The Philadelphia Flyers lost three games by a combined score of 15-4 over the past week, but the focus has shifted away from the ice. John Tortorella explicitly admitted on Feb. 27 that the Flyers no longer consider themselves a playoff contender. General manager (GM) Chuck Fletcher reiterated his head coach’s words the following day at the team practice facility. The Flyers are clear-cut sellers at the trade deadline for the third consecutive season. Regardless of the terminology they use to describe their situation, they need to make some major moves to change the course of the franchise.
Trust the Process?
The Flyers have consistently tiptoed around using the word “rebuild” to describe their current situation. While Tortorella has previously slipped it into his media availability, Fletcher continued to avoid the infamous R word on Tuesday. While he passed on labeling a rebuild, he did affirm a question about “restarting the process here (in Philadelphia) and building the team back up” as a strategy the organization will follow.
“It’s going to be a longer process than maybe what we might want, but I think we’re starting to build the right way and integrate a lot of young players into our team,” Fletcher said.
The organization might’ve dodged the rebuild label, but “process” is a potentially more controversial buzzword. Their fellow tenants in the Wells Fargo Center, the Philadelphia 76ers, notoriously tanked four consecutive seasons during “the process,” possibly the most famously discussed rebuild in the history of professional sports. Fans in Philadelphia want clarity about the plan and a timeline to set expectations, but Fletcher wouldn’t specify either.
“You keep some of your better assets, and if you can move a couple other players out to get younger, then we’ll do that. The timing of how you do things is important. It really depends on the market. The goal is to get better and to get value and not just to move guys out,” he said.
Their emphasis on acquiring young players will not include a deliberate effort to lose for the sake of draft lottery odds. When the Flyers hired Tortorella, they clearly established their intention to compete to the best of their ability. Tanking for a better chance of landing Connor Bedard is not in the cards.
Related: 2023 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker
Fletcher repeated his own admission from January 2022 about the lack of top-end talent on the roster. He spoke positively about the development of Cam York, Noah Cates, Owen Tippett, Wade Allison, and Morgan Frost. While the five respective players have shown varying extents of potential in 2022-23, none of them have the ceiling needed to become a primary centerpiece for a Stanley Cup contending team.
The Philadelphia GM also mentioned a change in the organization’s outlook in 2022-23 based on the injuries to Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson. Neither player has dressed for a regular-season game this season. If the Flyers hoped to contend for a postseason berth with the two veterans in the lineup, they’re not recognizing the magnitude of the disaster that has fallen on the organization since the Covid-19 pandemic.
The goal to “stabilize” in 2022-23 has helped the organization rebound from two embarrassing seasons and identify secondary roster pieces for the future. However, it hasn’t addressed the glaring need for top-end talent, and injuries are not the reason for that. Fletcher and the Flyers cannot continue to avoid making major moves if they want to fix this disaster. The GM gave no indication of a legitimate path toward a solution.
James van Riemsdyk, Prospect Packages
The 2023 NHL Trade Deadline is only one day away. Contending teams have made splash moves seemingly non-stop for the past week, but the Flyers have been almost silent. James van Riemsdyk remains the most intriguing trade target on the roster, but his list of potential destinations has shrunk.
The most recognizable names like Patrick Kane, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Ryan O’Reilly have moved to contending teams. Bigger forwards like Timo Meier, Tanner Jeannot, and Pierre Engvall are also off the market, which could limit the interest in acquiring the 6-foot-3 van Riemsdyk. Fletcher still needs to pull the trigger on a 33-year-old veteran on an expiring contract with no remaining value for the Flyers. Russ Cohen of Locked on Flyers listed the Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, and Vegas Golden Knights as teams still looking to make their splash.
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The former second-overall pick sat out against the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 26, but he suited up again on March 1 against the New York Rangers. He downplayed any injury concerns after the loss to the Rangers, which was almost certainly his last of 507 career games in two stints in orange and black.
Fletcher moved Isaac Ratcliffe to the Nashville Predators on Feb. 26 for future considerations. The trade opened up a contract within the organization, which might indicate the Flyers’ interest in players in return packages more so than just draft compensation. Elliotte Friedmann reported their interest in Denis Gurianov before the Dallas Stars moved him to the Montreal Canadiens.
Hayes on the Trade Block
Kevin Hayes still remains a trade option. The 30-year-old forward hasn’t meshed with Tortorella this season despite his pace to set a career-high in scoring. Tortorella has moved Hayes to the wing because of defensive concerns, and he sat the Massachusetts native as a healthy scratch for one game in December. His seven-year, $50 million contract that runs through 2025-26 will scare some teams away, but Fletcher’s willingness to retain salary could sway another GM with interest in Hayes.
“It will depend on market and opportunity and fit. Again, I’ve expressed to teams, look we’re open to ideas and we’re willing to listen on lots of different types of scenarios. Without addressing Kevin specifically because I don’t know if it’s fair to single out names, but clearly we’d like to get even younger if we can. If we can do that, then we’re going to try to do that,” Fletcher said about Hayes.
Tortorella answered a general question on Wednesday about the possibility of players sitting out against the Rangers for trade-related reasons. For what it’s worth, he specified van Riemsdyk, Braun, and Hayes without being prompted.
Seeler, Braun, Brown
Nick Seeler has all of a sudden become one of the most discussed players on the Flyers ahead of the deadline. His physical presence in the defensive zone, his willingness to stand up for teammates, and an affordable cap hit make him an appealing option as a bottom-pair or seventh defenseman for a playoff team.
“He’s a character kid. It doesn’t surprise me there’s teams that would probably have interest in him. He’s still a valuable player for us and a player on a really good cap number for next year as well,” Fletcher said.
The return package for Seeler probably wouldn’t be more than a fourth-round pick. Tortorella has consistently praised the 29-year-old defenseman for his role in 2022-23. The Flyers have placed an emphasis on culture ad accountability in the first season under their fiery new head coach, and they’ll prioritize a player who has bought into that mentality if the return isn’t substantial.
The practicality of moving expiring contracts might affect Patrick Brown and Justin Braun. Neither player will bring back a significant return, but Fletcher’s willingness to retain salaries affected two minor trades on deadline day in 2021. He sent Michael Raffl to the Washington Capitals for a fifth-round pick while retaining 25% of the remaining salary and Erik Gustafsson to the Canadiens for a seventh-round pick while retaining 50% of the salary. Expect to see late-round picks on the move and salary retention.