April 07, 2021
Following Tuesday night's loss to the Bruins, which dropped them even further down the East Division's standings, the Flyers have just three games remaining between now and Monday's trade deadline.
And, as has become tradition on Broad Street around this time of year, no one is really sure what the Flyers are heading into the deadline. Are they a couple of upgrades from being a contender? Or would they be better served by turning their attention to the future and selling some parts that no longer make a ton of sense in an effort to get some added draft ammunition moving forward.
In recent years, the team has opted to remain relatively quiet at the deadline, and that very well could be the case again this year. Why? Well, in addition to their place in the standings — they're now tied with the Rangers for fifth place in the East but have a goal differential 46 goals worse than New York — they also have a general manager in Chuck Fletcher who has already gone on the record saying his team won't be sellers.
"We’re certainly not looking at selling right now," Fletcher said back on March 24. "I would say to you, in my calls with managers around the league, first of all, I have received very few calls. It’s been really quiet in terms of receiving calls. I’ve made many. I’ve been much more aggressive, I think, than a lot of people just looking at different options. There doesn’t seem to be many teams out there willing to take on dollars or term at this point in time. There seem to be more teams that are looking to move some pieces and take on pieces just for various reasons. We’ll take a look. Anything we do, we want to make sure it make sense. If we can fill a box for the long-term right now, we can potentially explore that. Certainly, if we can upgrade our team, we’ll do that."
Of course, Fletcher was likely hoping at that point in time that his team was going to go on a bit of a run leading up to the deadline, and had they swept Boston in regulation the last two nights they would've overtaken the Bruins for the final playoff spot in the East rather than be sitting five points out with 18 games to play (with Boston holding two games in hand).
Now it's not only feeling like the Flyers shouldn't be buyers, but it's more and more feeling like, a year after earning the East's top seed in the bubble playoffs, their season might be over before the deadline even arrives.
Here's how Crossing Broad's Anthony SanFilippo started his column on Wednesday, before finishing it off with a eulogizing poem.
As I sat there and watched the Flyers playoff hopes go up in smoke – as they are now five points behind Boston and the Bruins have two games in hand – I couldn’t help think about how this was all going to settle in the minds and emotions of the players, coaches, management, and yes, even the fans who truly believed that this team would figure out their issues and respond with the kind of play needed to be a playoff team.
For a few games it seemed they did figure it out, but they waited too long and left themselves no wiggle room. So, now it’s Spring and we will turn our attention toward other things for the next several months. But for one night, we had to let it all sink in. The Flyers 2020-21 season is now all but over. [crossingbroad.com]
If that's the case — and it very much feels like it is at this point — then why shouldn't the Flyers be looking to sell at the deadline? On Tuesday, coming off their overtime win over Boston in Game 1 of their two-game set, we took a look at some options for the Flyers if Fletcher decides his team should be buyers. But if they don't win their next three games (at Islanders, vs. Bruins, vs. Sabres) before the deadline — especially if they continue to fall down the standings — it's going to be hard for him to argue that's the prudent move.
Of course, standing pat is always an option (and a popular with this team in recent years) but there have been a few rumors regarding the Flyers trading away players ahead of the deadline.
The Flyers forward has seen his name pop up in trade rumors recently, but it's not the first time. Here's what Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman said on his 31 Thoughts podcast on Friday about the 26-year-old pending free agent.
“I think they’ve tried to sign him. I think it’s possible, last year, when they were talking to Winnipeg about [Patrik] Laine, that Laughton was potentially around that [trade]. I will say this, contracts are hard to do right now, especially when you’re going through what Philadelphia is going through... I believe the Flyers think that that guy loves being a Flyer and wants to be a Flyer. The question is, can they get it done?
“There are a lot of teams out there, if you told them that Scott Laughton was available for a playoff run, they’re throwing themselves at a guy like him.” [31 Thoughts Podcast]
The biggest reason Laughton could be on the market ahead of the deadline is because his contract will be up at the end of the year, and Fletcher might consider flipping him for picks or prospects if he's worried about being unable to re-sign the center once he hits the open market. In 33 games this season, Laughton has 17 points, including seven goals. He's also currently No. 9 on TSN's Trade Bait list.
On Tuesday, Laughton was asked about his status and certainly made it sound like he hopes he's still here when Monday's deadline passes — and perhaps even beyond that.
“It hasn’t really crossed my mind. If it happens, it happens,” Laughton said, according to Inquirer.com. “My focus is here in Philly. I love it here in Philly. I love the staff here. I love the guys here. I’m focused on coming to work every day and trying to get better and push the pace a little bit and get a playoff spot. That’s my focus right now.”
Still, with Friedman saying teams would be "throwing themselves" at a guy like Laughton, it might be in Fletcher's beset interest to strike while the iron's hot. But if the Flyers still consider Laughton as part of the future — and perhaps they've had discussions to that effect behind the scenes — they'll hang on to him with the hopes that he'll sign an extension with Philly before hitting the open market.
Here's more from the crew over at Broad Street Hockey...
