After mining through the Metro for some potential upgrades to the roster, we shift our attention now to the other Eastern Conference division, the Atlantic. The Atlantic division is about to go through some major changes of their own. Four of the top ten picks in the 2018 Draft belong to teams in the Atlantic (Buffalo, Montreal, Ottawa, Detroit), all of which occurring in the first six picks. These teams obviously have plenty of issues to uncover and solve.
Could the Flyers take advantage of those issues? I believe they can!
Statistics courtesy of Corsica.hockey, contract info courtesy of capfriendly.com
The #2 overall pick in the 2014 Draft has had a somewhat tumultuous start to his young career. The 22 year old has found himself playing multiple positions on various lines and hasn’t quite found his niche yet, somewhat similar to the situation we watched unfold with Brayden Schenn in Philadelphia. Like Schenn, Reinhart has increased his production year over year despite the constant shuffling and he’s coming off of his first 25 goal, 50 point season of his career. Unlike Schenn, Reinhart has backed up his production with solid underlying numbers as well. In fact, he lead the Sabres this season in adjusted CF%, adjusted CF% Rel, and was 2nd among players who played all season with the Sabres in adjusted xGF% and adjusted xGF% Rel. So with all this in mind, why would the Sabres be interested in trading the young forward? As mentioned, he hasn’t really found his place in the lineup, and with rising star Casey Mittelstadt set to join the team full-time next season, the Sabres have 3 strong center options in Eichel, O’Reilly and Mittelstadt. If the Sabres feel Reinhart doesn’t really fit their system on the wing, they could look to move his rights as an RFA for a solid return rather than giving him a contract. And with the Flyers looking for stronger depth, Reinhart could be a nice option either at center or wing that can grow with the rest of the developing young core of players.
Lehner has been rumored to be on the move for the past few seasons. The enigmatic goalie hasn’t been the same since his days in Ottawa where he suffered a concussion in 2015. Lehner shows flashes but hasn’t been able to put it all together with the Sabres, and with the net minder set to become an RFA, it’s possible the Sabres decide to move in a different direction. Lehner would be another stop gap and wouldn’t be a true #1 option, but the market for goalies is fairly thin and if the Flyers are looking to change things up a bit in net, Lehner may be on the cheaper side of options out there. I can’t say I’d be overly excited to acquire Lehner, but he is an option nonetheless.
I know, I just explained above how O’Reilly is part of a strong center group in Buffalo and that could be a reason why they could listen to offers for Reinhart. Well, the same logic applies to Mr. O’Reilly. With the Sabres set to take Rasmus Dahlin with the #1 overall pick in this summer’s draft, it’s plausible that the Sabres decide to go young and trade one of their best players in O’Reilly to acquire more young talent. O’Reilly is a strong two-way player who can play both center and wing, so he could slot in nicely in the middle six for the Flyers. He’s also an excellent penalty killer, something the Flyers desperately need, especially with Lappy set to return as PK coach. The big hang up with O’Reilly is the contract. The 27 year old is signed for 5 more years at $7.5M per season. The Flyers could afford him this year, but his contract may complicate things down the road, particularly if he won’t be playing a top 6 role as players like Nolan Patrick and Morgan Frost develop. O’Reilly would also require a substantial return. If, for example, the Flyers are looking for a major shakeup, a deal revolving around O’Reilly and Jake Voracek could be something to consider. Voracek carries a longer contract and higher AAV, but would give the Sabres a true wing player to help players like Jack Eichel and Casey Middelstadt develop. I’m not personally a fan of this idea. Despite his playoff performance this season, Voracek was and has been a key member of this team and in my opinion, is still among the best wing players in hockey. And if the Flyers were to consider trading a player like Voracek, I would hope it would be for a younger player than O’Reilly who can grow with the developing core. It would be a complicated deal but certainly something the Flyers could explore.
The Red Wings are a team I feel the NHL will be circling like vultures this off-season. This is an organization that is shallow in terms of young talent yet strapped for cap with big money tied up into marginal players. One young player that hasn’t quite meshed well in Detroit is Athanasiou. The 23 year old held out this past season for a new contract and ended up settling on a one year deal, setting the stage for another off-season as an RFA this summer. Athanasiou is a speed demon personified and a threat to score on the penalty kill, something the Flyers have severely lacked over the past few seasons. As an RFA the Flyers would need to give him a new contract, but he’s unlikely to command a ton of money and ultimately, the Flyers would have final say given his restricted status. And again, he’s a young player that could grow with this team moving forward. Athanasiou is a name I would keep an eye on this summer, whether he’s moved to the Flyers or not.
#6 Overall 2018 Draft Pick
As previously mentioned, Detroit is in a bind. Their prospect pool is fairly shallow and they don’t have a ton of cap space to improve the roster immediately. In my opinion, if the Flyers were looking to move into the top 10, Detroit at #6 is the highest they could move up without breaking the bank. Detroit may decide to go for quantity over quality at this stage and the Flyers have multiple picks and prospects to offer. To make things more interesting, there may be a deal to be had where the Flyers acquire both #6 AND Athanasiou. Detroit can move on from a player they may have soured on and acquire more young assets to start building a stronger farm system, while the Flyers could land immediate help in the form of Athanasiou and land a player in the draft that maybe fills more of an organizational need and can help them sooner rather than later. Of the options mentioned in this article, I feel the concept of an Athanasiou and #6 overall pick trade proposal is among the most intriguing.
