It is no secret that the Philadelphia Flyers are looking to acquire a defenseman. Ever since Matt Niskanen retired and his failed replacement in Erik Gustafsson shit multiple beds, the team has been linked to any available blue liner as they try to take advantage of this win-now team.
They might not look pretty, or have the right numbers to get everyone’s support, but with the current core stable under the cap for a little bit longer and some player’s primes washing away, the Flyers need to add no matter what. With that idea in mind, there have been some hypothetical acquisitions thrown around.
One name that has not stopped going away since the Nashville Predators decided to become one of the worst teams in the league, is sweetheart defender Mattias Ekholm. With two years remaining on his deal and a soft $3.75-million AAV cap hit, he seems like a destined fit for a Flyers team that desperately needs someone with his unique defensive abilities. The only problem that has haunted my poisoned brain when I think of Ekholm in Philadelphia is the Seattle Kraken’s expansion draft looming in the background this summer; with its mysterious tentacles gripping every general manager and every transaction they make having an affect on who they decide to protect.
This means that with the current expansion draft protection rules, if the Flyers acquire Ekholm, they can only protect three defensemen in the most likely scenario — there is the four forwards/four defensemen option, but I don’t see them wanting to part ways with Oskar Lindblom or Joel Farabee. Meaning, that one of Phillippe Myers and Travis Sanheim will be exposed for Seattle to snatch up.
Well, that vomit-inducing thought has led me down a path of looking at blue line improvements that won’t have any implications on the future. No one likes long-term commitment to anything anyways.
The Columbus Blue Jackets right-handed defender has been an underrated defenseman in the past, but his play has seemingly caught up to him. Being overshadowed by the emergence of Vladislav Gavrikov on the blue line, Savard has been left in the dust. Also, might be literal because he’s certainly slowed down in his skating.
But, with Columbus being where they are this season (bad) and the Flyers depth being what they are (good), it can propel a career resurrection for the 30-year-old on an expiring contract.
Handedness isn’t everything—and is too often cited—but a righty in this blue line can do some work to balance a pair of lefties known for their offense. Savard will come cheap too, as the Blue Jackets are selling off everything, trying to not make the same all-in approach as they did with Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky walking to free agency.
Dmitry Kulikov has been on terrible teams his entire damn career. Stuck with the middling Florida Panthers, moved to the just-got-Jack-Eichel Buffalo Sabres and ending his 20s with trips to the Winnipeg Jets and now the New Jersey Devils; this dude is just destined to be a body on a mediocre team.
Acquiring Kulikov essentially sends a message to Alain Vigneault that he must not keep including Robert Hagg on the blue line, but we all know it would just lead to a healthy-scratched Erik Gustafsson.
The 30-year-old Devil won’t put up any points and will cost just a late-round pick (I imagine), so this is the ultimate “do something to do something” trade. It might work out, who knows.
Trevor van Riemsdyk
Okay this is the juicy stuff.
Aside from a Schenn-esque family reunion in Philadelphia, Trevor van Riemsdyk is a good defenseman that just needs a big break.
The younger Van Riemsdyk brother signed a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals this off-season, after spending his career with a dominant Carolina Hurricanes team and the late-dynasty Chicago Blackhawks. It seems like he is just used to being on very good teams and contributing to them.
The numbers tell it all, sort of.
Using Expected Goals Above Replacement as an overall metric to get a sense of what he can bring on the ice, he has been consistently above-average until rocketing his rate of contribution in a depth role with the Capitals this season. The only problem is, finding enough time to appear on that blue line.
With the defense the Flyers’ divisional rivals currently possess, and a right side of John Carlson, Justin Schultz and Nick Jensen, they just seem pretty stacked when it comes to defenseman. So to let their free agency acquisition give them a return of a mid-round pick—hypothetically—is just getting rid of some NHL caliber insurance.
No matter if he is an improvement on the bottom pairing or eventually growing into a defensively-reliable role with Ivan Provorov or Sanheim beside him, bolstering the blue line with a player of van Riemsdyk’s caliber is really a no brainer that doesn’t carry any commitment concerns.
Travis Hamonic has had one of the steepest drops in reputation in modern NHL history. Once an all-offensive threat with the New York Islanders that was eventually moved to the Calgary Flames as a replacement for Dougie Hamilton, Hamonic has found himself on the Vancouver Canucks, a team that is terrible.
This would honestly be a last-ditch effort to put a band-aid on the Flyers’ defensive problems. I’m not even sure if Hamonic would be a better option that Gutafsson or Hagg, but he’s on an expiring contract and you can basically throw anything at the Jim Benning to receive a once-capable blue liner.
All in all, the rental market for defensemen kind of sucks this season. With no real difference-maker, Chuck Fletcher might do himself some good and try to make tiny adjustments for a team that needs some sort of structural overhaul. It just matters if this team is willing to run the risk—or to get creative enough—to lose a very good defenseman to the Kraken.
I’m scared, so let’s just try something temporary.