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.

[Your 2020-21 NHL On NBC TV Schedule]

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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    Panthers offer Sarah Nurse deal to lead girls hockey program

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    FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers are trying to sign a high-scoring forward who has an Olympic gold medal and two world championships, with hopes of getting the deal done in the coming days.

    If it happens, she won’t be playing for the Panthers.

    Sarah Nurse, the Canadian forward who had a highlight-reel goal against the New York Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin during the NHL’s All-Star Skills Competition, has the chance to run the Panthers’ new program designed to get more girls playing hockey.

    Florida president Matthew Caldwell offered the job to Nurse publicly – very publicly, at a lectern, with a microphone, before a crowd of onlookers. And he was serious.

    “I’m going to embarrass you, but we’re going to offer you a job today,” Caldwell told Nurse, who was seated in the crowd. “We want you to be the face of our girls program at the War Memorial. So, are you in? On the spot? We don’t deal with agents, OK. I’m a tough negotiator.”

    The idea to hire Nurse was first floated to Caldwell by Melissa Fitzgerald. She’s the general manager for the War Memorial, which is the two-rink facility being refurbished by the team and will become its practice headquarters.

    “We’ve been talking about it for a few weeks,” Caldwell told The Associated Press. “Our youth hockey team kind of brought it up as a joke to me, but I said, `Let’s think big. We’re building this huge facility. Let’s put our money where our mouth is.”‘

    The only part Caldwell was less than serious about with Nurse was how the Panthers don’t deal with agents. He spoke with Nurse’s representative, Thomas Houlton, after the event.

    Houlton did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He and Caldwell spoke for about 15 minutes after the event, which was attended by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Panthers stars Aleksander Barkov and Matthew Tkachuk, and dozens of kids who got to play ball hockey afterward.

    Nurse played for Canada’s world-champion teams in 2021 and 2022, along with Canada’s Olympic gold winners at the Beijing Games last year.

    She was one of five women’s players from USA Hockey and Team Canada – the two most dominant women’s national teams in the world – who were part of the skills events. She wore custom skates highlighting Black History month and the Black Girl Hockey Club, a nonprofit focused on getting more Black girls and women into the sport.

    She used a move made famous by Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg when he helped Sweden win gold at the 1994 Olympics against Shesterkin, a Vezina Trophy-winning goalie.

    U.S. star Hilary Knight didn’t think Nurse’s goal should have surprised anyone, saying, “she’s a top scorer.”

    Ovechkin, and Ovi Jr., take the ice at All-Star skills night

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    SUNRISE, Fla. — When you’ve got the second-most goals in NHL history, you’re evidently permitted to bring a guest onto the ice for the All-Star Skills competition.

    That’s why there were two No. 8 Washington jerseys out there.

    Capitals star Alex Ovechkin took the ice with his Metropolitan Division teammates – and his oldest child, 4-year-old Sergei.

    Sergei, named for Ovechkin’s late brother, was wearing an Ovi Jr. jersey. The kid has built a bit of a following in recent weeks, after scoring a goal at a Caps practice in December and playing a role in helping the Washington crowd celebrate his dad’s 800th goal.

    It was Ovi Jr.’s first chance at being part of an All-Star weekend. His father hasn’t participated at All-Star since 2018, either because of COVID-19 or injuries. The last time his dad played in an All-Star event, Sergei hadn’t been born.

    Alex Ovechkin has 812 goals. He only trails Wayne Gretzky’s 894 in NHL history.

    And later in the night, Ovi Jr. got to center a line alongside his dad and Pittsburgh great Sidney Crosby. They each got an assist on a goal that Sergei scored – beating Roberto Luongo, the Florida great who came out of retirement for All-Star weekend.

    Said Ovechkin after his son scored: “I think he’s really enjoying it.”

    WELCOME HOME, LU

    Luongo got to be part of one more All-Star competition.

    In a building where a banner bearing his No. 1 jersey hangs – he’s the only former Panthers player to have that distinction – Luongo was a celebrity goaltender during the Breakaway Challenge during the Skills Competition on Friday night.

    He stopped his lone shot in the breakaway, off the stick of Toronto’s Mitch Marner. On one hand, Marner is the Maple Leafs’ leading scorer this season. On the other hand, he was also wearing a white suit, sunglasses and a light blue T-shirt to keep with a “Miami Vice” theme.

    Luongo, who was regaled by “Luuuuu” chants from the Florida fans all night, was up to the challenge. Marner tried to beat him to the glove side, but Luongo got enough of it to make the save – then flopped forward to cover up the rebound, the smile clearly seen through his mask.

    “You got too close,” Luongo told Marner.

    Later, Luongo told ESPN during the telecast of the event that “this is my house. This is my home right here. The crease is my home.”

    Luongo’s pads paid tribute to his career – the design depicted his time both as a member of the Panthers and the Vancouver Canucks. They were a gift from CCM for his making the Hockey Hall of Fame.

    “I’d never put the pads on since I retired,” Luongo said. “First time I put them on was this week. Felt pretty good.”

    He also took part, and scored a goal, in a Florida alumni game on Wednesday night. But if there’s more alumni games, Luongo suggested he might jump back into the net.

    “It back some good memories tonight to be in the blue paint, hearing the chants,” Luongo said. “Maybe one day we’ll hear them again.”

    REMEMBERING JIMMY

    Sergei Ovechkin – who knocked a shot into an open net during a stoppage of the skills events – wasn’t the only child who got a great view of the night.

    Philadelphia forward Kevin Hayes has his 3-year-old nephew Beau with him for All-Star weekend. Beau’s father was Jimmy Hayes, Kevin Hayes’ brother.

    Jimmy Hayes was 31 when he died in 2021 with fentanyl and cocaine in his system. He played for four NHL teams, including Florida.

    Kevin Hayes is part of an All-Star weekend for the first time.

    ANTHEM POISE

    “The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed by the South Florida Gay Men’s Chorus, and group crushed it – never minding that the crowd, representing several different fan bases, was going to shout some term specific to their team at various points in the lyrics.

    Florida fans shout along with “red” and “Knight,” one a nod to one of the team’s primary colors, the other for goaltender Spencer Knight. There also were some shouts from other fan bases; some St. Louis fans, for example, could be heard singing “home of the Blues” instead of “home of the brave” to close the song.

    And “O Canada” performer Hannah Walpole had some shouting as she sang as well, particularly when she reached the “true North” portion of those lyrics – something typically heard at Winnipeg games.

    SLAP SHOTS

    Cale Makar, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner from the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, was the first participant in the Fastest Skater event – the opening competition of the night. He fell coming around the second turn. … Tampa Bay’s Pat Maroon, one of the broadcasters on the event, reported that he was “freezing” by working at ice level. “I’m used to the gear,” said Maroon, who was in a blazer and open shirt Friday night. … A big hit for those used to the regular colors of FLA Live Arena – and basically all other hockey arenas – was the ocean-water-shade of blue used for the blue lines and the creases. The faceoff dots at the circles on either end of the ice aren’t the standard solid red this weekend, but depict an image of the sun instead.

    Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

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    FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

    The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

    Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

    “Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

    Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

    The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

    The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.