March 03, 2023
From the moment the season began, just about anyone could see that James van Riemsdyk was as good as traded.
A veteran winger on an expiring contract, and on a team expected to be bad, who could still put up around 20 goals as a big, net-front presence? It screamed playoff rental.
But over the past couple of weeks, while teams across the league ran wild making moves that reshaped the landscape of the NHL, the Flyers – self-admitted sellers looking toward the future – sat quietly.
They entered Friday morning with the 3 p.m. ET trade deadline looming and just "future considerations" in their bag from a prospect that never panned out.
To be fair, they didn't stay entirely still, but when 3:01 p.m. hit, van Riemsdyk was still a Flyer, Justin Braun – a seventh defenseman who was able to fetch a draft pick last year – was still one too.
They'll both finish out the year in Philadelphia, and so will other rumored trade pieces – though ones with term – like Kevin Hayes, Ivan Provorov, and Nick Seeler.
After that, the likelihood is that the two will move on after the season for nothing, even though there was a clear opportunity to at least recoup something for tomorrow in the way of draft picks today.
All year, it looked like an easy layup. On Friday, it felt like a massive miss.
At least in van Riemsdyk's case, general manager Chuck Fletcher said there was an offer from a team (reported elsewhere to be Detroit) at 1:40 p.m., but it was conditional on a trade for another forward being completed. It wasn't, and by 2:30 p.m., that offer was gone.
"The market spoke," Fletcher said. "It wasn't to be."
And then there wasn't anything else? Not for a known name, who admittedly has struggled of late and is carrying a $7 million cap hit, but is still pushing 300 career goals?
"I've spoken to teams for three weeks, every team," Fletcher said. "Every team by then had already told me no several times."
"We certainly made everybody aware he was available," he went on to say. "We made everybody aware we would retain 50 percent [of his salary]. We made everybody aware that we could even take back a contract if that helped a little bit more on the cap or the cash, and we talked about a different range and different ways of getting there – prospects, a pick, multiple picks, whatever it could be, a conditional pick, we talked about all kinds of different scenarios."
But nothing? No one willing to part with a pick? Not even a late-rounder?
"I can only control my half," Fletcher said. "There has to be a willing buyer, and until 1:40 today, we never had any type of offer, and the offer we got was conditional."
Looked like an easy layup. Felt like a massive miss.
Fletcher was still able to collect a couple of late-round draft picks, one each for this summer and the next.
Fourth-line bruiser Zack MacEwen, who was up for restricted free agency after this year, was dealt to Los Angeles for a 2024 fifth-round pick and another aggressive checker on an expiring contract in Brendan Lemieux.
Lemieux, a known pest around the league, wasn't a key piece in the deal, but Fletcher said Kings GM Rob Blake was trying to move the 26-year-old's contract during their talks and figured "why not" on a 20-game tryout.
"Thought I'd just make it easy on him," he said.
Center Patrick Brown, a faceoff specialist and depth forward for the bottom six, was dealt to Ottawa for their surprising playoff push, with the Sens giving back a 2023 sixth-rounder for this June.
The Flyers didn't walk away from the deadline totally empty-handed, but didn't leave it in a way that looked promising for an organization finally coming to grips with the fact that they have to rebuild either, even if they still refuse to say that word.
To that end, Fletcher said there will be other opportunities in the summer to try and move contracts that don't fit the long-term picture, but moreover, on the overall state of the team and to the disappointment and apathy of a tired fan base, he gave a lengthy response:
"Look, I understand our fans are really disappointed. The last 2-3 years, there's no question we've been trying to be a competitive team. We've been trying to be a team, in particular, two years ago, going back to the summer of ‘21, trying to be a team that maximized the last year of [Claude Giroux] on his contract, to be a team that could compete and make a playoff spot.
"Clearly, I haven't done that. I haven't done that job. There's no doubt. Last year, we had a couple devastating injuries, absolutely, with [Sean Couturier] and [Ryan Ellis], and even Hayesy. This year with Couturier and [Cam Atkinson] has been very difficult, but that's not the only reason. We need more talent and that's on me.
"So, I get it. Last summer, I think we were a little tepid. We didn't want to be overly aggressive in pursuit of talent, because we did have some concerns about Couturier in particular, then [Joel Farabee] had been hurt and we didn't know what exactly we were gonna have going into the year, so we put some kids on the team, we gave them that opportunity, and as we go forward, we recognize we have to get more talent and we are going to build it.
"I'm not worried about my job. Whatever happens with me will happen with me. That's up to Dave Scott, but everything I do is about doing what's right for the Philadelphia Flyers and not taking shortcuts, and that's in part why we didn't make any more deals today. The deals that were presented to me were not good deals for the Philadelphia Flyers. Last summer, being more aggressive was not going to be good for the Philadelphia Flyers. Maybe in the short run it makes me look better, but we don't want band-aids anymore.
"We want to build this the right way and we're committed to doing it. Those are my words, my actions will have to back it up, but we're committed to doing it."
And it's maybe never been more clear that it's going to be a long, painful time.
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