The Christmas Day of hockey season is here: it’s NHL trade deadline day.
The Philadelphia Flyers are in a position that they haven’t been in recently: they’re buyers.
After years of retooling and rebuilding, the Flyers are in playoff position at the trade deadline. Hell, they’re more than just in playoff position – they’re only three points out of second place, and five points out of first place in the Metropolitan Division.
The Flyers’ main need has been obvious for most of the season: a third-line center. With Nolan Patrick dealing with a migraine disorder, the Flyers have done their best to fill that role throughout the season. And to their credit, they’ve done pretty well with Claude Giroux and Scott Laughton successfully sliding back to center when called upon.
As the Flyers continue to prove that they are good, the target for this season has moved from just “making the playoffs would be a success” to “oh, maybe this team can make a run.” With that, the trade deadline chatter has picked up as well.
The Flyers haven’t been rumored to be interested in any specific players – mostly just Jeff Carter and Jean-Gabriel Pageau – but Chuck Fletcher and Co. have a few options here on deadline day.
Flyers stand pat with current roster
The first option is admittedly the most boring, but perhaps also the best in the long run.
The Flyers only have very limited cap space this season. They have only $70,954 of actual cap space, which can go up to $2.08 million if they max out the LTIR.
Due to the Flyers’ salary cap situation, it will be tough for them to make a trade for an impactful player without trading a roster player of their own.
This team has come together and has great chemistry – not to mention how well they know and are playing in Alain Vigneault’s system. Bringing in a depth addition may not be possible due to the cap, and it may not be worth it given the 12 forwards on the roster with a few more waiting in the wings.
If the Flyers do make a trade, it puts them in a tough spot with the cap regarding a potential Nolan Patrick return. They would be forced to send down or healthy scratch two forwards in total: one at the time of the trade and one when Patrick is activated. Bunnaman is the obvious choice to send down if they make a trade, but then it gets tricky.
Patrick getting healthy and/or recalling Morgan Frost aren’t options that would replace a deadline addition, but they’re good backup plans to have if the Flyers do need a boost in March.
Not making a trade definitely wouldn’t be exciting, but it may be what Fletcher has to do given the situation.
Trade for a bottom-six forward
The Flyers’ biggest need is a third-line center, and adding a bottom-six forward could help remedy some things.
The current bottom six has worked well for the Flyers recently, but it isn’t an ideal scenario to have in the playoffs. If any of the young guys (Joel Farabee, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Connor Bunnaman) struggle, they’re put in a tough spot. Trading for a veteran bottom-six forward would solve that.
However, trading for a bottom-six forward may not end up being worth it. Fletcher would likely have to give up future assets for a 20-game (plus playoffs) rental. The Flyers have found success with their current forwards and could see Morgan Frost (and possibly Nolan Patrick) recalled if needed.
This move is still probably the likeliest scenario for Fletcher and the Flyers. Fletcher has shown in the past that he’s willing to trade draft picks for good players, and he could do that this season with the Flyers.
If their trade partner retains salary, the Flyers have more options on the table to work with.
On TSN’s Trade Bait List, Joe Thornton (13th), Derek Grant (16th), and Tyler Ennis (21st) are rental centers in the top 25 on teams that should be selling.
Expanding that a bit, Barclay Goodrow (29th) is under contract for another year, and Chris Tierney (44th) is a restricted free agent. With the rumored interest in Pageau, the Flyers could settle for one of his teammates in Ennis or Tierney.
Trade for a middle-six forward
The line between a middle-six forward and a bottom-six forward may be a thin one at times, but there is a difference here.
Targeting one of the more high-profile trade options would be a bigger trade for the Flyers and give them a legitimate third-line option, dropping Laughton or Tyler Pitlick to the fourth line. It may even be someone that could work their way into the top six.
The trouble with making a trade for a middle-six forward is the aforementioned salary cap situation. While there are a few cheaper options, the Flyers would likely need to trade a roster player to facilitate the deal for cap reasons. Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, and Michael Raffl are the three likeliest candidates to be moved, but there are arguments against trading all three.
Gostisbehere is 41st on TSN’s Trade Bait List, but trading him now would be selling low on the former Calder Trophy finalist. Hagg has emerged as a solid third-pair defenseman and good seventh defenseman; and you can never have too many defensemen for a playoff run.
Trading Raffl would be easier, but his cap hit is only $1.6 million through next season. On one hand, that is appealing to teams (including the Flyers) due to the value he provides. On the other, he wouldn’t clear too much cap space even if he was moved.
With all of that said, making a major move shouldn’t be completely ruled out. It would certainly be exciting and show the Flyers – and more importantly the fans – that Fletcher believes in this team.
Pageau, No. 2 on Trade Bait, would fall into this category and he only has a $3.1 million cap hit. Vladislav Namestnikov (6th), Andreas Athanasiou (8th), Mike Hoffman (15th), Kasperi Kapanen (31st) and Mikael Granlund (47th) are among the other options.
Make an off-the-board trade
The other three options are more likely, but there is a small chance that Fletcher goes off the board and makes a bigger splash.
It isn’t very likely, but making a “hockey trade” (a trade for now and the future) is a possibility. That would potentially include Gostisbehere (or similar) for a player that could also use a change of scenery. Perhaps Fletcher sees what the Leafs are selling after their embarrassing loss Saturday night?
No matter what happens on deadline day, the Flyers are in a good position moving forward in this season and beyond. They have a deep group of forwards and defense with a mix of veterans and young guys.
Fletcher has shown that he’ll make smart deals when he has the opportunity to do so. He made the tough decision to trade Wayne Simmonds last year, but that netted them a fourth round pick and Ryan Hartman, who he flipped to the Stars in June for Tyler Pitlick. Pitlick has been great for the Flyers in the bottom six. His trades for Kevin Hayes’s rights, Matt Niskanen, and Justin Braun have also graded out well so far.
Will the cap space conundrum limit Fletcher’s moves, or will he be able to improve the team anyway? We’ll find out by 3 p.m. EST.