It sounded like teams would be chomping at the bit to get him for the summer of playoff hockey, even going as far as comparing a potential Laughton acquisition having the same effect as the Tampa Bay Lightning acquiring Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow before their eventual championship last season. Both Coleman and Goodrow netted first-round picks along with a couple of mid-tier prospects heading to their respective teams. Now, that package might not be out there, considering the flat cap and the limited number of buyers ahead of the April 12 trade deadline, but it will be interesting to see how teams value Laughton, if he were to be moved.
But, as it has been made evident throughout the rumor mill, the Flyers love having a player of Laughton’s ilk in the lineup. Considering that — according to Friedman — he loves being a part of the Philadelphia organization, it all depends how they view the realistic possibility of signing the pending free agent to a brand new contract. [broadstreethockey.com]
One quick note on that...
(Sorry, I just couldn't pass up the chance to make a 30 Rock reference.)
Anyway, while it seems like Laughton is a prime candidate to be dealt, he's also a guy that could remain in Philly for the foreseeable future. If he's still with the team when the deadline passes, that's as good a sign as any that Fletcher is confident the team will be able to re-up Laughton this summer. Unfortunately, other teams will be quick to realize that if Laughton is being put on the block it's likely because the Flyers don't think he'll be back next year, which will hurt any leverage they might've had.
I guess we'll have to wait until Monday to find out.
Another name mentioned by Friedman on his podcast was former second-overall pick Nolan Patrick, who has never quite lived up to expectations in Philly. And to top it all off, migraines cost him his entire 2019-20 season. Now back with the club after a year off the ice, Patrick has just seven total points in 37 games and is a minus-19. His 0.19 points per game are well below the numbers he posted in his first two seasons, when he average 0.41 as a rookie in 2017-18 and 0.43 his sophomore season in 2018-19.
Now, the Flyers could decide to move on from the 22-year-old center.
“I wonder if it’s time," Friedman said. "I do think at times they have been asked about him, and they’ve kind of said ‘no.’ You know, right-shot center, second overall pick; you don’t want to give up on that too easy. But I wonder if both player and team are beginning to wonder if it’s time. We’ll see where it goes.”
Patrick signed a qualifying offer with the Flyers last offseason on a one-year deal and will again be a restricted free agent this offseason. That could be attractive to a team looking to add him, especially if they believe they can fix him and turn him into the players the Flyers were hoping they drafted when they essentially won the lottery back in 2017. In fact, it's basically the best of both worlds for the acquiring team, as they would have right of first refusal to offer a new deal but could also cut ties at the end of the season if they decide the deal wasn't worth it.
Still, at such a young age, it would be tough to see the Flyers give up on a player like Patrick, especially after the bizarre circumstances that cost him his third NHL season.
The Flyers could have lost Gostisbehere for nothing last week when they exposed him to waivers. And while he cleared and is already back with the team scoring goals, the simple fact that they were willing to expose him (and willing to get nothing back in return) suggests that they'd be willing to deal him in the right trade.
At the time the Flyers put the 27-year-old Gostisbehere on waivers, there were some reports that they were doing so in order to get some cap relief with an eye on a big move ahead of the deadline. But their losing ways continued, and now the offensive-minded blueliner could be the one getting traded.
NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jordan Hall reported last week that "his name will likely surface some more [in trade rumors] as this season's deadline nears." And that shouldn't be surprising, especially since Ghost Bear has been no stranger to trade rumors the last few deadlines.
Over at Bleacher Report, they took a look at five possible landing spots for Gostisbehere. And one of them, the Bruins, is quite interesting given not only their place in the standings relative to the Flyers but also because, after this weekend's matchup, they'll have seen him play first-hand three times in a week. Here's more from B/R's Lyle Richardson...
On March 27, The Athletic's Fluto Shinzawa reported Bruins general manager Don Sweeney was seeking a right winger and help on defense. Boston believes more offense will come if it has cleaner breakouts from its zone. Shinzawa suggested Nashville Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm would fit that profile.
Ekholm, however, might not be available with the Predators surging into playoff contention in the Central Division. Sweeney could be forced to consider other blue-line options such as Gostisbehere. He could offer a draft pick or perhaps a depth forward such as Anders Bjork whom the Flyers could put toward acquiring a goalie.
Gostisbehere's $4.5 million salary-cap hit, however, will be a stumbling block. The Bruins have $8.4 million in trade deadline cap space, but some of that will be needed to acquire a scoring winger. If Sweeney stuck to just Gostisbehere, he could insist the Flyers pick up part of the tab. [bleacherreport.com]
After a sensational start to his career in which he scored 46 points in his rookie year and 150 over his first three seasons (218 games), including a career-high 65 in 2017-18, Gostisbehere has recorded just 61 points in his last 3 seasons (148 games). That's a drop-off from 0.69 points per game to just 0.41 points per game. That's still an impressive average for a defenseman, but his defense is a liability at times — and given that the Flyers are allowing more goals than almost anyone in hockey, that's a liability the Flyers simply can't afford.
So, will Fletcher deal any of these three players? Will he try to shake up the team with another move? Or does he have something else entirely in mind? We'll find out Monday...
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