If you’re a Philadelphia Flyers fan, this may have been one of the best weekends of the last decade. Not only did the Ron Hextall-led Front Office conduct an extremely successful draft, they created cap space and shipped out a terrible player to boot, while acquiring one who gives them lots of options. Let’s analyze this last weekend for the Flyers and figure out what needs to happen next.
Friday, June 26: The Draft
On Friday the Flyers had the most exciting draft that I have ever experienced. Every time the Flyers were on the clock, it seemed like they were getting someone immensely talented that had slipped due to injuries or other teams’ stupidity. A perfect instance of this is their first round as a whole. At 7 overall, the Flyers knew they were going to get a blue chip prospect no matter what. They needed a wing badly, and some good ones were thought to be within reach, including Mikko Rantanen and Lawson Crouse. A quality defenseman, Ivan Provorov from Brandon, had seen his draft stock skyrocket over the last week, and while he would’ve looked nice in a Flyers uniform, was thought to be unavailable due to interest from the 3,4, and 5 spots. Hextall watched and waited patiently as Arizona passed on Provorov, instead getting their man, center Dylan Strome. But the next spot was where it got interesting. A young scorer in Mitch Marner was available for Toronto, but so was the stud defenseman they desperately needed in Provorov or even Noah Hanifin. The Leafs didn’t make a bad call in drafting Marner per se, but it is curious that such a poor defensive team passed on Provorov and Hanifin. Carolina sure didn’t, but they elected to pick Hanifin, a solid player who is NHL ready but may not have the upside of Provorov. At this point, it was clear that the Flyers were likely to get Provorov. The Devils at 6 needed a playmaker in the worst way, and with their glut of defense prospects, didn’t need Provorov. When New Jersey picked Czech Pavel Zacha, Ron Hextall pounced like a hyena on hamburger (Thanks to the great Bill Clement for that awesome line) and picked Ivan Provorov. Provorov was visibly stoked to be putting on the orange and black uniform, and answered the following press questions with confidence and poise. Provorov thinks he is an NHL defenseman now that we will see in October. While that may be a bit lofty, Ivan will be in Philly by 2017 at the latest.
Hextall and company kept on making smooth moves when they realized that one of their other big targets, Travis Konecny, was undrafted at 24. With a growing fear that he wouldn’t make it to 29, Hextall deftly traded his 29 and a second round pick to Toronto for number 24, in which they chose Konecny. While his name may be tough to spell, (it is pronounced koh-NECK-nee) Flyers fans will be uttering that name in joy by 2018. Konecny is a smallish center-winger who plays much larger than his 5’10” frame. When looking at a comparable player, a familiar face in Danny Briere is often brought up. If the Flyers drafted the next Danny Briere at 24, then they got the ultimate steal. In the 3rd round, Philadelphia drafted two goalies in order to pad the positional depth, which currently only boasts Anthony Stolarz at Lehigh Valley. With Stolie a potential backup by 2017, the Flyers needed to enhance their depth. With Felix Sandstom and Matej Tomek, the Flyers did just that. Sandstrom, a 6’2″ Swede, was thought to have first-round talent before a battle with mononucleosis set in and sapped him of his esteemed ranking. Tomek is also 6’2″, but hails from Slovakia. Tomek may not be as polished as Sandstrom, but he is going to Dave Hakstol’s old college stomping grounds in North Dakota to refine his game.
In the middle rounds, the Flyers filled the need for young forward prospects at all three positions with the drafting of Samuel Dove-McFalls (4th), Mikhail Vorobyov (4th), David Kase (5th), and Cooper Marody (6th). All of these men are young, flashy forwards. Only Kase is below 6 feet, and Dove-McFalls is a true power forward. With their last selection, the Flyers chose goalie Ivan Fedotov out of Russia. He is as much of a project as you can get, but has some upside for sure.
What made this draft such a great one was that there were no picks like Tyrell Goulbourne or Zac Rinaldo that were just chosen because they could fight while other good players were available. All of these players could wind up playing a role in Philly in the next decade. Loading up at forward and goalie was important, and the Flyers passed this task with flying colors.
