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April 13, 2021

What they're saying: So are the Flyers going to rebuild now or what?

Flyers NHL
Chuck-Fletcher-Flyers-GM-040819_USAT Zack Hill/Flyers

Former Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher.

The Flyers made three moves before the NHL trade deadline Monday, and did a very Flyers thing in doing so — they toed the line between completely giving up while also showing confidence in what they've got on the team.

Avoiding a full-fledged fire sale, Philly shed two players with expiring contracts for two draft picks while also re-committing to a mid-six forward. With 15 games left this season, there is no indication that they are packing it in, but there is also no clear signal that a roster overhaul will be coming next offseason.

Are big, sweeping changes necessary for a team that fooled everyone into thinking they were an up-and-coming squad, and on the cusp of being true contenders last year — but then reverted to the middling, mediocre team they've been for the better part of a decade?

If any more proof of their middling-ness was needed, the Flyers have apparently become just the saddes team in hockey — stuck between almost no chance of the playoffs and almost no chance of a top 5 draft pick.

Here's a snippet of what they're saying across the hockey world after the Flyers made a little noise (but not a lot) at the deadline Monday:

Work to do

Mike Sielski | Philadelphia Inquirer

Let's start with some hard truths, from a hockey writer who prides himself on bringing them up. The Flyers made a few moves at the deadline and sure, they could help this team play better (by opening roster spots for prospects to break through) and they could send some kind of message — but the important takeaway from the first 41 games of this shortened 56-game season is that the Flyers are a lot further away from being an elite hockey team than many expected when the season began. And general manager Chuck Fletcher is aware of this.

Here's more from Mike Sielski:

Truth be told, Fletcher needs to be bold this offseason. He needs to make some major moves, because the Flyers need a fresh, clean start. They’re stale. This season has proved as much. The notion that they are just a player away — a No. 1 defenseman here, a scoring forward there — from rejoining the NHL’s elite has been shattered. They have lost eight times this season by three goals or more and six times by five goals or more, including twice to the league’s bottom-feeders, the Buffalo Sabres. That’s not a team that should be tweaked. That’s not a team that necessarily needs a new coach, especially when it already has one who is more accomplished in his career, who has more credibility, than any player on the roster. That’s a team that requires someone handy with nitroglycerin.  []

One more snippet from Sielski, who has in the past been very hard on Jake Voracek (as we all remember). He's still being hard on Voracek — and on Giroux — who he sees as two of the problems.

Ron Hextall was given less than five years to reverse a decade-long trend, and he repeated a mistake with Jake Voracek that his predecessor, Paul Holmgren, made with Claude Giroux, allocating too many years and too much of the team’s salary cap to a player who couldn’t quite meet the measure of so great a commitment. The question is not whether Giroux and Voracek are good players. The question is whether they’re good enough to take up so much precious cap space for so long.

The results speak for themselves.  []

Sign of things to come?

Charlie O'Connor | The Athletic

With the above being established, that the Flyers are not as close to competing for championships as fans hoped after last year's surprising run up to the playoff bubble, it stands to reason that Fletcher and company will be aggressive next offseason — in contrast to their relatively quiet one prior to the 2021 season.

After all, for years and years standing pat and having faith in what they've got hasn't yielded results. Maybe, finally, it's time to adequately shake things up.

But is the extension Scott Laughton signed yesterday, a five-year deal worth $3 million per season actually indicating the opposite? And is that bad news for frustrated Flyers fans who want to see something change?

Partially because of his age and partially because of his personality, Laughton has turned into something of a bridge between the younger and older players on the roster. In other words, an actual locker room “glue guy.” His value in that regard, while hidden to the public, is very real.

Of course, it would become far less valuable if Fletcher were to take a blowtorch to the roster this offseason. There’d be no need for a bridge between vets and youth, for example, if all the vets were gone or if the entire young core were traded.

