Just yesterday, I wrote that the Philadelphia Flyers would benefit from adding an experienced, hard-checking fourth-line center. Today, the Flyers did just that when they acquired Nate Thompson from the Montreal Canadiens.
Thompson should immediately slot in as the fourth-line center, replacing rookie Connor Bunnaman. This is a major upgrade for the Flyers, as they are replacing Bunnaman’s one year of experience with Thompson’s 13 years of NHL service.
Thompson Will Increase the Defensive Intensity
In addition to his experience, Thompson, will also bring a little more “oomph” to the fourth line. Through 63 games with the Canadiens this season, Thompson has registered 103 hits, good for over 1.6 hits per game. This is now the eighth season in which Thompson has recorded at least 100 hits. Thompson’s career high came in the 2014-15 season when he recorded 204 hits.
In comparison, Bunnaman has recorded 29 hits in 21 games, which comes out to a bit less than 1.4 hits per game. Although that average seems close to Thompson’s 1.6 hits per game, it comes from a much smaller sample size of games. Meanwhile, Thompson is a proven commodity who can be relied on to record hits.
Another area where Thompson should provide an upgrade over Bunnaman is in his ability to block shots. Bunnaman has blocked just two shots in 21 games this season. In comparison, Thompson has blocked 41 shots in 63 games, a rate more than six times better than Bunnaman’s. Furthermore, Thompson has had three seasons where he blocked at least one shot per game.
Finally, as covered on our site earlier, Thompson eats up a lot of penalty killing time and wins a lot of faceoffs. Thompson’s 55.1% success on faceoffs is a significant upgrade from Bunnaman’s 37.5% of faceoffs won. Having Thompson on the ice will make it that much harder for opponents to spend sustained amounts of time in the Flyers’ defensive zone.
Thompson May Even Provide an Offensive Boost
While Thompson will primarily improve the Flyers’ defensive prowess, he may also provide a bit of an offensive boost to the team. The Flyers do not need much more scoring, as they trail the Rangers by just one goal for second most in the Metropolitan Division. Nonetheless, a team can never have too much offense, and thanks to the Thompson trade, the Flyers may get a little more.
Thompson has 4 goals and 10 assists this season (0.22 points per game) while Bunnaman has one goal and one assist (0.10 points per game). Thompson’s best offensive year came in the 2010-11 season when he had 10 goals and 15 assists.
Thompson will not find the back of the net every night, but he should help out the offense a bit more than Bunnaman.
Thompson Will Give Alain Vigneault More Flexibility
As mentioned, Thompson should slot in as the Flyers’ fourth-line center. This leaves the Flyers with Couturier, Hayes, Laughton and Thompson as its four centers, with Bunnaman the odd man out.
Meanwhile, center Nolan Patrick is expected to be ready to return soon. When that happens, the Flyers will have an embarrassment of riches at the position.
For head coach Alain Vigneault, this is a good thing, as he can play the matchups to his advantage. On some nights, he may make one of his bottom-line centers a healthy scratch. Conversely, he may explore moving one of his centers to wing.
Ultimately, Vigneault can never have too many options, and this Thompson add certainly provides him with a good one.
Thompson Came Cheap
Perhaps the best part of the trade was its cost. To acquire Thompson, the Flyers only had to part with a 2021 fifth-round pick. The Flyers did not have to give up any of their players or prospects.
Furthermore, Thompson is set to become a free agent at the end of the season. This means that Thompson will not have any ramifications on the Flyers’ salary cap this offseason. Per Cap Friendly, the Flyers are projected to have little cap space at the end of the season. Therefore, it was imperative that the Flyers did not take on a bad contract at the trade deadline.
In a Metropolitan Division where the Flyers’ main competitors have added pieces like Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrick Marleau and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Nate Thompson might not feel like a huge haul.
Nonetheless, the Thompson trade addressed the Flyers’ biggest need, and it cost a lot less than those other trades. Marleau and Kovalchuk both cost a third-round pick, while Pageau cost a first-round and second-round pick.
The Flyers were lucky because, unlike some of their Metropolitan Division competitors, they came into the trade deadline without having major needs. As a result, they did not need to give up lots of assets to improve their team.
In contrast, consider the Islanders’ situation at the trade deadline. The Islanders have scored just 173 goals on the season. That is good for second-worst in the Metropolitan Division. It was also 23 goals less than the next closest Eastern Conference team to currently hold a playoff spot, the Carolina Hurricanes.
As a result, the Islanders had to make a significant move at the trade deadline to upgrade their offense. The team did just that and acquired Pageau, a player who has scored more goals this season than any other Islanders player.
However, the cost to make such a trade was huge. Now, the Islanders will be without their first-round and second-round picks in 2020. The Islanders traded these picks, and subsequently jeopardized their future, out of necessity. The Islanders knew that if they wanted to make a deep playoff run this season, they had to significantly improve their offense, and were thus willing to pay any price to do so.
The Flyers, on the other hand, already had a strong offense, solid defense and decent goaltending at the trade deadline. For them, it was just a matter of filling in small holes on the roster, and that is exactly what they did by improving the fourth-line center position.
Furthermore, a trade of this caliber, did not require the Flyers to pay a king’s ransom. Ultimately, general manager Chuck Fletcher upgraded the team, without having to jeopardize its future. Well done, Chuck.
All stats came from Hockey Reference.