The Flyers should be sellers before next week’s NHL trade deadline, and high-profile players such as captain Claude Giroux and center Brayden Schenn should be made available for the right price.
Do the math. The Flyers have 63 points. They are two points behind the Maple Leafs for the final wild card position. The Islanders and Panthers are one point ahead of the Flyers. The Flyers have 23 games left in the regular season.
The Panthers have played two fewer games than the Flyers. The Flyers have played one more game than the Maple Leafs and Islanders.
It’s certainly not impossible for the Flyers to make the playoffs. But it’s a difficult road. It doesn’t help that two of the Flyers’ next five games are against the Capitals, including Wednesday night (8 p.m.), and another game is against the Penguins. By the time that five-game stretch is over, the Flyers probably won’t have gained any ground. A best-case realistic scenario is that they will maintain their current position. Basically, they’d be treading water, except they’d only have 18 games remaining.
Three games into that five-game stretch is the NHL trade deadline. That means that general manager Ron Hextall has to decide whether it’s more important to make the playoffs this season or to build for the future.
What’s the upside to the Flyers making the playoffs? It will be a good experience for the younger players, such as Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny. A strong finish to the regular season should help the Flyers’ confidence.
On the other hand, the Flyers still have trouble scoring goals, which was their downfall during last season’s hard-fought first-round playoff series against the Capitals. I think it’s time to start moving pieces.
Whom should the Flyers try to trade? Let’s start with the easy ones. Veteran defensemen Mark Streit, Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz all have contracts that expire after this season. Streit and Schultz are nearing the end of their careers. Del Zotto, who is a minus-13 in 32 games, has been inconsistent and injury-prone as a Flyer. None of them appears to be in the Flyers’ future, so Hextall should try to get something in return for them rather than let them leave without getting any compensation.
Teams looking for a boost for the playoffs might be willing to part with draft picks and possibly a prospect for these defensemen. Streit is a liability in his own end, but he can quarterback a power play. Schultz is steady and reliable, and could fill in nicely on a third pairing. Del Zotto is more of a wild card, but teams may take a shot that Del Zotto lives up to his promise. As for Andrew MacDonald, his contract ($5 million per year for 3 more seasons) makes him virtually untradeable.
Speaking of unrestricted free agents, goalies Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth both fit into that category. Neither one has demonstrated that he deserves to be the No. 1 goalie, and the Flyers have plenty of young goalies in their system. The Flyers should certainly listen to offers for either one. Anthony Stolarz could move up from the Phantoms to be the backup for the rest of the season.
And that brings us to the big names. Well, let’s start with a mid-sized name. Matt Read, who is likely to be exposed in the expansion draft anyway, should certainly be made available. Dale Weise, whom the Flyers signed to a four-year contract last summer, should be available to teams looking for a veteran fourth-line forward for the playoffs.
But the Flyers should also listen if teams inquire about Claude Giroux and Brayden Schenn. Giroux only has 12 goals this season. More alarming is that his plus/minus rating is minus-20. Giroux, 29, has five years remaining on a contract that pays him $8.275 million annually (all salaries courtesy of capfriendly.com). The contract is an impediment to making a deal, but if a contender could add Giroux, it should boost their chances in the playoffs. The Flyers should strongly consider trading Giroux if there is a legitimate offer.
Schenn is an enigma. He leads the NHL in power play goals (14), yet he is not among the top 50 goal scorers in the league. Think about that for a moment. How is it possible to lead the NHL in power play goals yet not be among the top 50 scorers? By being terrible at even strength. Schenn has just four goals that weren’t on the power play. He only has 15 points that aren’t on the power play. His plus/minus rating is minus-20.
Schenn, 25, is under contract for three more seasons at $5,125 per season. If a team makes a good enough offer, which involves a package that must include at least one top prospect on the wing, the Flyers should strongly consider letting someone else find out if Schenn will ever develop into the top player everyone thought he would be when the Flyers acquired him from the Kings.
The Flyers should also listen to offers for center Sean Couturier, although I would be more reluctant to trade him than Giroux or Schenn. Let’s begin with the fact that Couturier is the Flyers’ best defensive center. The fact that he’s only a minus-3 on a team with a minus-25 goal differential is impressive. That fact he has that rating while frequently matching up against the other teams’ best centers is remarkable.
Those who want to trade Couturier frequently point to his offensive production. He certainly has a lot of room to improve, but his numbers, relatively speaking, aren’t so bad. None of his nine goals and only two of his eight assists have come on the power play. That means he has more non-power play goals than any Flyer except Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek. Yes, he has more than Giroux (7) and Schenn (4). Couturier has as many non-power play points (15) as Schenn (15) and nearly as many as Giroux (19) despite playing 13 fewer games than Schenn and 16 fewer than Giroux. A solid case can be made that Couturier is the Flyers’ best center at even strength. At $4.33 million for five more seasons, Couturier also has a salary cap-friendly contract.
The only players who should be safe from trade speculation are Simmonds and rookies Provorov and Konecny. It would take a tremendous haul to pry Voracek or Shayne Gostisbehere away from the Flyers, but everyone else should be fair game as the Flyers become sellers at the trade deadline.
LEADER IN THE CLUBHOUSE: If the Flyers trade Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds should be next captain. He is a terrific player and he leads by example. Simmonds, who is currently an assistant captain, epitomizes what it means to be a Flyer.
OUTDOOR FUN: The Flyers will face the Penguins at Heinz Field on Saturday (8 p.m.) as part of the NHL’s Coors Light Stadium Series. It would be wonderful if this became an annual tradition, perhaps at Penn State’s Beaver Stadium, or with a rotation between Heinz Field, Citizens Bank Park and Beaver Stadium.
GRAND ACHIEVEMENT: Penguins center Sidney Crosby notched the 1,000th point of his career Thursday during a 4-3 overtime victory over the Jets. After registering No. 1,000 with an assist, Crosby later assisted on the tying goal and then scored 21 seconds into overtime to complete a three-point night.
BEING A MAN(NING): Brandon Manning deserves a lot of respect for the way he handled himself Thursday in Edmonton. Manning is public enemy No. 1 there for breaking young star Connor McDavid’s collar bone last season, which led to a spat earlier this season in Philadelphia. Manning played a composed game before, when the time and score were right for it, obliging the larger Patrick Maroon by engaging in a fight.
On a side note, the penalty for embellishment called on Manning after Oilers forward Milan Lucic japed him in the groin with his stick from behind is one of the worst calls of the year.
DETENTE: The Flyers Alumni are in the midst of a tour of Russia, which is ironic, considering the Flyers were vilified in Russia after defeating the Soviet Red Army team at the Spectrum in 1976. The alumni are participating in clinics and are playing three games. There are rumors that Russian president Vladimir Putin may play in the final game. A hard hit reminiscent of the Ed Van Impe check that caused the Russians to walk off during the 1976 game could spark an international incident.
ALUMNI REMATCH: Given the success of the Flyers Alumni vs. Penguins Alumni game at Wells Fargo Center, the teams will have a rematch on March 18 at Santander Arena in Reading. Proceeds will benefit the Flyers Alumni Association and Reading Royals Charities, with the alumni funds going toward a $2 million pledge to support the construction of the Edward M. Snider/Flyers Alumni Ice Hockey Rink.