The Flyers may have worn black jerseys in last Saturday’s Stadium Series, but they may as well have been waving little white flags.
In what amounted to a highly frustrating 4-2 loss, the Flyers passed up on the chance to gain ground in the playoff picture, remaining 6 points out of the final wild card berth with no games in hand. Two teams are seated ahead of them, and few teams have as difficult a schedule as the Flyers have from here on out, a schedule heavy on road and divisional games.
With the trade deadline just two days away, is it time for the Flyers to give up on this season and move on to next year?
There’s no easy way around it, this Flyers season has been a disappointment. Featuring largely the same roster as last year’s playoff team and some new young additions, there was reason to be excited for the Flyers this year. However, things have gone continuously wrong this season in every way.
The offense has been nonexistent, due to both performance and coaching issues. No team in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt has fewer goals scored than the Flyers. The team only has scored 24 goals over their past 16 games, an unacceptable rate. Despite the contributions of Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn, the shortcomings of Claude Giroux, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Jake Voracek have been too much for the Flyers to bear.
And defensively? No team in the Eastern Conference has allowed more goals than the Flyers with 187. Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth have been inconsistent at best and unplayable at their worst, a far cry from their stellar performances last year. The defense in front of them hasn’t done much to help, but the onus is on the goalies to at least make the easy stops, something that Neuvirth hasn’t done recently.
So where do the Flyers go from here? We know that the Flyers have a very impressive prospect core waiting in the wings, and their handiwork with the AHL Lehigh Valley Phantoms has the squad firmly in the playoff picture. If the Flyers decide to sell at the deadline, they will certainly give the kids a shot.
This is a similar situation to the one that the New York Yankees found themselves in last season in the MLB. Even though they weren’t that far out of the playoff race, no one realistically expected the Yankees to make a run and get into the playoffs. Thus, they made the tough decision to sell at the deadline, acquire more assets, and promote some top prospects. And if you ask any Yankee fan, I’m sure they’ll tell you that what the Bombers did was much-needed and something they would do again in a heartbeat.
I’m not suggesting that the Flyers should go full sell mode here and trade away players like Giroux, Gostisbehere, and Voracek like they did in 2011 with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. However, the Flyers would be wise to move some of their veterans at the deadline if they can get a desirable return. It is never smart to make a trade simply for the sake of making a trade (see: 76ers, Philadelphia), but the Flyers do have some pieces of value they can flip at the deadline.
Mark Streit, Michael Del Zotto, Andrew MacDonald, Matt Read, Dale Weise, and both goaltenders could all be considered trade bait for the Flyers. Streit has the most value; he is having the best season, is a free agent to be, provides veteran leadership, and has playoff experience. Perhaps Streit could fetch two early-to-mid-round picks or a pick and a prospect.
Despite Mason and Neuvirth’s crummy seasons, teams are always looking for playoff-tested goalies. Their status as rentals surely helps their cause, but their poor play limits their prospective return to that of a couple mid-to-late round picks.
The rest of the bunch all come with baggage. Del Zotto and Read are injury-prone and streaky, and MacDonald and Weise come with undesirable contracts (each have three years left on their expensive deals). The Flyers will likely take whatever they can get for these players.
If the Flyers decide to open up business in a yard sale, this will leave holes on the active roster. Travis Konecny, Jordan Weal, and Scott Laughton will earn increased minutes with the forwards, and the defensive minutes could be picked up by members of the Phantoms, such as highly-touted Sam Morin, Travis Sanheim, or the rejuvenated Robert Hagg. These players will likely have the chance to earn big league jobs next Fall, so why not give them the chance now to dip their toes in the NHL water and earn experience for next year’s jobs?
Ron Hextall is a notoriously tame and future-driven general manager, but he also does not want to completely give up on the Flyers. Remember, this team still has a very slight chance of making it to the postseason. With that being said however, I don’t expect to see Streit or Del Zotto in Philadelphia after Wednesday. The Flyers will be hard-pressed to be able to move one of their goalies or any of the other players discussed due to underperformance and bad contracts.
The Philadelphia Flyers are going to be a drastically different team in 2018 than they are right now. They will probably have at least one new goalie, their most senior defenseman will likely be Andrew MacDonald or Radko Gudas, and the forward corps will hopefully be revamped. There is no better time to get started on the future than the present, which could lead to the Flyers becoming surprising sellers on Wednesday.