The Philadelphia Flyers made a series of moves on Tuesday prior to the NHL trade deadline, confirming their position as deadline sellers concentrated on future organizational development beyond the 2020-21 season. General manager Chuck Fletcher completed two trades sending veteran players away for draft compensation. First, defenseman Erik Gustafsson was traded to the Montreal Canadiens for a seventh-round draft pick. Veteran winger Michael Raffl was later dealt to the Washington Capitals for a fifth-round pick. To begin the day, it appeared that Scott Laughton was the most coveted of any player being shopped by the Flyers. They not only retained their most valuable trade chip but also inked him to a five-year contract extension.
While deadline day did not include any blockbuster trades for Philadelphia, the moves Fletcher made and did not make can be seen as indicators of the direction he will look to take the franchise in the critical upcoming offseason. He faces significant decision-making in regard to retooling a Flyers roster that has not met expectations this season.
Scott Laughton Extension
Laughton was set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. With the Flyers sitting as a long shot to earn a playoff berth, the Toronto Maple Leafs seemed like a logical landing spot for the Ontario native. Despite the rumors circulating in recent days about the possibility of moving Laughton, Fletcher provided a clear indication of the organization’s value for him.
Although it was in a much different way than many expected, Fletcher made a significant move to benefit the Flyers in future seasons by signing Laughton to a five-year, $15 million extension. Any hypothetical trade scenario involving Laughton would’ve been intended to secure draft compensation for a veteran player set to become a UFA who was expected to leave the organization in the offseason. The extension, however, eliminates the uncertainty that comes with acquiring draft compensation and secures the place of a proven NHL commodity in the future at a reasonable team-friendly $3 million average annual value.
Michael Raffl Trade
The Flyers sent Raffl to the Capitals for a fifth-round draft pick in 2021. He was set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and the team was unlikely to resign him. Washington receives a versatile bottom-six forward who provides valuable intensity and strong ability on the penalty kill. The Flyers retained 25% of Raffl’s remaining salary.
This trade is a true indication that the Flyers are not considering their narrow hopes of making a postseason push in 2020-21 in their organizational decision-making. Trading a veteran player for a fifth-round draft pick is not a great value move. Raffl played over 500 games with the Flyers, including 34 this season, and he was highly respected within the organization. Although Fletcher referred to the Flyers as “still in the fight” during a press conference on Monday afternoon, the trade is indicative of a logical admission that even marginal future assets outweigh the role of veteran players for the final 15 games of the current season.
Erik Gustafsson Trade
The Flyers sent Gustafsson to Montreal in exchange for a seventh-round draft pick in 2022. He played only 24 games for Philadelphia after signing a one-year, $3 million deal prior to the 2020-21 season.
Gustafsson had virtually no remaining value for the Flyers. He had been a healthy scratch in six consecutive games. Among other defensemen vying for playing time, Shayne Gostisbehere is already occupying a spot in the Flyers lineup as a risk-taking defenseman, and his offensive production far outweighs that of Gustafsson.
The trade is a minimal win for Philadelphia. While they reportedly still retained half of Gustafsson’s remaining salary, the minor financial benefit and draft compensation outweigh the presence of a player who was unlikely to suit up again in a Flyers uniform.
The Moves Not Made
Fletcher also gave indications of the organization’s future plans by the moves he did not make. Goaltender Brian Elliott is another veteran set to become an unrestricted free agent, and he remained with the Flyers. He likely would’ve brought back minimal draft compensation just as Raffl and Gustafsson did. However, holding on to him is a move that benefits 22-year-old goalie Carter Hart for the remainder of the current season. Restoring Hart’s confidence and rhythm in hopes for future success is a major priority for the Flyers right now. Elliott’s presence as a strong leader and calming influence on Hart outweighs the minimal draft compensation that would’ve been acquired for him.
Fletcher sat idle through the team’s defensive struggles during the month of March in large part due to the unusual circumstances of the flat salary cap and the impending expansion draft this summer. He admitted Monday that the defensive corps is “not set up in an ideal way” as currently constructed. The uncertainty of the trade market leading up to the deadline likely limited his options in the acquisition of a key defenseman. He was wise not to give up a major package this season given that his trade options were far from ideal. Increased flexibility following the expansion draft this offseason could spur Fletcher’s true attempt to acquire the top-pair defenseman the Flyers lack.
Colin Newby is a freelance journalist from Delaware County, PA covering the Philadelphia Flyers for The Hockey Writers. He is an encyclopedia of useless sports knowledge with an uncanny ability to rattle off Flyers goaltending stats from 2004 and every Stanley Cup winner during his lifetime. The depths of his knowledge stem from spending his entire life following the Flyers and the NHL, from fan favorites like the Legion of Doom and Claude Giroux to no-namers like Andy Delmore and Branko Radivojevič. Colin also writes fictional sports stories and covers the Philadelphia Eagles.