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Three big questions for the Flyers in the second half and beyond

The Flyers are once again at a pivotal point for their short- and long-term future.

New York Rangers v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

The unofficial second half of the NHL season is here. The All-Star break is behind us and the Philadelphia Flyers have 37 games left on the schedule. Unfortunately, those are almost assuredly meaningless games as the Flyers are closer to the bottom of the league (15 points) than they are to a playoff spot (17 points).

So, where do the Flyers go from here? Dave Scott and Chuck Fletcher have addressed that multiple times this season now with the team going through two double-digit winless streaks. The Flyers return to action this week, but the rest of the season is going to be more about the future than anything.

The Flyers have a few big questions facing them that will impact their future in both the short-term and long-term as the franchise tries to claw back to relevancy.

Where does Claude Giroux finish the season?

Claude Giroux is going to be one of the top storylines around the entire NHL, not just the Flyers. He is a franchise icon and in the last year of an eight-year, $66 million contract. The Flyers may internally be holding out some hope that they can turn things around this season, but time is slipping away.

Giroux is still remaining focused as the trade rumors swirl.

“Long time left. That’s all I have to tell you right now,” Giroux told media during All-Star Weekend. “There’s a lot of hockey left. I know the playoffs, for us, it’s going to be a long-shot where we’re at, but I’ve seen crazier things.

On January 26th, Pierre LeBrun reported that Giroux will sit down with his agent, Pat Brisson, in the coming weeks to determine his future.

Giroux has a full no-movement clause so it will be up to him whether or not he gets traded, as Chuck Fletcher said in Frank Seravalli’s above tweet. He’s earned that right throughout his career. If he wants to play out his contract here with his family close by, he’s more than welcome. If he wants to chase a Stanley Cup with a contender, we’ll all be behind him.

It’s not a fun storyline or something that can even be played out on the ice, but it is the No. 1 storyline surrounding the Flyers for the next two-plus months leading up to the NHL trade deadline on March 21st.

If Giroux does get traded, where might he go? Any team would love to have him. He’s a guy that can play either center or wing, contribute at 5-on-5 and both special teams unit, and he’s a well-respected veteran around the league.

One of the top destinations for Giroux is the Colorado Avalanche. They’re one of the Stanley Cup favorites and have some prospects that the Flyers could pluck.

The Carolina Hurricanes could also be interested, but I’m not sure if the Flyers would trade Giroux in the conference, let alone the division. Rod Brind’amour coached the Metropolitan All-Stars and knows what Giroux can do –– he saw it first hand over the weekend.

“He was great,” Brind’Amour said. “Good to see. Been a trouper in this league for a long time, kind of carrying the torch a little bit for this league in these events. Then to come out and be one of the best guys on the ice, that says a lot.”

If the Flyers are open to trading him in the division, the New York Rangers could come calling. They’re being carried by Igor Shesterkin and Chris Kreider and could certainly use a guy like Giroux. However, it would have to be a pretty nice package for Giroux to head to New York, if you ask me.

Basically, any contender that wants to make a big splash at the deadline should be in on Giroux. That includes the teams mentioned as well as the Toronto Maple Leafs, Minnesota Wild, and Boston Bruins, among others.

Who else do the Flyers trade?

A few weeks ago we looked at some other candidates that the Flyers could move. Among them are James van Riemsdyk, Rasmus Ristolainen, Martin Jones, and Justin Braun. The last four names there are all pending free agents and the Flyers would be smart to move them for picks at the very least.

Giroux will obviously be the main player that contenders come calling for, but those other guys could be helpful pieces as well.

In fact, a few weeks ago Elliotte Friedman reported that “if Philadelphia had been willing to take a late-round pick for Martin Jones, it’s possible he would already be an Edmonton Oiler. But the Flyers wanted something better and felt the market will strengthen as we get closer to the deadline.”

Jones should be on the move as the Flyers have Felix Sandstrom waiting in the wings as a capable backup for a few months (or weeks).

