If there was any doubt about what the Philadelphia Flyers should do at the trade deadline, things got much easier Tuesday afternoon when the team announced Travis Konecny would miss four to six weeks with a “lower-body” injury.
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) February 7, 2017
Despite being a healthy scratch in two of the Flyers’ last three games, Konecny was an integral part of the offense, usually lining up on the top two lines and contributing 22 points in his rookie year. On the roster and in the organization, there’s no one that can step up and replace the 19-year-old.
With that production now erased for at least the next month, the Flyers’ playoff chances, which were already bleak, have worsened. Konecny’s injury, among other factors, reinforces the point that Philadelphia should be sellers at trade deadline time on March 1st.
Why Trade Deadline Selling
Last year, the Flyers were in a similar condition and still made the playoffs, so they should be able to do it again in 2017 right? It won’t be that simple.
Konecny wasn’t on the team last year and the roster is largely the same, but scoring has become even harder to come by. Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek may have over 40 points each, but alleged secondary scorers Matt Read, Dale Weise and Michael Raffl have a combined 28 points.
The biggest absence in the scoring department is Shayne Gostisbehere. Whether you agree or not with coach Dave Hakstol’s recent decision to bench the sophomore, the fact is that the defenseman is scoring at a much lower rate.
Last season, Gostisbehere had 46 points in 64 games. This year he’s accumulated 21 in 48. Gostisbehere isn’t the only one struggling on the blue line. Michael Del Zotto looks more like the player that was unwanted in New York rather than the revitalized defenseman in his first two seasons in Philly.
Besides the offense, Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth have struggled in net after strong seasons last year, thought they have improved slightly recently.
The Flyers were able to skate by on a porous defense last season, so some may wonder if acquiring a winger to replace Konecny could put them over the playoff hump. But even then, there isn’t much point to buying at the deadline.
The Flyers are still at the end of a retooling and are nowhere near a championship. Giving up assets for a first-round playoff loss isn’t more valuable than accumulating assets for a contending future and suffering through a postseason-less year.
Flyers’ Available Assets
Last season, general manager Ron Hextall didn’t make a single trade after January. He had a few minor assets at last year’s trade deadline like Raffl, but decided to stay the course. This season, Hextall’s asset list is a little longer.
Del Zotto, originally on the fence for a new contract before the year, has likely played himself out of a new one with the Flyers for next season. While he has defensive liabilities, he can move the puck and is a solid skater in an NHL that is turning toward mobility.
Defensemen also in contract years, are veterans Mark Streit and Nick Schultz. Streit can still quarterback a power play, an always valuable skill, despite being 39-years-old. Schultz has been the Flyers’ eighth defenseman for most of the year, but if a team wants depth and experience for cheap, he’s an easy target.
The only Flyers forwards about to hit free agency are Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde, two favorites of Hakstol. If made available in trades, they would be cheap, depth options for playoff-bound teams, but given the coach’s unbroken stance to rely on the two, the pair could be back next season.
In net, though, lies the Flyers’ greatest assets. It’s not uncommon to see netminders fly around on deadline day and Philadelphia has two that might be open for trading.
Either Mason or Neuvirth would be a welcomed addition to a team looking for a strong backup or, in some cases, one that could fight for the starting spot in St. Louis or Calgary. At the 2015 Trade Deadline, Neuvirth moved from the Buffalo Sabres to the New York Islanders for a third-round pick. While not a big return, it’s one that would be welcomed in Philly.
It’s unlikely that Hextall would trade both goalies. There’s always a chance one is re-signed and it makes more sense to have a veteran in net rather than rookie Anthony Stolarz to end a tough year.
Stolarz’s time will come next year. The same can be said for the Flyers, whose best bet is to continue to gain future assets this season rather than hold onto them for an early playoff exit.