Will Flyers start cleaning up messes at trade deadline, or make more mistakes?

Will Flyers start cleaning up messes at trade deadline, or make more mistakes?
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It would be foolish to believe that the Flyers — or any other NHL team — could solve all of their problems at the trade deadline, or in free agency. The Flyers sure could make a bad situation worse, though.

With the NHL trade deadline less than a month away (March 21), and the Flyers season profoundly lost, it’s crucial for them to make the right calls, especially with Claude Giroux and Rasmus Ristolainen.

But what about the larger vision? Can the Flyers — seemingly still under GM Chuck Fletcher — fix their problems? Or will they merely pile on more sunk costs? At the moment, things look bleak. Let’s explore ways where the Flyers can improve, and ask tough questions about what needs to change.

Flyers must trade Giroux and Ristolainen at deadline, not roll dice with free agency

Truly, it can be a dangerous game to try to parse when a GM is playing coy or actually being honest. Merely recall Marc Bergevin trading P.K. Subban almost in the same breath as denying his intention to move him.

So, it’s possible that the Flyers have every intention to trade Rasmus Ristolainen. They also might realize that trading Claude Giroux figures to be a delicate process — for the player, and Flyers fans.

We can only speculate as far as how much the Flyers want to keep Ristolainen and Giroux, versus how much this is a delicate dance to placate egos and (ideally) maximize trade returns. Still, note that the Flyers at least broached the subject of a contract extension with Ristolainen’s reps. And, in part respecting his no-trade clause, a lot of the language around the Flyers and Giroux leaves the ball in their captain’s court.

[Giroux, Fleury ponder futures as NHL trade deadline approaches]

Read through this thorough breakdown of comparable NHL trade deadline situations from Charlie O’Connor (Athletic sub required), and you may agree with the following.

  • Chances are, plenty of Flyers fans won’t be happy with the trade return for Claude Giroux.
  • Even if Giroux is only willing to waive his no-trade clause for a few teams, the Flyers stand a strong chance of adding strong draft capital, a promising prospect, or both.

For a Flyers franchise in at least partial rebuild denial, this next thought might sting. With cases like trading Giroux, it’s like pulling off a Band-Aid. No one really enjoys that, but it’s best just to get through it quickly, and decisively.

Otherwise, things could get really crusty. Like Giroux leaving for absolutely nothing in free agency, anyway. Or the Flyers might spend with their hearts instead of their heads, overpaying Giroux and remaining stuck in the muck.

So, yeah, sometimes you just have to do the unpleasant thing and hope you get a first-round pick in the process.

A Ristolainen contract extension instead of a trade would be a rather obvious case of “sunk cost fallacy”

If you have even a passing interest in analytics, you likely cringed when the Flyers coughed up first and second-rounders to trade for Rasmus Ristolainen. You might have worried about Fletcher’s ability to assess talent and/or market value if you noted that the Flyers bribed the Coyotes with a second-rounder to accept Shayne Gostisbehere‘s contract a day earlier.

Even before hindsight, essentially giving up two second-rounders and one first-rounder to add Ristolainen and subtract Gostisbehere seemed dubious. Consider last season’s RAPM comparison from Evolving Hockey:

Not ideal.

But things soured between Gostisbehere and the Flyers, so maybe Ristolainen would benefit from exiting Buffalo? At best, Ristolainen’s been inoffensive, while Gostisbehere might rehab his value enough to net the Coyotes a decent trade return down the line.

Of course, neither Ristolainen nor Gostisbehere should be asked to alter a franchise’s fortunes. But this already seems like a painful (and painfully predictable) loss for Chuck Fletcher and the Flyers.

There’s at least some fear that Chuck Fletcher will succumb to “sunk cost fallacy” and double down by handing Ristolainen an extension with the Flyers. A GM with a fresh set of eyes may accept a lesser trade return for Ristolainen. Fletcher, though? He might feel that pressure from giving up so much to acquire Ristolainen, and not be willing to take, say, a second-rounder.

Can the Flyers fix their many problems?

This all brings us to a scary thought. What exactly have the Flyers — Chuck Fletcher and beyond — done to inspire confidence that they can solve their many problems?

Many of the issues interlock. Between his time with the Wild and Flyers, Fletcher’s taken some home run swings. They’ve barely ever paid off.

Yet, if the organization remains in rebuild denial, are the Flyers also limiting Fletcher’s options?

Truly, how many levels of the organization need to be re-evaluated? Maybe Fletcher’s surrounded by challenges, rather than solutions in the making?

When a team’s as lost as the Flyers, it’s not about one problem. You peel back the layers of this onion and want to cry.

Speaking once again of Marc Bergevin and his time with the Canadiens, there are echoes of the same development complaints with the Flyers. Is that organization frequently emphasizing the negative, and arguably nudging prospects down the wrong path?

The dream is probably to scapegoat someone like former Flyers GM Ron Hextall. If only Hextall chose Cale Makar over Nolan Patrick, right?

A mountain of issues

You can’t really blame Hextall for Travis Konecny falling in Alain Vigneault’s doghouse. Hextall didn’t hire Vigneault and a band of retreads like Michel Therrien — that’s on Fletcher. Sadly, the biggest perk to Mike Yeo somehow becoming an NHL head coach again is that he may have accelerated the Flyers’ tanking efforts.

Nope, there are a lot of threads to unspool. Honestly, while Ryan Ellis is getting up there in age (31), that trade seemed like one of the brightest Flyers gambles. Did they truly uncover every stone about Ellis’ health, though? Are the issues with their medical staff?

Not all doom and gloom

No doubt, this post has been grim about the Flyers’ present and future. Is there really any avoiding that?

Yet, it’s important to realize how quickly fortunes can change in the NHL.

Perhaps some in the Flyers organization merely hope that Johnny Gaudreau hits free agency. Gaudreau’s current team, the Flames, could shine as a beacon of hope.

Maybe the Flyers could look a lot better with a clean slate, and a coaching upgrade? As much as the Flyers need to trade Giroux, Ristolainen, and others, they also need to optimize talent.

Things could look much brighter if the Flyers get more out of Carter Hart, Ivan Provorov, Konecny, and others. Particularly if prospects like Bobby Brink climb rather than fall.

[What went wrong for Philly this season]

Looking around the league, we’ve seen seemingly dusty franchises become far more forward-thinking. It doesn’t seem like the Flyers are interested in moving away from the same old hockey men, but maybe Fletcher & Co. can still find a way out of this.

Knowing the Flyers, they could also pull an about-face and bring in a new GM, anyway.

Either way, the Flyers need to succeed at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline to start moving in the right direction. Because, right now, it looks like they have a long, long way to go.

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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