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Who’s the single most valuable player to the Flyers’ franchise right now?

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As fruitless rumors circulated about one team moving its best player, we got to wondering who the single most valuable piece currently is in the Flyers’ franchise.

Buffalo Sabres v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

On Monday afternoon, before the Lightning won the Stanley Cup and ended the very long and very weird 2019-20 NHL season, semi-retired hockey insider and TSN personality Bob McKenzie very casually dropped the following note on our Twitter timelines:

Oh. Well. Wow! Huh. That’s a thing. The Sabres are very bad, and have been very bad for basically Jack Eichel’s entire tenure there. The idea that he may request a trade does not seem too far out of the realm of possibility.

Except ... there’s a whole thread that followed that initial tweet, and I won’t paste all of it here, but Bobby Mac concluded it with this one. Basically, this seems like a bit of smoke without much fire:

So that’s that. Jack Eichel is probably not getting traded, at least not at this time, at least not if you read that entire thread of tweets which you can see on Twitter dot com.

But if you only read that FIRST tweet and pretended the rest of them don’t exist? Jack Eichel is ON. THE. MOVE, baby. And you know what that means? TRADE PROPOSALS. Yes, for a solid hour or two on Twitter yesterday, we got some of the very best trade proposals the Internet has to offer, because there is no package too ridiculous to suggest for a 23-year old, no-doubt-about-it franchise cornerstone center who finished top-10 in Hart Trophy voting this past season despite being on an abjectly bad team and is under contract for the next six seasons.

If you look around, you will surely see some of these silly suggestions from Flyers fans, because ... listen, we want nice things as much as anyone, and having Jack Eichel on the Flyers would be a nice thing. A nice thing that, just to reinforce it, is not going to happen, and any sort of trade offer that Buffalo would accept for him would be a very, very painful one for us to see as fans (even if it’d be worth it). If you’re serious about wanting to trade for Jack Eichel, there should basically be no one in your organization that’s “off the table” in trade talks.

It’s that question, though — the question of who and what the Flyers would have to trade to bring in a true franchise-changer — that got me wondering: who’s the Flyers’ most valuable trade piece?

In other words, if the Sabres said “we’re going to make a one-for-one trade for Jack Eichel, send us your best player and we’ll see who gives us the best option”, and if the Flyers truly, desperately wanted Jack Eichel and were willing to give up the best possible player that they could to get him, who would they give up? (Eichel, in this case, is a convenient stand-in example; this is more of a general question.)

None of this is an endorsement of trading any of these guys, but it’s more a question of just who has the most value. Taking everything into account — age, position, contract status, and just how good at hockey they are — who’s the single most valuable player in the franchise right now?

With due respect to any other prospects sitting out there, and to the guy who’s been the cornerstone of this franchise for a decade, there are three possible answers I can think of here.

Ivan Provorov

Why it’s him: The number-one defenseman is something that teams covet, and Provorov — drafted on the same day as Eichel — sure looks like he’s become that guy to the Flyers. He’s been a 25-minute-a-night player for two seasons now, he’s never missed a game in his four NHL seasons, he’s a plus player in every area of the ice, he’s only 23, and he’s under contract for basically the prime of his career at a rate that’s reasonable for a top defenseman. Teams look all over the place for guys like this, and the Flyers have one of them.

Why it’s not: How long is Provorov’s track record as a true number-one defenseman? Before this past season — unequivocally the best of his career, in this writer’s opinion — the only point where he really looked like he was that guy was in the second half of the 2017-18 season, when he and Shayne Gostisbehere torched the league from Christmas onward. Provorov’s rookie year showed promise but uncertainty, and his 2018-19 looked like it was a step back from what he did in that great second season. Provorov is good, and very valuable, but I could be convinced that he needs another year like the one he just had to really be in the conversation with these next two.

Sean Couturier

Why it’s him: Well, he’s probably the best player on the Flyers. Everything above about how teams covet top defensemen is at least as true if not moreso about top centers, and as far as top centers go, you don’t get drastically better than a guy who in the past three years has averaged 75 points per 82 games while winning a Selke Trophy and finishing second for another one. Also, in a time where the league is going to be cap-strapped for at least a couple of seasons, you aren’t going to find many centers that are as established as Couturier that are making less against the salary cap than he is ($4.33 million for the two coming seasons).

Why it’s not: On-ice, there are basically no real good arguments against Couturier. Still, he turns 28 in December, which isn’t old, but in hockey terms, odds are that he’s going to get worse before he gets any better than he is right now. And while that contract is awesome in the short term, Couturier is about to command a huge raise on that deal right as he’s reaching his 30s, which would be a tricky situation for any team to manage (and, spoiler alert, is gong to be tricky for the Flyers).

Carter Hart

Why it’s him: It’s him, right? The Flyers have needed a goalie for two decades and they have one who’s been above-average in his entire NHL tenure to date. He just turned 22 last month, he was the Flyers’ best player in the playoffs, and he basically hasn’t had a bad season of hockey at any level since he was 12 years old. He looks like a truly consistent goalie — one of the rarest things you can find in hockey, in a day and age where consistency in net is almost a unicorn. He’s even still on his entry-level deal for another year, and if you have to give him a long-term contract like the Flyers are probably going to try to this summer, the risk isn’t nearly as high as it is with most goalies, because that contract is just going to take you through his prime rather than well into his decline.

Why it’s not: Is the track record long enough? Yes, Hart’s been awesome so far at the pro level, but goalies go through so many twists and turns in their careers that making sweeping statements and large-scale decisions based on 1.5 seasons seems like the kind of thing that could backfire. It is a gamble to assume he is going to be this good indefinitely. And how much does the league value goaltenders right now, anyways? Teams have been shying away from giving long-term deals to goalies lately (in most cases, at least), and they aren’t fetching huge returns in trades when they get dealt. That has to be taken into account.


Poll

Who’s the most valuable player in the Flyers’ franchise right now?

This poll is closed

  • 67%
    Carter Hart
    (978 votes)
  • 10%
    Ivan Provorov
    (153 votes)
  • 19%
    Sean Couturier
    (282 votes)
  • 2%
    Someone else (who?)
    (32 votes)
1445 votes total Vote Now