Flyers face tough trade deadline questions with season looking murky

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers. Flyers-Rangers stream coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Look, it’s true that the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline (April 12) is still almost a month away. Considering how far the Flyers’ playoff chances have fallen over a couple of weeks according to plenty of projections, it’s clear that their outlook could change drastically between now and then.

But, especially considering potential hurdles when it comes to trading players to Canada, it’s not too early to at least wonder about the Flyers’ approach to the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, for one, isn’t certain if the Flyers will be buyers at the trade deadline.

The thing is, it’s probably as fun (and, sometimes, informative) to discuss what a team like the Flyers should do during the trade deadline, as it is to find out what they’ll actually do.

Here’s the bonus: it’s a really confusing question. This isn’t slap-you-in-the-face obvious as, say, the Ducks needing to sell at the trade deadline.

Folks, much like his Wild days, Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher might even find his team in “puck purgatory.”

Few easy answers as NHL Trade Deadline approaches for Flyers

What a difference a couple weeks can make.

While the Islanders (nine wins in a row), Capitals (four), and Penguins (five) are rocketing up the charts, the Flyers have been stumbling. The Flyers have a much better chance of making the playoffs than Monday’s opponent, the Rangers, but the odds are now stacked against them.

Could they change their fate with a splashy trade? Well …

Flyers wouldn’t be shopping in a buyers’ market

To start, the Flyers’ biggest short-term headaches are one that probably can’t be medicated all that well by buying at the NHL trade deadline. As Adam Gretz notes, defense and goaltending have been their biggest weaknesses lately.

It’s pretty rare to pull off in-season goalie trades, at least ones of meaning. And NHL teams are justifiably stingy when it comes to giving up precious defensemen.

Even an intriguing defenseman who was at-least-once on the market like Vince Dunn carries issues. Would Dunn be redundant when the Flyers already have Shayne Gostisbehere on their roster?

[FLYERS-RANGERS PRE-GAME COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. – NBCSN]

When you pivot to the rare unicorn of a strong defenseman like Mattias Ekholm, you must ask more existential questions. If Ekholm commands serious futures, and you’re still at risk of making the playoffs, would you be making a big mistake?

Smaller tweaks feel too small to move the needle for the Flyers to be trade deadline buyers. And the bigger swings might end up be costly strike-outs.

Oh, and the Flyers also need to be careful about taking on contracts. Carter Hart needs a new contract after this season, and Sean Couturier is lined up for a huge raise after 2021-22.

On the other end, the Flyers face a lot of questions about being trade deadline sellers, too.

Plenty of tough calls

It would be surprising if the Flyers became sellers when it came to big-name players. And it’s unclear if they’d have good odds of “winning” any such deals.

  • Expensive players like Claude Giroux and Kevin Hayes boast no-movement clauses, possibly limiting their markets. And how likely would you be to “win” those trades?
  • Unloading Jakub Voracek‘s $8.25M AAV could provide flexibility, but convincing someone to take on that contract would most likely mean accepting a very modest return.
  • If you potentially sold high on someone like James van Riemsdyk, would you regret it?
  • Even if you decided to trade, say, Nolan Patrick, you’d almost certainly be selling low.

Right now, the Flyers have some veterans hoping to contend in the latter parts of their primes (Giroux, Voracek, JVR, to some extent Hayes) and core players facing ups-and-downs as they try to adopt key roles (Carter Hart, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny).

Sure, there are some minor selling options, from Justin Braun to Michael Raffl to Brian Elliott. (If teams are interested.)

But most bigger sales jobs smell of desperation.

Best Flyers’ trade deadline approach might be a moderate one

No doubt, missing the playoffs would be a cruel blow for the Flyers. There’s a worry that, by the time Philly’s rising players fully blossom, their veterans might be too long-in-the-tooth.

Sometimes it’s best to take a step back and avoid making panic moves, however.

Heading into this season, many expected the Flyers to make the jump from good to great. It’s not always a steady climb in sports, though, and the Flyers have reasons to believe that they can eventually rise up.

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Taking a more measured approach might make people feel antsy. And sometimes that slow-and-steady approach just leaves you too far behind the curve.

In the Flyers’ case, though, it just seems like the wiser direction to take during the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline. Of course, that view can change — just look at how the last few weeks altered their outlook.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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