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NHL Trade Deadline: Looking at Chuck Fletcher’s past may provide insight into this year’s mindset

History could repeat itself for Chuck Fletcher.

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

They say history repeats itself, and history may be able to give us a glimpse into Chuck Fletcher’s mindset for the Philadelphia Flyers with the NHL trade deadline quickly approaching.

Fletcher’s first trade deadline in Philadelphia came last season and the Flyers were in a much different position. They were outside of the playoff race and there was only one option: sell. It came down to the final minutes, but Fletcher traded away Wayne Simmonds while holding onto – and eventually re-signing – Michael Raffl.

Given the state of the team this year, last year’s moves can’t really provide much insight. This year, the Flyers are looking to buy. They are in the thick of the playoff race and have a chance to get in and make a run.

The Minnesota Wild were consistently in the playoff race in the second half of Fletcher’s time there and there were more than a few occasions when they were buyers at the deadline. Fletcher was known to swing for the fences and make a big move when needed. It wasn’t a trade, but signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to matching contracts proved Fletcher’s willingness to improve the team. He also had a few in-season deals to try to take the team to the next level.

One of the trades in recent memory that turned out to be an overpay and a flop was the acquisition of Martin Hanzal at the 2017 trade deadline.

The Wild felt like they were one piece away from really having a chance at the Stanley Cup, and they paid a hefty sum for Hanzal. They gave up a first-round pick, second-round pick, conditional pick, and an AHL player for Hanzal and Ryan White. Hanzal was a rental with 26 points (16 goals) in 51 games at the time of the trade and added 13 points (four goals) in 20 games with the Wild. The Wild finished the season with a franchise-best 106 points, but were bounced in the first round of the playoffs.

The Flyers obviously aren’t in a position where they are one piece away, nor will they be swinging for the fences. Fletcher will likely look to add a depth forward if possible, like he did at the 2014 trade deadline with the Wild.

On deadline day, the Wild were 34-21-7 and held the first Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. They had 75 points in 62 games (1.21) which is very similar to the Flyers’ current points-per-game (1.22) with 73 points in 60 games. The Flyers are also one point ahead of the Wild Card spots in a tight playoff race.

Fletcher pulled the trigger on a trade for a scoring winger, but let’s first take a look at some of his quotes after the trade was made.

“We liked our depth. But you never know what can happen in the NHL, and again this team has shown me a lot in the last month and a half,” general manager Chuck Fletcher said. “I think they deserve the opportunity to be rewarded with some additional help for the push for the next month here.”

Fletcher could say the exact same thing after making a trade this season and it would line up perfectly with what the Flyers have done.

“We’re trying to get to a place where we have at least three lines that can score and play defense,” he continued, adding: “We saw this a little bit in the playoffs last year: You need to have more than one line that you can rely on.”

That’s also fair to say about this Flyers team. There are nights when all four lines are clicking, but it can’t be all put on the shoulders of Claude Giroux and Co. if things go wrong.

“We weren’t prepared to give up our top prospects or first-round picks,” Fletcher said. “But I felt if we could move anything else to help our team this year and to show our team that we believe in them — to reward them for what they’ve done in the last two months in particular — I felt was very important.”

The same mindset should be in place this season: don’t trade a top prospect or first-rounder, but do what you can with your other assets to make this team as well built as possible.

This final quote is one worth analyzing:

“Any time you’re paying second-round picks for good hockey players, to me it’s a really good move,” Fletcher said. “We’re very comfortable with the gamble.”

A second-round pick for a good hockey player? That certainly seems like something that could happen this season.

The trade Fletcher made for the Wild netted them Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick for two second-round picks (2014 and 2016) and Torrey Mitchell. Moulson had 29 points (11 goals) in 44 games with the Sabres, then had 13 points (six goals) in 20 games with the Wild and added three points in 10 playoff games.

The addition of a forward would give the Flyers’ already deep forward group yet another option. And that’s what Fletcher wants to do at the deadline, if the opportunity presents itself.

“We do like our depth in general, but if there’s a way we can improve our depth up front, we’d look at that just to continue to protect against injuries down the road,” Fletcher said last week. “We call around and see if there’s value and see if there’s something that makes sense.”

Given the prices that have been paid so far for Blake Coleman and Tyler Toffoli, I could see Fletcher ponying up a mid-to-high pick and another pick or prospect for a middle-six depth forward.

Coleman is on a very team-friendly contract for next season, so that price is higher, and the Canucks may have given a bit more than necessary for Toffoli, but the Flyers shouldn’t need to pay as much for some of the options left on the board.

Going based off of TSN’s Trade Bait List, Ilya Kovalchuk, Vladislav Namestnikov, Mike Hoffman and Conor Sheary are UFA wingers in the top 20 that the Flyers could look at. At center, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Joe Thornton, Derek Grant, and Chris Tierney are on the board.

I personally would be interested in seeing what the Panthers would want for Hoffman. He may be on the more expensive side in terms of both trade package and cap hit, but he’s a good scoring winger that could help balance out the top lines. If the Panthers decide to sell and Hoffman is available, a few future assets plus a roster player to offset salary would be worth exploring.

Brad Keffer dug into some of the Flyers’ other options last week and more than a few of them could likely be had for a draft pick or two. If Fletcher was willing to gamble on a second-round pick for a good hockey player in 2014, he’ll likely be willing to do the same for the Flyers this season.

Fletcher has shown that he’ll do what he can to improve his team – within reason – and the trade deadline is no different. The Flyers have proven that they can play with the best of ‘em in the past several weeks; another tool in their toolbox couldn’t hurt.

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