While the image of Claude Giroux capping the Flyers’ wild comeback in the 2019 Stadium Series game two nights ago in dramatic fashion fresh in our minds, we turn our attention to a deadline that has rapidly approached: Trade Deadline 2019.
In most years the deadline is a huge deal in and around the Flyers, but for a myriad of reasons this year’s version has come quickly, and quietly.
For one, there’s the fact that the Flyers are kind of in no man’s land as far as the standings go. As of this writing the Flyers are seven points behind Carolina and Pittsburgh for the final wild card spot, though the Hurricanes own the tiebreaker over the Penguins. Several reputable sources have the Flyers’ playoff chances hovering around 10% at best.
On the flip side of the coin, if the season ended today the Flyers would have just a 6.6% chance at a top three pick in the NHL Draft per the lottery. That could jump to nearly 12% if they can finish in the bottom 10 with some serious tanking down the stretch, but you get the idea: the Flyers aren’t quite a playoff team and aren’t bad enough to be firmly in the Jack Hughes/Kaapo Kakko sweepstakes.
Second, there’s the fact that Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher has only been on the job since December 3rd. Has Fletcher truly had enough time during those three months to get a full handle on the NHL roster, the AHL roster, and the Flyers’ deep prospect pool to figure out what pieces stay and what pieces go? That’s a tough question to answer if you’re not Chuck Fletcher, but he should have at least some idea of what he’s got at this point and what he’d be willing to part with or add in the short-term before a entering a key summer for the organization.
Even if Fletcher is planning some earth shattering roster shakeups, the trade deadline has proven to be a tough time to pull off such moves, with the summer and the NHL Draft proving to be the time and time again for GM’s to make their big moves. There’s also not much from the Flyers’ roster for Fletcher to really explore outside of Wayne Simmonds, who has been long rumored to be on the move by the end of the day on Monday.
The Flyers have some big contracts on the books in Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, and James van Riemsdyk sandwiched around affordable deals like Shayne Gostisbehere, Sean Couturier, and Rakdo Gudas. There are plenty of restricted free agents at the end of the year like Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov, and Travis Sanheim, but the Flyers’ cap situation is very manageable going forward for Fletcher given the slick work of his predecessor, Ron Hextall. That paves the way for Fletcher to have a big summer if he so chooses, and the entry level contract of Carter Hart in goal is another huge plus for the Flyers going forward.
But that’s all in the summer, and Fletcher still has some moves he could pull off in the meantime, mostly notably with the Flyers’ pending free agents come July 1st. Those on the list include: Simmonds, Michael Raffl, and Brian Elliott. Let’s take a look at each here, what they bring to the table, and what teams could possibly be in the mix.
Cap hit: $3.975 million, signed through 2018-19
Teams: Boston, Nashville, Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Calgary
With Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, and Mats Zuccarello already off the market, and Mark Stone floating in the wind, the attention should turn to the Flyers’ rugged winger. Simmonds’ market should be robust given the prices already paid by contending clubs who have added pending free agents.
Simmonds is having a down year — by his standards— with 16 goals and 27 points in 62 games, but he’s the kind of veteran leader with playoff experience that teams love this time of year. He can help out on the power play (hello, Predators), protect stars, and has shown there’s still plenty left in the tank as the season has worn on after his skating and conditioning looked rough to start the year coming off injury.
The emotional exchange between Jakub Voracek and Simmonds in the Eagles’ locker room after the Stadium Series game showed that everyone knows that it’s more than likely Simmonds has played his final game in Orange and Black. It’s been quite a ride for Simmonds in Philly, but there are teams out there who badly need to add a player like him and Fletcher should strike while the iron is hot.
#Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher has now engaged in trade talks for Wayne Simmonds today. He’d been waiting until the last moment before deadline to give his team every chance to claw back in the race.— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) February 25, 2019
Surely former coach Peter Laviolette is pushing hard to add some snarl and efficiency to his power play in Nashville, and the Predators’ Cup window remains open for such a move. Ditto Craig Berbue in St. Louis, where the Blues are going to be perhaps the hottest team going in the postseason dance. Tampa Bay doesn’t have many lineup holes, but wouldn’t Simmonds help deepen the NHL’s best team and give them more experience come their playoff run? Boston already dealt for Charlie Coyle, but has craved big wingers with touch since Milan Lucic left town, and the Flames could use the depth scoring with the James Neal experiment going terribly wrong.
There should be a big market for Simmonds, and the return of at least a first-round pick and a good prospect, or at least a second-round pick and a good prospect is a fine return for a player who will surely hit the open market come summer.
Cap hit: $2.35 million, signed through 2018-19
Teams: Nashville, St. Louis, Vegas, Boston
Raffl has been a useful player since being plucked from the Sweden before the 2013 season. He can play up and down the lineup, and has shown some scoring touch at times in his career. His possession metrics have generally been very strong and his work along the boards and in the cycle game have always been top notch. That’s important come playoff time.
He won’t score enough to warrant top six minutes, but can be part of a really good third or fourth line and contribute on the penalty kill if needed. As we’ve seen in Philly, Raffl can slot up in the lineup due to injury and do the little things to help a high skill line succeed as he’s done in the past.
The Austrian-born winger won’t command a huge price, but he’s a nice depth player for a contender who is looking for a cost-efficient pickup that has versatility. He does everything well and has a game suited well for the playoffs, perhaps more so than a younger player some of these teams might have who might not be ready to take on the rigors of the postseason.
Good teams are always looking to get deeper, and Raffl is an interesting piece that not only can add depth, but can provide more if given the right opportunity.
Cap hit: $2.75 million, signed through 2018-19
Teams: Vegas, St. Louis
Perhaps Carter Hart’s injury clouds things a little more in a season filled with them in the Flyers’ crease, but Elliott could very well be on the move. And with the veteran finally healthy, and playing well no less, there’s no better time for a deal, with Hart’s injury not believed to be serious and with Cam Talbot finally acclimated in Philadelphia.
The 33-year-old was excellent in relief of Hart in Montreal, then made 40 saves on 43 shots in the outdoor game against Pittsburgh. The Flyers know just how dire goaltending situations have been this season, having used 17 themselves, so they should be able to find a taker for Elliott with Hart, Talbot, and Mike McKenna available.
Vegas has gotten so-so play from Marc-Andre Fleury thus far, and Malcolm Subban has had his fair share of injuries. The Golden Knights are likely to make the playoffs even if they ride Fleury all the way to the finish, but given his uneven season (.907 save percentage, six shutouts), they’d probably like to rest him a bit down the stretch to have energy for a playoff run. With Subban’s injury history, it’s no given that he’s there to spell Fleury, and Elliott could be a low-cost backup plan.
Also deep in a playoff hunt is his former team, the Blues, who have found a savior in Jordan Binnington (.934 save percentage, 1.70 goals-against average), but have a wild card (literally) in the form of Jake Allen backing up to the tune of a ghastly .901 save percentage and a 2.98 goals-against. While Binnington has been excellent, he’s played just 20 NHL games and could fall off at any moment and Allen likely needs the offseason to regroup. Enter Elliott, a low-cost option that knows the Blues and the market, and has plenty of experience (though, bad experience) with playoff hockey.
Both teams could do worse for a backup plan in net, and it won’t cost much given that Elliott has all but been erased from the Flyers’ plans going forward due to the emergence of Hart and the trade for Talbot.