Dug up by the Philadelphia scouting department as a soon-to-be 25-year old out of small Bemidji State University, Matt Read has exceeded all reasonable expectations by turning into a useful NHL forward.
He has two 20-goal seasons to his credit, and has been a stalwart on the penalty kill since his rookie year. But with his scoring numbers in decline and two years left on his current contract, is this the right time to move Read?
Should the Flyers try to trade him?
The case for trading Matt Read is straightforward. He's 29 years old going on 30 (past his age-related statistical prime), with two years left of a $3.625 million cap hit on his contract. With his scoring numbers in decline, Read is now overpaid and should be moved now before his performance truly falls off a cliff.
Personally, I don't buy that line of reasoning.
Read is currently on pace for a 14 goal, 14 assist season, a far cry from the first three seasons of his career when he consistently paced towards the 20-goal plateau. But Read's underlying numbers have never been better. He's holding a career-high +4.33% Corsi Relative to his teammates, even though he's spent over half of his even strength ice time away from possession drivers Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier. His strong possession play has been driven by his performance in the neutral zone, where his 53.02% Neutral Zone Score leads all Flyers. He also remains one of the team's better penalty killers.
The scoring numbers may have dropped, but his possession metrics do not hint at a player in dramatic decline. And the market generally doesn't pay for strong Corsi ratings at the deadline -- it pays for high point totals. Trading Read now would be selling low on a player who provides value in ways that the market tends to overlook. The Flyers would essentially be undervaluing their own asset.
In addition, I have trouble accepting the "Read is vastly overpaid" argument as well. I'll admit that if Read is now just a 30 point true talent scorer who adds solid two-way play, you'd like to have him at around a $3.0 million cap hit. But let's say the Flyers trade Read. Who are they adding to replace his skillset? This is already a team with a distinct lack of obvious top-nine forward talents, with only Travis Konecny a close-to-sure-thing in the prospect pipeline. If you're Ron Hextall, do you really want to roll the dice and hope that you can sign a Darren Helm, Frans Nielsen or Teddy Purcell to a contract more team-friendly than the two years and $7.25 million left on Read's deal? It's a definite risk.
Unless a team is willing to give up a very attractive package (think one centered around a first round pick), I believe Read provides more on-ice value to the Flyers than a trade would bring back.
Will the Flyers try to trade him? And if so, will they succeed?
Despite Read's fantastic underlying numbers, Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol has been occasionally frustrated with the forward's play. Read has been a healthy scratch in three games, and while those decisions were always questionable, they hint that Philadelphia may view Read as expendable.
I'm sure Ron Hextall has not ruled out the possibility of trading Matt Read. But I believe he also expects that the Flyers will be dramatically improved over the next two seasons, and Read is signed for both of those years at a cap hit that does not break the bank. For a team with forward depth issues, it's tough to see Read being moved unless he's a secondary piece in a trade that brings back a young, talented scorer. Hextall simply cannot afford to move top-nine forwards for draft picks like he can with the team's veteran defensemen -- the Flyers just do not have enough high-end talent in the pipeline with the ability to immediately jump in and replace him.
But if Hextall did choose to cut bait with Read and move him for picks, I'm not even certain he'd find a taker. Most of the advanced stat-friendly squads are either far from being contenders (Toronto, Carolina) and probably not looking to add at the deadline, or slammed up against the cap ceiling both now and in the future (Chicago, Los Angeles). Those would be the teams most interested in a player like Read. More old-school front offices would likely blanch at the remaining two seasons left on Read's deal after glancing at his declining scoring rates.
Read could certainly get moved. But it would take a perfect storm of perceptions and outcomes for a deal to come to fruition.