaching staff.
Let's take a look at the players most likely to come up in trade talks over the next week, and evaluate whether moving each player is feasible, or even a good idea at all. We start today with Ryan White and will run through the rest between now and deadline day.
Should the Flyers try to trade him?
Ryan White earned himself a one-year, $800,000 contract in the 2015 offseason due to a solid stretch of 34 games in the 2014-15 season, during which he scored at a strong rate and posted positive on-ice shot differentials. This year has been a different story. He does have a career-high seven goals on the season, but his puck possession statistics (-4.63% Corsi Relative) have dropped off a cliff. In addition, he's been one of the team's worst players in the neutral zone.
Still, high-character fourth liners are often moved at the deadline, as contenders look to add depth in anticipation of a possible extended playoff run. With the counting stats looking strong for White, the Flyers should definitely try to turn him into a draft pick before his contract expires at the end of the season. They have more than enough players in the minors -- Taylor Leier the most obvious -- that could quickly replace him on the fourth line.
Will the Flyers try to trade him? And if so, will they succeed?
White seems like the safest bet to be moved over the next week. He's almost certainly not an essential piece of Philadelphia's long-term future, his cheap contract expires at the end of the season, and he's the type of gritty fourth line role player that contenders love to add on the cheap.
The only way that White doesn't get moved is if head coach Dave Hakstol truly believes that the Pierre-Edouard Bellemare line is imperative to the team's success over the remainder of the season. But if Philadelphia puts him on the market, they'll likely find a taker, even if the return is underwhelming.