The Philadelphia Flyers enter Thursday’s contest against the suddenly struggling New York Islanders 10 points back of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The team’s recent surge and strong play has given some hope that the Flyers might make a run and sneak into the postseason. They’ve won four in a row, are getting superb goaltending from Steve Mason and are beginning to resemble the team that took the New York Rangers to seven games in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals last season.
However, as Puck Daddy’s Ryan Lambert pointed out the other day, it’s highly unlikely the Flyers make a run and get into the playoffs due to the number of points they have to overcome in a short period of time.
With that in mind and the trade deadline looming at the end of the month, what should general manager Ron Hextall’s plan be leading up to March 2? Here are some options:
Deal A Defenseman/Create Cap Relief
These two go hand-in-hand. With a plethora of promising blueliners coming up the pipeline, there are a glut of defensemen on the Flyers’ roster that are expendable.
Andrew MacDonald has not been what the Flyers (or at least Paul Holmgren) envisioned when they inked him to a 6-year, $30 million deal. Not only is MacDonald playing on the Flyers’ third defensive pairing, he’s served as a healthy scratch at points this season. MacDonald’s youth still makes him an asset, but that contract will make him almost impossible to move. Hextall’s only solution in a deal may be to take back part of MacDonald’s salary if he expects to get any value for him.
Braydon Coburn was a popular name thrown around the deadline last season and at the NHL Draft. It’s believed that the Edmonton Oilers still covet him, but the foot issues this season have hindered his trade stock. If he can return to the ice (maybe with his former defensive partner?), it could be an audition for a team looking to add him at the deadline.
Another option and the most logical for the team’s general manager — deal Nicklas Grossmann or Luke Schenn. The 24-year-old Schenn would bring back the greater haul. He’s been one of the team’s steadiest defensemen — even though he’s had a seat in the press box at various points this season — and he’s been a plus-possession player. He’s still young and shown, when finding some consistency in his game, he can be a useful defenseman. He’s also the only right-handed blueliner on the Flyers’ roster.
Which is why I believe Hextall should try and deal Grossmann for a late-round pick. A player like Grossmann shouldn’t figure into the Flyers’ future plans. He’s on the wrong side of 30, has taken a beating over the past few seasons and doesn’t offer much value on the offensive side of the puck.
Now Grossmann is defensively responsible in his own zone and blocks a lot of shots, however, with two-way players in Sam Morin and Robert Hagg on the way, Grossmann becomes expendable. Getting his $3.5 million cap hit off the books will also go a long way in securing Michael Del Zotto and if possible, Nick Schultz, who figure to be a part of the short-term plans for the Flyers.
Figure Out What To Do With Schenn/Couturier
With each tantalizing toe drag, crisp pass and hellacious wrister, Sean Couturier flashes the offensive potential that had scouts raving about his abilities coming out of juniors.
Getting to this point hasn’t come without its frustrations. Couturier has teased fans with his offensive potential since his rookie season as an 18-year-old, with many waiting for the defensive specialist to figure things out.
Once the calendar hit December, Couturier put together the longest point streak of his career, tallying seven points over six straight games. The 22-year-old finished the month with points in nine of the 14 games, a stark difference over what he’s mostly done early in his career. He’s hit a snag in January as he struggles to find his groove again on that end of the ice, only tallying three points (2G-1A) in the first month of 2015. Couturier’s goal pace would still be a career high as the center should hover around the 15-goal mark this season.
Brayden Schenn is one of only four forwards who are positive in driving possession this season. The 23-year-old is on pace for career highs in assists and points, but why does it always feel like that this is his ceiling. Is Schenn going to be much better than what he is right now?
One train of thought says yes: He’s finally acclimated to a position where he knows he’ll be for the foreseeable future. He can thrive as a winger, someone who plays a simplistic game that battles along the boards and strong on the forecheck. There’s no reason to think that he can’t be a 50-point player with the right linemate.
The problem with that though, is that right linemate on the Flyers? Ask yourself this question, do you see Schenn as one of the Flyers top-three centers? Claude Giroux is here for the foreseeable future, and Scott Laughton has impressed early and shown a consistency that Schenn failed to show early in his career.
There is an obvious need for the Flyers, and it’s a top-pair defenseman that can skate and play sound in his own zone. Sean Couturier would probably be the piece that teams covet, but his potential as a Selke winner makes you feel sick to your stomach when you mention him in a deal.
Keith Yandle’s name has been linked to the Flyers for the past few years. I could envision Hextall giving up Schenn as part of a package for the 27-year-old puck mover.
One of his teammates, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, was thrown around as a rumored trade piece. Couturier could fit the bill for what the Coyotes are looking for moving forward, and 23-year-old defenseman like Ekman-Larsson don’t grow on trees.
But would Hextall be willing to give up that much for a defenseman? Or does he believe that Schenn is one of the building blocks for the future in the top-nine forwards for Philadelphia. Unless he’s getting an elite defenseman in return, I don’t see Hextall giving up Schenn or Couturier.