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Considering the Flyers’ many potential courses of action

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The Flyers are not in a great way right now, and that leaves basically every possible path available to them at the trade deadline.

Philadelphia Flyers v New York Rangers
Trading Michael Raffl would hardly be some massive shake-up, but it’s a possibility.
Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

So! The Flyers. They’ve been bad.

Yes, Saturday’s win was nice, and there have been some games lately where they haven’t totally vomited all over themselves (not all of those have been wins, it should be noted), but the month of March has been what it is. They’ve gone 5-9-1, with all five wins being by exactly one goal. They’ve lost by five or more goals, meanwhile, three times. They let in a goal on roughly one out of every six shots they face. They often look like they’ve forgotten how to perform defense whilst on a hockey rink. They ... I could rattle off more depressing factoids, but you know them all by this point. They’ve been bad.

Unfortunately for all of us, they’ve been just not-bad enough on the season as a whole that the question of “what should they do at the trade deadline, which is only two weeks away?”, is one that has so many possible answers that we don’t really know what’s going to happen between now and then. There is truly nothing that could happen to this team in the next two weeks that would shock any of us.

With that, let’s talk about all of those potential options. The way I see it, there are approximately seven paths forward that seem like they’re within this plane of reality, all of which have some reasons why they’d make sense and some reasons why they wouldn’t. I do not envy Chuck Fletcher’s job, but hey, maybe if he’d been better at it last offseason we wouldn’t be writing this.

On we go.


Option 1: Do Nothing

What that entails: Exactly what it sounds like. The Flyers stand pat, declining to make a move for a short-term add that would help their miniscule playoff chances while at the same time not selling anyone off in an attempt to keep those playoff chances afloat.

Why it kind of makes sense: The Flyers entered this season with fairly lofty goals and have a roster that, on paper, looked like it could contend for something serious, and while they’re definitely on the outside looking in right now, teams have rallied from longer odds to make the dance than the ones the Flyers are currently facing. It’s pretty tough to justify burning assets to make a rental add (we’ll get there), but they could decide that whatever they’d get from dealing any bit parts for a few late-round picks isn’t worth as much as the chance to rally for a playoff spot.

Why it kind of doesn’t: While it isn’t the Flyers’ job to worry about what fan reaction will be to their moves (or lack of moves), it feels really hard to believe fans — and, if we’re being honest, some of the folks in the front office — are going to accept that the reaction to the joke of a month they just watched will be “nothing”. You can be in or out, and the Flyers doing nothing would suggest that they’re committing to neither and in all likelihood missing the playoffs with nothing to show for it.

Option 2: A Light Sale

What that entails: The Flyers don’t make a huge trade, but they lean closer to the “sell” side of the ledger than the “buy” side. This would likely involve pawning off some of their pending UFAs — Michael Raffl, Erik Gustafsson, potentially even Brian Elliott — for what would probably be meager returns. If they wanted to think a little bigger, guys like Scott Laughton and Justin Braun could probably fetch them a bit more.

Why it kind of makes sense: There are a few upsides to this. The Flyers clearing out those roster spots shows that they’re willing to do something, even if it admittedly just tinkering at the margins. It would allow them to get assets, to prevent this season from being a total waste. And it would open up room for some young guys to get some NHL playing time, and while there’s no guarantee that they’d be better than the guys they’re replacing, it would inject some freshness into this lineup. (Tanner Laczynski? Wade Allison? Egor Zamula? Hell, maybe even Cam York?) To be honest, they should do this even if there are other paths listed herein that also make sense.

Why it kind of doesn’t: Well, if they decide they’re still in the race, they’re probably not going to take steps that would likely, in their eyes, weaken the current roster. Plus, who knows, they may be looking to re-sign some of those guys. (Proooooobably not Gus.) Additionally, it always takes two to tango, and maybe there’s not much interest in what the Flyers have to offer.

Option 3: Add a Rental

What that entails: This is the going-for-it-now move. This would involve an add like the much-speculated-on Mattias Ekholm deal, where the Flyers would give up assets for someone who would help right now but would not automatically factor in to the long-term. The “we’re gonna try and do something special this year” kind of move, one which would almost certainly be for a defenseman.

Why it kind of makes sense: They came into this year thinking it’s their year, and they did that despite knowing all along they had a hole on defense left by Matt Niskanen’s departure (and a potential hole at center depending on how Nolan Patrick’s season went, which, womp womp). If you think that the one piece would suddenly make everything fit a lot better, and maybe would give the team a jolt to remind them that they can actually play well, it might be worth it.

Why it kind of doesn’t: On March 1, this seemed like it was in the cards. (Full disclosure, it was what I wanted them to do.) Right now, with what’s happened since, it is impossible to say this team deserves a move like this. Full stop. Their playoff chances are non-zero, but they’re remote, and one guy can only push that needle so much. The Flyers have the assets to make a move like this, but burning them on a long-shot like this one when you could use them in the offseason (when the expansion-related uncertainty is gone) seems ill-advised. If they turn this boat all the way around and go on a huge run between now and the trade deadline? Maybe this becomes an option again. Until then? Nah. Maybe you could justify throwing out a late-round pick for a possible third-pair option in hopes of stabilizing that mess a little bit, but that’s as far as they can really go here without a significant uptick in play.

Option 4: Make a Big Add

What that entails: Adding a rental isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? Adding a player WITH TERM. This is tough, and would likely involve giving up even more that you’d need to give up for a rental (you may have to give up an actual roster player to do it), but if you can swing a deal for a player that becomes available and can make an impact beyond this season, maybe the Flyers take that chance. The Ryan Ellis rumors from last week come to mind as a specific example here, but who knows what this could be — maybe there’ll be surprises.

Why it kind of makes sense: This is a way for the team to come out and say “we’re not going to accept how things have gone here and we’re committing to making this team better soon” without just lighting assets on fire for what would likely be a futile last-gasp effort at a playoff spot in this season. If you can do this in a way that clearly makes the team better without complicating the expansion picture, you probably have to take that chance.

Why it kind of doesn’t: Re-read that last paragraph there — that’s a real tough needle to thread. A lot of stars have to align for a deal like this to come to fruition. Also, big trades are hard to make in normal times; they’re even harder to make when everyone knows the salary cap is going to be flat for a while.

Option 5: A Hockey Trade

What that entails: A “hockey trade” is, generally speaking, when teams make a trade of active players on their rosters. They can happen for any number of reasons — teams using their strengths to address weaknesses, or maybe teams dealing an underachieving player of their own to another team for another underachieving player, in an effort by both teams to try and get more than they currently are. This is a step short of a “major shake-up” move, but it would make a difference.

Why it kind of makes sense: Well, the Flyers certainly have no shortage of players that are underachieving, and they’re not alone in that sense, so maybe there’s something to be done here. This has the same kind of impact as Option 2, in that it shows you can “do something” to suggest that you understand that a change has to be made while at the same showing confidence in a group that you think is talented but indeed underachieving. Fletcher pulled one of these off with the Niskanen-for-Gudas swap not long after he got here; he might be able to make that kind of magic work again.

Why it kind of doesn’t: With who, though, and for whom? They’ve pretty clearly been trying to hockey-trade Shayne Gostisbehere for a while, and they haven’t got a bite. It’s tough to really know who else you can trade to create a ripple without really creating a big wave, which brings us to the next option ...

Option 6: Don’t Quite Blow It Up, But Throw In A Stick Of Dynamite

What that entails: Put up a big ol’ For Sale sign, because the Flyers are open for business. Very few players would be considered off-limits, and you’re firmly in the category of making a potential “big trade” here. Other than Sean Couturier, Joel Farabee, Carter Hart, Claude Giroux, and Kevin Hayes (and the last two are only there for their no-move clauses), you’re listening to offers on pretty much anyone. JVR? Voracek? One of the under-25 defensemen? Konecny? Almost no one is safe. This could manifest itself as an aforementioned hockey trade, or it could be a sell-off. Think “blowing it up” in the way the Flyers dealt Mike Richards and Jeff Carter — not exactly moves that turn you into the Process 76ers, but moves that definitely force you to do some starting-over.

Why it kind of makes sense: For all the talk about sending a message, this is the way that you would actually do that. The talk about “this core” having had enough time is overblown — there are only three guys who were here at the start of this era that are still here now, and the only one who really feels like he could get traded in a move like this is Voracek — but there are very few guys here that feel like they should be off-limits at a time like this. And while Fletcher has largely stayed confident in this group, he did acknowledge that “the mix” is not quite right in his presser last week. A lot of guys here have been a part of that mix for a while, and moving any one of them would mean something.

Why it kind of doesn’t: Yes, Fletcher said the mix isn’t right, but he also repeatedly said that he didn’t want to overreact to what has been a really weird year and a tough year for a lot of guys. A big shake-up may not exactly be what he has in mind. And even if it is, moves like those are pretty hard to pull in-season; this kind of thing may be more of a June July kind of deal.

Option 7: Blow It All The Way Up

What that entails: This is the “we’re really starting over” option. This is Fletcher firmly deciding that a group consisting largely of the guys we see here is never going to realistically contend for anything important, and saying that it’s time to go Full Process and put everyone up as a potential trade target that can turn into assets that will help down the road more than they do today. Get rid of any veteran with value — and that includes someone like Sean Couturier. Politely ask if Giroux and Hayes would consider waiving their no-move clauses. Maybe even see just how much value your young defensemen have.

Why it kind of makes sense: If you’re of the belief that this group has run out of time and that it’s time to truly start anew, this is what that looks like. There is, of course, no guarantee that it would work, but if you believe that this group can’t do it, then maybe this is the path.

Why it kind of doesn’t: They’re not gonna do this. We have to list it as an option, but they’re not gonna do this. For one, teams don’t really do this in hockey, period. And as it pertains to this specific team, Fletcher did not exactly sound the other day like a guy who thinks it’s time to start over. As much as fans may say “we’ve been waiting too long,” (and not be entirely wrong in saying that!), Fletcher has been here for two years, and in one of them this group got a game away from the conference finals. He is not giving off the vibes of a guy who wants to throw this team in the dumpster.

Poll

What would you like the Flyers to try to do at the trade deadline?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Absolutely nothing
    (119 votes)
  • 32%
    Minor sell-offs of UFAs
    (435 votes)
  • 5%
    Add a rental for this year
    (75 votes)
  • 34%
    Try to swing a "hockey trade"
    (461 votes)
  • 19%
    Sell everything
    (258 votes)
1348 votes total Vote Now