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February 28, 2017

2017 NHL Trade Deadline: Will Flyers be sellers – and if so, who should they deal?

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Believe it or not, but on Wednesday the calendar flips to March. And while the madness typically associated with this month has to do with another sport entirely, it will be hockey providing the craziness on Day 1 thanks to the 3 p.m. NHL Trade Deadline – and the mountain of rumors that come along with it.

College basketball will have to wait at least one day.

But with Ron Hextall and the Flyers already promising not to be buyers at the deadline, March could come in like a lamb for many fans if the team's general manager decides not to sell either and instead opt to stand pat in his second season at the helm. 

Although, a boring deadline could make for an exciting summer...

With less than 24 hours for Hextall to make up his mind, here's a look at what they're saying about the Flyers ahead of the NHL Trade Deadline.

Which one move are Flyers most likely to make?

If Hextall does decide to make a move, at least we know it won't be one in which the Flyers acquire big-name talent. That's at least a start in trying to filter out some of the countless rumors we'll hear between now and the deadline.

So if the Flyers are indeed going to be sellers, which players are the most likely to be dealt?

That answer likely has a lot more to do with contracts and age than talent, as tends to be the case. And with the Flyers having somewhat of a blueline logjam with top prospects waiting in the wings, there's a good chance that one of the team's pending UFAs on defense – including Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto – will be among the first to go.

Here's more from CSN Philly's Tom Dougherty, who believes Streit is the most-likely Flyer to be traded ahead of the deadline:

That player is Mark Streit, a 39-year-old puck-moving defenseman who can help a team's power play and provide some veteran leadership to boot. Streit has a modified no-trade clause in his contract, meaning he has a list of 10 teams he can be traded to, but that should not be a roadblock in moving him. He'll be a free agent on July 1 and a playoff run is far more attractive than wasting away the final two months of the season in mediocrity.  []

Dougherty also points out that "in an ideal world" Hextall would trade both Streit and MDZ before 3 p.m. Wednesday, which would allow for guys like Robert Hagg and Samuel Morin to gain some NHL experience in what is more and more looking like a lost season for the Orange and Black.

Maybe that's what will happen.

In that same story – CSN asked three Flyers writers to identify the Flyers' most likely deadline deal – Greg Paone said he believed MDZ was most likely to go.

Del Zotto has never been a defense-first type player. His strength is clearly his offensive ability. But unfortunately for Del Zotto, that's just not what the Flyers need out of their defensemen these days. So it should be no surprise he has slid down Hakstol's depth chart as the need for his role has decreased dramatically. But there are plenty of teams out there, contending ones, too, that could use some offensive punch on the blue line and on the power play. Del Zotto has played in only 30 games this season with four goals and six assists and is a role player these days, but there's a role for him somewhere out there. It's just not in Philadelphia anymore.  []

So if either of those players are dealt, where might they end up?

According to Sam Carchidi of The Philadelphia Inquirer – and probably to the dismay of Flyers fans – the best fit may be with their in-state rivals, the Penguins.

The Flyers could use forward prospects and/or draft picks.

Pittsburgh acquired defenseman Ron Hainsey from Carolina on Thursday, but the Penguins are still missing injured defensemen Kris Letang, Trevor Daley, and Olli Maatta and would like to add depth as they try to defend their Stanley Cup championship. ... 

It is worth noting that Flyers general manager Ron Hextall has close ties with Jim Rutherford, the Penguins' GM. Hextall's father, Bryan Jr., and Rutherford were teammates with Pittsburgh. Hextall has known Rutherford since the early 1970s.  []

Considering Streit, Del Zotto and Nick Shultz, the other pending UFA on defense, are all likely to be playing somewhere other than Philly next season anyway, it probably won't cause Flyers fans too much pain.

Who else might Flyers deal?

That trio of defensemen are hardly the team's only pending free agents. 

Both Flyers goalies, Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth, are set to hit the open market this summer and there's absolutely no chance the Flyers re-sign both. It would just make logical sense to trade one of them now rather than get nothing in the offseason if/when he walks, not unlike what the Sixers did last week by trading Nerlens Noel.

CSN Philly's Jordan Hall thinks they're more likely to get dealt even than the defenseman his colleagues pointed to when asked the same question: 

Is either goalie the Flyers' future when the team is ready for contention?

The orange and black are stocked with goaltending prospects in Anthony Stolarz, Alex Lyon, Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom. Stolarz got a small taste of the NHL earlier this season and could more than hold down the second-string fort the rest of 2016-17. When the offseason comes, then you worry about what's next between the pipes.  []

And there are apparently some teams that are interested in the Flyers net-minders.

But – not to make too many Sixers comparisons – just like how the Demarcus Cousins deal in the NBA hurt the value of Noel and Jahlil Okafor, a recent trade involving goalie Ben Bishop, now in Los Angeles, could have a negative impact on the market for Mason and Neuvirth.

If you were hoping the Flyers would move a goalie here at the deadline, the Bishop trade should recalibrate any of those hopes. If Bishop returned a backup goalie, a mediocre prospect and meh draft picks, what do you think Neuvirth or Mason is going to bring back? I mean, not to be too harsh or anything, but they have both played like utter crap this season. They wouldn’t have returned much had they been playing well, but after their poor years, in this market ...

Probably not even worth picking up the phone. There’s not going to be much of a market -- if there’s any market at all — for these guys at this deadline.  []

Crazier things have happened, right?

Hey, we're in 2017. Nothing is guaranteed anymore. Not a 3-1 lead. Not a 25-point second-half lead in the Super Bowl. Not even an Oscar that you've already accepted and are holding in your hand. 

Hextall could shock the world by trading one of his star players like struggling captain Claude Giroux, but that's seeming less and less likely to be the case.

For now, however, it appears we're not going to have a repeat of the 2011 deadline that changed the entire course of the organization. And given the state of the farm system, that's probably a good thing.

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin