February 21st, 2017
It’s that time of year again, folks: the NHL Trade Deadline. If you are anything like me, you are feverishly refreshing twitter and reddit every time you catch the slightest whisper of a potential trade, hoping to be the first to know and be ahead of the curve of excitement as a buyer, or potential grieving if your team is a known seller. What may be even more frustrating is not knowing whether your team is buying or selling at the deadline, leading to a roller coaster of emotions every time trade talk develops. That is the case for a fringe playoff teams like the Flyers.
With all of the chatter and rumors surrounding big names like Duchene, Shattenkirk, Galenchyuk, and Hanzal around the deadline, the rumors have been few and far between for the Flyers, save for some unfounded Giroux rumors and an untimely dental appointment for Radko Gudas. These quiet deadlines are becoming increasingly familiar for the black and orange in the Ron Hextall GM era, a far cry from the 19 moves that Paul Holmgren made during his eight year tenure as GM from 2006 to 2014, including acquiring the now infamous Andrew MacDonald in March of 2014. Hextall has been more conservative in dealing players at the deadline in his two full seasons as GM, only making two deadline deals, both of which were in 2015. In reality, only one was a true hockey move in acquiring Radko Gudas and picks from the Lightning for Braydon Coburn. The other was more of a gentleman’s move, sending Kimmo Timonen to the Blackhawks so that he could make one last run for the cup during his blood clot shortened 2015 campaign.
Buyers or Sellers?
What will the Flyers be doing this year, you may ask? The next few games may determine the answer to that question. Between now and the March 1st deadline, the Flyers play three games: Wednesday against the Capitals at home, the Saturday Stadium Series game against the Penguins, and back to Wells Fargo Center again against the Avalanche on Tuesday. Though I believe Hextall sees the Flyers as sellers already, the next few games will likely determine the extent to which he is willing to sell. If the Flyers can play competitive even strength hockey against the Capitals and Penguins, I see Hextall trying to deal a few expiring contracts and one of the goalies, but nothing more. If they do not, however, and also drop the home game against Colorado, Hextall may be more willing to let go of “core” players, though I still see this as fairly unlikely.
If Hextall does look to make a move, he will likely look to shed expiring contracts with hopes of opening up some cap flexibility that has been so hard to come by since he took over from Holmgren. Mark Streit, Michael Del Zotto, and Nick Schultz all will be UFAs come July 1st, so it is logical to think that one or two of the three will be moved by March 1st to get get some kind of return, especially with so many young blueliners like Sam Morin, Travis Sanheim, and Robert Hagg close to being NHL ready. Schultz likely will not be moved, since he has such little trade value, but both Del Zotto and Streit are fair game. Nick Cousins’ contract is also up after this year, and with his recent surge in play, he could actually attract some value. More on him in a bit.
What Will the Flyers do in Net?
The major issue that the Flyers absolutely needs to address is goal tending, and not just because Mason and Neuvirth have not been good enough this year. Currently, the only goaltender the Flyers have eligible for the expansion draft is Anthony Stolarz, widely believed to be the goalie Philadelphia wishes to protect. That leaves a problem with Mason and Neuvirth, since both of their contracts expire at the end of the year and the long term solution does not seem to include both of them. Rumors have linked the Flyers with Lightning goalie Ben Bishop for some time now, and though he is a bigger name, he is older and will cost more to re-sign to be eligible for the expansion draft than both Mason and Neuvirth. I just don’t think it makes much sense, nor do I see where Hextall would make the cap room for Bishop’s contract.
Lately, Neuvirth has been getting a lot of playing time and I’m not exactly sure on what the reason for it is. He hasn’t been significantly better than Mason, nor do I believe Mason has deserved to sit for as long as he has. With a cap hit of $1.625 mil per year- compared to Mason’s $4.1 mil annually- I have to believe that Neuvirth would be easier to trade than Mason, and Hextall may be having Hakstol showcase Neuvirth, though it is possible that Neuvirth has won the trust of Dave Hakstol and has been chosen as the Flyers goalie moving forward. There is a possibility that Hextall re-signs Neuvirth to a 2 year deal while we wait for Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom to be NHL ready. In this case, Mason either gets moved or simply is not offered a contract for next year. With each game Mason sits, that option seems increasingly likely.
Who would they Look to get in a Trade?
Who would the Flyers target, though? Outside of Bishop rumors, there have not been too many names seriously linked to Philadelphia. Hextall has kicked the tires on Shattenkirk and Duchene, but I do not see Hextall matching the price being asked in either case. The Coyotes have been listening to offers on several players, one of which may actually make sense for the Flyers. Anthony Duclair has not seen as much ice time as expected this year, and has not played for the Coyotes since January 7th. It is believed that the Coyotes will not just give Duclair away, but will be looking for a return that includes a young center. Enter Nick Cousins.
Cousins is 23 years old and will be an RFA at the end of the season. He currently has 14 points in 50 games this season, but has looked great on the ice lately in limited minutes. Cousins is a player that the Flyers would have to make a decision on whether or not to protect him, so it makes sense to try and get some value out of him at the deadline while they can. Though Cousins would only be part of a deal to land Duclair, I think he may fit the role of “young center,” that the Coyotes may be looking for. Packaging Cousins with Streit, who could potentially mentor some of the younger defensemen like Anthony Deangelo and Jakub Chychrun would be an excellent move for both the Flyers cap situation and the Coyotes player development. The Flyers have a history with the Coyotes as well, dumping Chris Pronger’s contract and Nicklas Grossman for Sam Gagner back in 2015, which also was a Hextall move. Targeting a smaller name with potential while shedding aging contracts is exactly the kind of move Hextall would make, too.
Don’t hold out for a blockbuster move, Flyer Fans, but Hextall just may have something up his sleeve yet.