That’s not to say that the Flyers won’t make changes this summer. It’s difficult to imagine Fletcher sitting on his hands for a second straight offseason. But bringing back Laughton — both in terms of what it signifies from a philosophical standpoint and with the knowledge of the perception of his “intangible” value — does imply that a full-fledged blow-up isn’t especially likely.  [The Athletic]

A pleasant surprise

Jordan Hall | NBC Sports Philadelphia

Remember a bunch of summers ago, after Chip Kelly was fired by the Eagles and Howie Roseman was left with a disaster of a roster — and somehow Roseman was able to flip players no one in their right mind should have wanted (like DeMarco Murray and Byron Maxwell) for draft picks? Well, on a smaller scale, that's kind of what Fletcher did with Erik Gustafsson on Monday. Somehow, he was able to get a seventh-round pick for a player who was eighth on their defenseman depth chart and who'll now play for his fourth team in two seasons.

Gustafsson was signed last offseason to a one-year, $3 million deal. The puck-moving defenseman had been relegated to a healthy scratch all of this month. He was not going to be re-signed this offseason, so you had to think the underachieving Flyers were going to try to move him for any compensation.

"With respect to a player like Erik Gustafsson, clearly it didn't work," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said after the deadline. "Erik wasn't playing and I thought it was very important — not just from our perspective, but from Erik's perspective — to give him a chance to play."

Gustafsson had 10 points (one goal, nine assists) in 24 games for the Flyers. He had struggled in the defensive zone, which had him fall out of favor in the club's blue-line plans. The Flyers have struggled mightily to prevent goals this season and Gustafsson is an offensive-minded defenseman. With Shayne Gostisbehere playing well, Gustafsson had slid down the depth chart.  [NBCSP]

Around the East

Ed Barkowitz | Philadelphia Inquirer

While the Flyers got perhaps a little bit worse shedding Michael Raffl Monday, the teams the Flyers are chasing for an improbable playoff berth (they trail the Bruins by four points and Boston has two games in hand) got better. 

Here's a little analysis from the Inquirer's Ed Barkowitz on two teams ahead of Philly in Washington and Boston:

Biggest gamble. Washington. Anthony Mantha had 25 goals two years ago, but he was stuck in purgatory in Detroit. The Capitals gave up Jakub Vrana, Richard Panik, a first-rounder this year and a second-rounder next year for the 6-foot-5, 234-pound Mantha. That’s a lot. Mantha is signed through 2023-24, so he figures to be a headache for the Flyers for a few years.

The big winner. Boston, for getting Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar from Buffalo for a bottom-6 winger and a second-round pick. This would have been the biggest gamble since Hall, a former MVP, has fewer goals over the last month than Samuel Morin. But Boston gave up very little, though it will pay half of Hall’s salary.  []

Throwing in the towel?

Wayne Fish | Pocono Record

So are the Flyers packing it in for this season? The fact that they didn't sell more players off could be a vote of confidence for the ones still here. Or it could simply be indicative of a salary cap situation around the NHL that made it hard to make big splashes at the deadline. Almost every deal consummated this week was an expiring player heading to a new home to be a rental down the stretch — which makes it more sensible that Philly elected not to be a buyer despite being alive in the playoff hunt. But it also sort of signifies that the team has a little hope left.

The Flyers are in no position to go chasing “rentals’’ given their tenuous spot in the standings.

“I woke up this morning not knowing whether we would trade Scott Laughton and that was the big decision today,’’ Fletcher said. “We were very pleased that we were able to sign Scott.’’

Fletcher doesn’t sound like he’s giving up hope. If he was, he probably would have unloaded another player or two.

“We still have 15 games to play,’’ he said. “I realize we’re four points out and Boston has a couple games in hand. Right now we’re still in the fight.  [Pocono Record]

For what it's worth, the Flyers' Stanley Cup odds right now are 21st out of 31 NHL teams, a super long shot at +7500. They started the year among the favorites in the league at +600 back in January. Has a hockey team — absent serious injuries — ever had a fall that big?

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