Pacioretty fits the bill as a shoot-first sniper that the Flyers desperately need in their forward group. He’s coming off of a down season, but I think we can all agree that there weren’t many positives coming out of the Canadiens this season. Pacioretty will be going into the final year of his current deal, and at age 29 he’s not exactly young. Combine that with the fact that he likely won’t come cheap and he becomes less attractive than other options I have listed, in my opinion. That said, he’s still a productive forward who can immediately upgrade the team’s depth scoring, so he’s an option worth looking into at the very least.
The Senators are…..well…..oh screw it, they’re a mess. They have a cheap owner who’s tried extremely hard to get a hometown discount from arguably the best defenseman in hockey in Erik Karlsson and needless to say it hasn’t gone well. Due to that, I’d say there’s a greater than not chance they look to shake things up in a major way this off-season. While Karlsson would be fun to talk about, I’m of the mindset that the cost would ultimately be too great. It’s somewhat uncharted territory with respect to Karlsson, as not many of the best defensemen in the sport have become available in the middle of their prime. That said, I do believe there are players to be had from the Sens, starting with left wing Mike Hoffman. Hoffman will be a popular name this off-season and I believe the Flyers should strongly consider making a move for him. He brings speed and a shoot-first mentality, two qualities of which the Flyers are severely lacking on their roster. His goal totals have declined the past 2 seasons, but he hasn’t had much help and his overall production has stayed in the 55+ point range. Furthermore, he’d be a great addition to the 2nd power play unit, which we all know has struggled mightily for years. Hoffman would be more than a rental, as he has 2 years remaining at an AAV just under $5.2 million. Hoffman was apparently a player Hextall kicked tires on this past season and I would love to see him revisit the proposal.
Another Sens player I believe should be on Hextall’s radar is Mark Stone. Stone is a strong two-way winger who does most of his damage at even strength. What he lacks in footspeed, he makes up for in hockey IQ and craftiness. As a soon-to-be 26 year old, he will start the off-season as an RFA and given the Sens frugality as an organization, I wouldn’t be surprised if they tested the market for the right winger. An offer sheet is an option given his RFA status, but they’re just so rare that I tend not to take them as legitimate options. Stone can also help to improve the penalty kill as he is a menace in the NZ and DZ with his stick work. I’m not a fan of labels, but if you’re looking for a “checking forward”, Stone is a great place to start: responsible in all three zones while also having the capability of driving play up the ice and putting the puck in the net. Hextall would be wise to inquire about his availability.
The Lightning are flooded with talent, including young talent, which is the main reason why I feel they’d be ok with trading a player like Katchouk for the right price. Katchouk is a big, physical winger with skating ability that brings a shoot-first mentality to the ice. He had a huge season with the SSM Greyhounds of the OHL, most of which was spent playing alongside Flyers prospect Morgan Frost, so he’s a player with whom the Flyers are likely very familiar. The 2016 2nd round pick is set to turn pro next season and while he would likely need AHL seasoning, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of him cracking the Flyers bottom 6. Worst case scenario, he’s a young player who can make an impact in the near future. This would be a move with more future than present day in mind, but I feel it’s an interesting one nonetheless.
Stralman is entering the final year of his contract, and at age 31 (he’ll be 32 at the start of next season) he’s no spring chicken. That said, he’s still a very solid defenseman who drives play up ice and is strong in his own zone. To put it simply, he’s basically everything the Flyers think Andrew MacDonald has been for them. And I’d be lying if I wasn’t still a little salty over Paul Holmgren choosing to extend Andrew MacDonald after trading for him all those years ago rather than looking to sign Stralman in free agency that summer. So given the fact that he plays over 21 minutes a night for Tampa Bay, why would they be interested in moving him? Well, as I mentioned, he’s going into the final year of his deal, and the Lightning have a lot of big name players set to hit the market over the next two seasons. Given the fact that Stralman is among the older names of players set to hit the market in that time, it’s possible the Lightning could look to move him before he hits free agency. I would have loved Stralman 4 years ago, but he’s still a strong “defensive” defenseman today and could be a true veteran presence for the young guys set to join the defense corps. Do I think it’s likely Stralman gets moved? No, not really. But if Hextall’s looking for a top 4 veteran defenseman, Stralman would be a strong option to consider.
This article is mostly picking on the carcasses of teams looking to rebuild or retool (Tampa Bay being the obvious exception), but there are plenty of intriguing options, many of whom are RFAs. If teams are looking to unload those RFAs for assets, Hextall would be wise to throw his hat in the ring.
Next we’ll be heading out West to take a look at the Pacific division. Stay tuned!