A mere month and a half ago, December 17th, the Philadelphia Flyers were sitting in dead last in the Eastern Conference of the NHL. They had just lost their last 4 games in a row and were 3-8-3 over their last 14 games. Flyers fans were clamoring for change, and it came in a big way.
Shortly after canning former General Manager Ron Hextall, the Flyers made the decision to fire head coach Dave Hakstol as well. Hakstol had long drawn the ire of the fans for his inconsistent lineups, inability to utilize the talent he had, and his affinity for those “heavy vets.”
With the franchise in turmoil, fans were already looking towards the draft, longing for the day they get to see the Flyers draft one of either Jack Huges or Kaapo Kakko. The fans were in full tank mode, but the franchise had other plans.
Elite goalie prospect Carter Hart was called up and made his NHL debut a mere day after Hakstol was fired, and won against the Detroit Red Wings. Many were ecstatic about the win, but only because Carter Hart was the winning goaltender. Little did any of us know, this would spark the turn around that this club is still riding, and that has them sitting only a handful of points out of a playoff spot.
After going 12-15-4 under Hakstol, the Flyers have gone 12-8-2 since under Scott Gordon, and have flipped the script on a mostly dreadful season. With a playoff spot just out of reach, it begs the question: Is the club going to buy at the deadline after underwhelming for a better part of the season?
Well, it’s difficult to say. With so many skaters that could net a solid return, it would behoove now-General Manager Chuck Fletcher to kick some tires around the league and see what those players are worth to a better contender. Wayne Simmonds, Radko Gudas, even Michael Raffl have been named as players who could be dealt by the February 25th deadline.
Fletcher has said in the past that it’s possible to be buyers and sellers at the deadline, and he’s not wrong. The buying, however, should be for the seasons to come.
The Flyers are a bubble team at best right now, and it’s hard to believe a team like this could make a serious run in the Stanley Cup playoffs. What would benefit this team the most is to try and unload some dollars while getting some fringe-NHL players in return and potentially free up the cap space to pursue a big-money free agent during the off-season.
The orange and black have contracts that expire at the end of the season that will help pad the amount they can spend, but ridding themselves of a few million more through the deadline could ensure that they have the cap space to go after a scoring winger that could help put pucks in the back of the net.
The defense is where the easy money could be. The Flyers could trade Radko Gudas for a forward or a pick. Losing a defenseman is probably the best move considering guys like Samuel Morin, Phil Myers, even Mark Friedman are waiting in the wings and ready to earn a spot on the Flyers roster. Forward is somewhat similar considering Nic Aube-Kubel, German Rubtsov, even Morgan Frost may be ready to make the jump next year, but it’s too early to tell the impact a guy like Frost or Rubtsov can have at the NHL level.
If you had to put a label to it, the Flyers will likely be sellers at this year’s deadline. Sure, another playoff appearance in Hart and Gordon’s first year with the club would be the feel-good story that we all love, but another first-round playoff exit won’t sit well with a fan base that is ready to start contending. The Flyers have too good of pieces to not try and get a good return for them this year, so selling makes more sense this year than trying to go after that coveted rental player who may win us one playoff series, but not a Stanley Cup.
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports