As somebody who has written about the Philadelphia Flyers regularly for nine years now, I sometimes feel like covering trade deadlines and drafts and free agency periods gives me a bout of whiplash.
Consider what these events were like under Paul Holmgren. They were franchise-altering nearly every time, be it a trade for Chris Pronger, or trades of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, or a Shea Weber offer sheet, or any other number of big moves.
But under Ron Hextall, that has dramatically changed — hence the whiplash. Sure, Hextall has made some big moves: a coaching change, he dumped the Pronger contract on the Coyotes, he dumped Zac Rinaldo on Boston. Stuff like that. But trade deadlines and free agency periods have been quite dull under Hextall as the team’s construction has moved to an internal, draft-based formula.
We’re still seeing the fruits of that with Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov and other young players still growing in the AHL or juniors. It will likely be a few more seasons until Hextall’s grand plan reaches its zenith.
So, don’t really expect to see much movement at this deadline. Not movement that involves key pieces or key prospects, at least. Here’s Bob McKenzie, speaking last week on NBCSN (via Chris Nichols):
“I don’t think the Flyers are likely to make big moves between now and the deadline,” predicted McKenzie. “I think Ron Hextall, the general manager in Philadelphia, has charted a course for this team. He wants to build through youth and get that going.
“Now, if you start looking as they get close to the deadline – are they in the playoffs, are they out of the playoffs. They do have a bunch of guys on expiring contracts. On defense you’ve got Streit, you’ve got Del Zotto, you’re got Schultz. Up front, Bellemare and Vandevelde. But, you don’t want to just throw the season away.
The moves we should expect from the Flyers — or at least attempted moves, whether they get done or not — are around the edges. At it’s most exciting, this deadling will be something like we saw at the 2015 deadline when Hextall moved Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen in trades. Getting things in return for guys like Mark Streit or Michael Del Zotto, who likely aren’t coming back next year anyhow, will probably be something Hextall attempts to do.
And if one of those defenseman does leave town at the deadline, the Flyers do have options in the AHL, as McKenzie went on to note. Maybe they don’t call up Travis Sanheim since he’s an AHL rookie, but it’s believed that at least a player or two could be called up in a pinch should other roster moves necessitate it. The same applies to moving a bottom-six forward; there are certainly guys like Taylor Leier who could come up and help Philadelphia in the event of another move.
But that’s why the next few weeks are particularly interesting with regards to the Flyers playoff hopes. As of this point in the season, the Flyers have played like a cusp playoff team. They’re pretty middle of the road. If they completely tank in the next month, that makes Hextall’s job easy. If they surge, that also makes his job easy.
The most likely scenario is that they’ll be right where they’ve been all season, though: on the playoff bubble, with a small point gap between making the postseason and missing. And much like last year at the deadline that makes Hextall’s decisions a bit harder: does he try to move contributing pieces, or does he keep the roster together for the stretch run?
Then there’s the AHL factor. The Phantoms are trying to win a Calder Cup and as one of the best teams in the AHL this year -- feels weird saying that — very easily could. Obviously the Flyers take precedence, but given that Hextall probably doesn’t want to rush Sanheim or Samuel Morin or Robert Hagg into the NHL anyway, maybe he’d make the decision that the middling draft pick he’d get in return for a Streit or a Del Zotto just isn’t worth both rushing a kid up and hurting the AHL squad’s chances at a Cup run.
Regardless of what Hextall’s mindset ultimately becomes on that topic, there’s likely not to be a major move at the 2017 trade deadline. Par for the course these days. What a brave new world we live in.