Saturday, June 27: The Trade
The next day, the Flyers accomplished another major goal in trading a defenseman and shedding salary. At around 3:00, the Flyers traded everyone’s favorite whipping boy, Nick Grossmann, to Arizona along with the contract of Chris Pronger (more on that later) in exchange for center-winger Sam Gagner and a conditional draft pick. This trade was absolute wizardry by Hextall. I have no idea how he not only convinced Arizona to take on the terrible Nick Grossmann, but also was able to swindle a productive player in return.
Let’s first look at what is leaving Philly. Grossmann was a slow, burly, and ineffective defenseman that had no fit on Dave Hakstol’s team, or even in the NHL anymore. His advanced stats told that he was the very worst defenseman in the game, and the eye test wasn’t much better. Yet Craig Berube continued to play Grossmann for over 18 minutes a night despite his continuing to hurt the team, praising the “warrior”. Amazingly, Grossmann was somehow never healthy scratched while better defesemen like Michael Del Zotto, Carlo Colaiacovo, Luke Schenn, and at times Andrew MacDonald were sat down. Only the first two really deserved to play anyway, but the latter pair were at least better than the atrocity of Grossmann. But enough of him. He’s finally gone! He’ll head to Arizona and eat pucks and attempt to skate the way an elderly man would for the first time while getting paid 3 million from Arizona and half a million from Philly. Good riddance.
Now the other piece leaving Philly hasn’t played since 2011, but was still important to Philly’s cap picture. Chris Pronger, or more accurately, his contract, will head to Arizona. The Flyers will lose the ability to place his near $5 million cap hit on LTIR and play over the cap by that quantity. However, it wasn’t that simple, as the Flyers couldn’t play over until the season began, so his contact counted in the offseason and player movement phase. There were loopholes, but it is probably better that his contract is gone from Philly’s books. Now someone can wear number 20 again.
In return, the Flyers acquired disgruntled center Sam Gagner. Gagner was actually Arizona’s leader for points by a forward last year with 41, but was not looked upon fondly by management. Don Maloney, in fact, said after the trade that he didn’t think Gagner could ever be “an NHL center”. This is untrue. While Gagner never reached his lofty heights as the 6th overall pick for Edmonton, no one ever reaches their potential in the death sentence that is a trade to Edmonton. The Oilers management didn’t use Gagner properly, nor did Arizona when they acquired him for lowly B.J. Crombeen. Gagner is a productive center that can play wing with one more year left on his contract. The Flyers are on the hook for only 3.2 million of the deal, a great steal for a 40+ point player. Gagner will never become anything superstar-esque, but he is a solid player, and one that’s better than any other option to fill the void. Vinny Lecavalier? Too old and slow. R.J. Umberger? Not a center, but also old and ineffective. Brayden Schenn? More of a winger at this point, for better or for worse. Scott Laughton? Maybe by December, but coming off of a serious concussion, he will likely start at AHL Lehigh Valley. And at that point, Gagner could shift to wing to make room anyway. Unlike Lecavalier or Briere before him, Gagner is willing to play wing and actually had some success there, albeit not as much than when at center. The Flyers finally have a flexible player that is actually productive, and they should cherish this.
There are some out there that believe the Flyers will ultimately move Gagner via trade or buyout like Tampa Bay did last year, but this would be foolish. For one, Gagner has proven that he is the best option to play 3rd line center next year, and he is cheap too. Buying out or trading Lecavalier or Umberger would cost more for the Flyers, but it would be worth it when you consider how little they would be doing out on the ice, perhaps even hurting the team in some aspects. If the Flyers were to let Gagner go and then give his spot to Vinny or Umberger, it would be an obvious loss in production. While it would save money, it would cause a loss in terms of the team. Think back to the Scott Hartnell trade for instance. This would be Hartsy Trade Part 2. Let’s give Gagner a chance, and get rid of Lecavalier. This is simply the first domino to fall for the Flyers. In the coming weeks, their plan to shape next year’s team and the future will become much more clear.