What’s important to remember is that there are still 24 games left to play in the regular season and that the Philadelphia Flyers, despite their weak play over the past five games, have also managed to gain points in four of those five games. What’s also important to remember is that there are just five games between now and the NHL Trade Deadline. It’s clear that Flyers General Manager Ron Hextall has no interest in trading away young talent for a shot at making the playoffs this year, and rightfully so. There’s no point to making a trade just to make one. The organization has a reputation of being aggressive and parting with prospects or young players or draft picks in order to pick up a depth player at the deadline, so this more laid-back, wait-and-see type of approach is a different one than we’ve experienced in Philadelphia in a long time. The question becomes, of course, is this approach the correct one?
It’s hard to say, but if we examine what the returns have been like for the past few years at the trade deadline for players, they’ve been high or at least they’ve been high enough to fit in with Hextall’s longer term plans and the jargon he’s used in the media with how he wants to build through the draft. Just last season, Andrew MacDonald was acquired for a 2014 third-round draft pick and a 2015 second-round draft pick. Three years ago, Nicklas Grossmann was acquired for a second-round pick in the 2012 draft and a third-round pick in the 2013 draft. That same year, the Flyers also nabbed Pavel Kubina for a conditional second-round pick in the 2012 draft and a fourth-round pick in the 2013 draft.
The Flyers are currently without a second-round draft pick, so it stands to reason that they would attempt to acquire a pick in that round. Following what this organization has done in recent years, moving a defenseman would make the most sense. From a roster standpoint, this makes sense because the Flyers have nine defensemen at the moment. This team really only needs seven of them, so dealing two players from the overcrowded blue line would bring more stability to the lineup while also freeing up two contracts and potentially adding draft picks. Regardless of which body or bodies get moved off the blue line, Hextall should set his sights on adding a pick in the second round.
The most difficult part is picking which defenseman to move to attain that pick. Kimmo Timonen is probably the best candidate to be moved both because he will garner the largest return and because he’s probably interested in going to a team that is already likely to make the playoffs. The Flyers could make the playoffs, but with them being outside the playoff picture at this point, it doesn’t make sense to keep Timonen around in case that happens unless he returns this week and helps the team turn a corner to where they look like every-game competitors. Braydon Coburn would almost certainly return a second-round pick, though the asking price should probably be a low first-round pick because Coburn is a top-pairing defenseman when given a proper partner, but he is definitely no less than a second-pairing defenseman on any team in the NHL. Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto would also be players that, if dealt, would gain Philadelphia a second-round pick in this year’s draft.
Now does the team wish to part with any of the above players? Probably not. The players they’d prefer to trade at this point are ones that would not factor into the team’s plans next year or ones that have bigger contracts that hurt the team’s cap flexibility. The players that fall into this category are likely Nicklas Grossmann, Andrew MacDonald, Carlo Colaiacovo, and Luke Schenn.
While Schenn is the guy least likely to be dealt of the four mentioned because of his age and his contract, he probably has the most upside of the four for a club in the market for a steady third pairing defenseman with strong outlet pass ability and a tough, physical style. Grossmann and MacDonald are difficult to move because of their skill set and their contracts, though MacDonald is the significantly tougher to move based purely on the contract while Grossmann is harder to move because of his lack of skating and puck moving ability. Colaiacovo would be a great addition to most teams as a seventh defenseman because he is probably the most well-rounded and talented of the bunch, but his proneness to injury may give clubs pause as it did in the offseason when he wasn’t offered an NHL contract that was appealing until nearly a quarter of the way through this season.
No matter what happens between now and the second of March, whether they go on a run while the Boston Bruins continue to flounder and find themselves in a playoff spot or if they fall off the map and find themselves farther out of the hunt, the team has options and should explore those options with fervor.