The Philadelphia Flyers have started the season as many predicted: they’re struggling. They have solid goaltending, forwards capable of scoring and are being held back by a poor defensive unit. Through 17 games played, the Flyers have a record of 6-8-3 and they’ve been outscored 50-33. Their leading scorer is Claude Giroux, but he only has 11 points in 17 games, which is far below his career point-per-game average.
On the outside, it seems like this season might already be lost. However, general manager Ron Hextall believes that his team has the talent to make the playoffs, but it certainly will not be easy.
Based on performance, I’m not surprised, based on personnel, we shouldn’t be that low. We can make the playoffs. Absolutely. We have enough talent, enough depth, enough high-end players.
Some have even suggested that Hextall is in denial about the Flyers’ playoff chances.
Sam Gagner’s Strong Season
Over the offseason, the Flyers made a few creative trades. One of them sent the contract of Chris Pronger to the Arizona Coyotes and returned the star-crossed forward Sam Gagner. He’s been criticized very heavily throughout his career for his inability to play defensive hockey. However, the same people who criticize Gagner are still using the antiquated plus/minus statistic. There’s no hiding that Gagner’s career minus-103 rating is frightening, but he’s been a different player this season.
In 14 games played, Gagner has just five points, but he’s been one of the Flyers’ most consistent and effective forwards on the ice every night. There is one area where Gagner has struggled this season and it’s in the faceoff dot. He’s won just 26.9 percent of faceoffs taken and that’s far from an adequate percentage.
The Flyers need to determine what they want from this season. There’s the one side where Hextall still believes the team can make the playoffs, but there’s the cold reality that they’re not getting it done on the ice. If this team continues to play the way they have, it’s very conceivable that Gagner becomes a trade target sooner rather than later.
Let’s evaluate Gagner’s trade value quickly. He’s 26-years old, has a career average of .592 points per game and is in the final year of his contract that counts for $3.2 million against the cap, thanks to retained salary by the Coyotes. Bring everything together and it looks like Gagner could be quite an attractive name at the trade deadline. He can help a contender, especially if he plays on the wing and isn’t relied upon defensively. At this point in Gagner’s career, he could be the final piece for a contender that is looking to increase their scoring depth.
But the question is, will the Flyers consider trading him? If the team rebounds and begins playing well, it’s hard to see Hextall trading him given his previous comments. Yet, if the Flyers continue to struggle, it’s easy to see that Gagner could be on the move to net some additional draft picks.
Philadelphia is stuck in purgatory right now. They have not been playing well enough to make the playoffs, but they have not been bad enough to net a very high draft pick. Moving a player like Gagner could net a few draft picks and increase their chances of finding a hidden gem in the draft.
Looking at it from all sides, unless the Flyers improve significantly, it’s hard to imagine that Gagner finishes the season as a Flyer.
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Michael Pityk is an analyst who has written for numerous sites since beginning his professional career. He’s acted as a credentialed member of the media for the Philadelphia Phillies, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Pirates and the Pittsburgh Penguins. His work has been featured in Sports Illustrated, The Sports Journal, MSN, PensLabyrinth, Montreal Hockey Talk, ESPN Pittsburgh, The Hockey Writers, Todays SlapShot and The Bleacher Report. He formerly was the editor of Pens Labyrinth and an analyst for The Sports Journal. Michael presently acts as an NHL Analyst for The Hockey Writers