Braun is another veteran piece that a playoff team should target. He’s been a solid defenseman for the Flyers in his tenure in Philadelphia and would be a good depth addition for a team looking for third-pair help.

Ristolainen is more of a question mark, but the Flyers would be remiss to not get something back for him. They gave up multiple draft picks, including the 14th overall pick, and the team just hasn’t panned out. The big defenseman has been fine in Philadelphia and his physical game is something that teams will want come playoff time.

Outside of those pending free agents and JVR, who is probably the least likely to be moved, the Flyers could explore a “hockey trade” involving a few of their younger pieces. Friedman previously speculated about Ivan Provorov being a guy that could be moved and Flyers fans want to trade Travis Konecny for some reason. We’ll see what happens.

The Flyers should be having a fire sale, but we’ll see what Fletcher has in mind with an “aggressive retool.”

What is the Flyers’ next core group?

A core of a team is a funny thing. It doesn’t necessarily need to include a team’s best player, especially in this case when Giroux may get traded. Don’t get me wrong, Giroux absolutely is a part of this team’s core right now, but he likely won’t be moving forward, unfortunately.

The Flyers will need to figure out who that next core is. Comcast Spectacor CEO and Flyers Governor Dave Scott mentioned a handful of players in his press conference a few weeks back.

“We have a pretty good core. I think it really starts with a healthy [Couturier] and Hayes, Farabee, would love to have Ellis back,” Scott said. “We’ve got a core group to build on. I think if you look at the reality of it, two, three pieces would be great, maybe more. But the core is good, we just have to get healthy.”

A core of four guys who have been injured multiple times this season doesn’t exactly seem that great. If they can all get back to 100% then maybe the Flyers have something to build on. Sean Couturier can be a top-line center, Kevin Hayes fits the second-line center role at his peak but is likely a third-liner, and Joel Farabee is looking like he could be a top-line winger. Ryan Ellis is the real question mark as he’s only played four games in a Flyers jersey.

Looking at the Flyers’ cap situation, however, these four are the next core. Couturier is locked up until 2030 ($7.75 million cap hit), Farabee until 2028 ($5 million), and Ellis until 2027 ($6.25 million). Hayes’ contract is looking worse and worse by the day, but he’s signed until 2026 ($7.1 million)

Scott Laughton, potentially the next captain of the Flyers as discussed on BSH Radio, is signed through 2026 ($3 million) as well. He’s become a part of the core for the Flyers in the sense that he’s a solid third-line guy that can get the team going in the right direction when he’s on the ice, but he’s not a guy you can build a championship team around, obviously.

Cam Atkinson and Travis Konecny are both signed through 2025 with cap hits in the $5 million. They are both a bit streaky as goalscoring wingers, but having both of them in the top-six shouldn’t be an issue.

And then it comes down to which defensemen are here for the long haul. Provorov has a $6.75 million cap hit until 2025 and is looking more and more like a No. 2 defenseman at very best, and possibly a second-pair guy. Travis Sanheim ($4.675 million until 2023) is coming into his own as a steady two-way guy on the second pair as well.

Carter Hart, obviously, is the biggest part of the core. The Flyers have struggled to find competent goaltending for so long now that Hart is a breath of fresh air. Last season he had his struggles, but Hart has completely bounced back this season and kept the Flyers competitive. He’s on a $3.979 million deal until he becomes a restricted free agent in 2024.

Cam York has shown flashes, as has Morgan Frost on the forward side of things, but neither can really be penciled in as a core guy just yet.

So, with the names that Scott mentioned and the ones above, the Flyers have a potential core including Couturier, Hayes, Farabee, Konecny, Atkinson, Laughton, Ellis, Provorov, Sanheim, and Hart. That isn’t a terrible group of six forwards, three defensemen, and a goalie to build around.

The big question is going to be what Fletcher & Co. do to build around them. That brings this full circle with the Flyers needing to trade their pending free agents (and possibly JVR or fringe core pieces) to build the team that they want to be to contend. The Flyers will need someone to replace Claude Giroux’s presence and another top-six forward as well. They likely need a top-pair defenseman or at least two top-four guys.