It’s that time of year again, folks. That sound you hear? Those are the trade winds blowing. Hot takes, bad opinions and false rumors are flying all around the Twitter-sphere, and that won’t end until the February 24 trade deadline officially passes. For the Philadelphia Flyers, this is just another day in the office. With general manager Chuck Fletcher preparing for his second go at the trade deadline as the Flyers’ architect, the possibilities of what Philadelphia may (or may not) try to accomplish at the deadline are plentiful.
At last season’s trade deadline, just months after being hired as Ron Hextall’s successor, Fletcher didn’t hesitate to make a move of great significance. Wayne Simmonds, one of the most beloved Flyers in recent memory, was traded to the Nashville Predators in exchange for forward Ryan Hartman and a 2020 fourth-round draft selection. While the Simmonds trade was rather controversial in some circles, it was a necessary move that, at this moment, has yet to really help or hurt the Flyers. Rather, the Simmonds trade was quite symbolic of what the future held for the Flyers — big changes were coming, and annual mediocrity was no longer an acceptable option for a team with such a rich history of success.
Will Fletcher attempt to make a move of equal or even greater impact at this year’s trade deadline? It’s still a bit hard to tell. At this time last year, the Flyers were in the midst of one of their most disappointing campaigns in recent memory, and many were expecting them to be sellers at the deadline. This season, though, the Flyers are in the thick of a tight race for one of the wild card spots in the Eastern Conference. With a solid 27-17-6 record through 50 games, the Flyers are leaps and bounds ahead of where they were last season, leaving some to wonder if the Flyers could actually be buyers at the deadline.
In all likelihood, the Flyers seem to be somewhere in the middle. They’re not sellers, but they’re also not quite in the market to make a big splash at the deadline. With more cap space, perhaps the Flyers would be more willing to make a significant move.
According to CapFriendly, the Flyers have slightly over $2.8 million in cap space as the trade deadline nears, though that number will likely shrink as they are currently shorthanded at forward. This being the case, the Flyers don’t exactly have a ton of options that will allow them to remain compliant with the salary cap.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t be able to make a trade. They can. They’ll just have to get creative.
In order to make a significant move, the Flyers would realistically need to move a roster player with a somewhat substantial cap hit. Being so close to the cap ceiling, the only way to take on additional salary is to move salary that is already on the books. Trading future assets like draft picks and prospects will not be enough to make a sizable deal work.
Some of the biggest names expected to be moved at the deadline — Chris Kreider, Kyle Palmieri, Tyler Toffoli and Jason Zucker, to name a few — all have a cap hit north of $4.6 million. Acquiring any of these players would be quite the challenge. But players like Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Ondrej Kase, for example, have much more manageable contracts that a team like the Flyers could theoretically take on.
But of the players currently on the Flyers’ roster, which ones are most likely to be included in such a trade?
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The Flyers, for obvious reasons, likely would not consider moving any of their core players — Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Travis Konecny, Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes, Ivan Provorov and Carter Hart are all understandably off limits. It also wouldn’t do the Flyers much good to move any of their younger players. Defensemen Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers are both unquestionably in the Flyers’ long-term plans, as are forwards Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost and Nolan Patrick (even despite his ongoing battle with a migraine disorder).
Still, the Flyers do have a couple players that, in theory, would make sense in a good old-fashioned “hockey trade.”
Shayne Gostisbehere seems like an obvious candidate to garner interest. After a terrific 2017-18 campaign in which Gostisbehere collected 65 points in 78 games, the Florida native hasn’t quite lived up to expectations the last two seasons. His 2018-19 season was marred by defensive miscues and inconsistent play in the offensive zone, and those issues have carried over into 2019-20. Through 40 games, the 26-year-old is on pace for a career low in points with a total of just five goals and seven assists on the season.
Even despite his recent struggles, though, Gostisbehere is still a fairly movable asset. Following this season, he will have three years remaining on his contract at a manageable AAV of $4,500,000. He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery earlier this month and has missed each of the Flyers’ last seven games, but should be close to returning to action following the All-Star break.
Robert Hagg could also intrigue a team desperate for help on the blue line. While the impending restricted free agent is certainly no world-beater, he has been producing some offense recently while playing his signature physical game — he currently leads the Flyers with 91 hits on the season (though many of those hits haven’t exactly been all that noticeable). He may not be the type of player a team ideally wants playing top-four minutes, but Hagg does serve as a respectable seventh defenseman that won’t necessarily be a complete liability when playing sheltered minutes.
Of course, Hagg would never be the centerpiece in a trade of sizable magnitude. But if the Flyers end up making a smaller transaction as the deadline approaches, akin to the trade that sent Christian Folin and Dale Weise to the Montreal Canadiens last February, Hagg seems like a possible candidate to be moved — especially with 24-year-old defenseman Mark Friedman not looking totally out of place in his brief stint with the big club earlier this month.