With the Flyers
struggles at home this season, a week and a half on planes and in hotel
rooms seems to be more welcome than usual. They'll make four stops,
starting tonight in Winnipeg, then moving on to Edmonton for a Thursday
night game, Calgary on Saturday night, and wrapping up in San Jose a
week from tonight.
It's a good time for a bonding experience, with two new faces added
to the mix. Of course, with the deadline coming while the team is on the
road, we may have seen a current Flyer or two for the last time. A
quick look at the new-look, below.
Although at least one beat writer opined that the Flyers might be
better off as sellers this trading season, it appears as if they
disagree. This shouldn't come as much of a surprise, as it's exceedingly
rare to see the Flyers play the seller's role in February. Frank
Seravalli made his point well—the Flyers haven't looked like a true contender
for some time, clearly a notch below the likes of the Rangers and Red
Wings. But there's still time for that to change, one way or another,
and the front office appears committed to keeping the throttle open.
The names Nicklas Grossman and Pavel Kubina may not scream "Cup
contender," but the nature of the acquisitions shows the team's thinking
fairly clearly. Gone are the two rookie faces getting regular ice time
on the Flyers blue line, replaced by a pair of veterans with differing
skill sets. Although both are fairly large in stature, Grossman is a
stay-at-home defender who contributes on the PK. Kubina is more of a
puck-mover, and also adds a righthanded shot at the point on the power
play and at even strength. Timmy P has more on what Kubina brings to the
table here. While he's not necessarily being compared to Eric
Desjardins in terms of current skill, it's nice to hear Rico invoked,
and it'll be even better when a RH one-timer catches twine. Now 34,
Kubina's numbers on the season aren't jaw-dropping. But, a move to a
more aggressive offensive system could result in some more goal scoring,
something the Flyers could use from their blue line.
Two other things of note with these acquisitions and what they
(presumably) mean about the Flyers short- and long-term planning. First,
that two mid-level defenseman were targeted and acquired without giving
up an NHL-rostered player likely indicates that they're unlikely to be
straight-up selling anything this week, unless it's something they think
they can win without.
Second, neither Grossman, 27, nor Kubina, 34, is under contract for
next season. Both could prove to be mere rentals, which would certainly
indicate the Flyers' goals for the season, though Kubina has already
said he'd like to sign an extension here. Neither player is set to command the high end of the defense market spending, so if the Flyers want to hang onto one (or possibly both) of them, they can probably do so before free agency opens.
Aside from trying to read the tea leaves on what the Flyers will
attempt between now and the deadline or with contract negotiations, the road trip will give us all a
look at whether the two new defenders will have the desired calming
effect in the defensive zone. Suter and Weber they are not, but in all
likelihood, they are an upgrade from combinations including Marc-Andre
Bourdon and Erik Gustafsson—though that isn't a slight on the latter two
players—as well as Andreas Lilja.
Tonight, the Flyers will try to reverse their fortunes against a
Winnipeg Jets team that has had their number so far this season, winning
the first three meetings. The Jets have won three straight and five of
their last seven, situating them right on the playoff bubble. Blake
Wheeler is on fire, scoring a goal and assisting on another in the Jets'
4-2 win over the Bruins on Friday, then collecting four assists in a
5-1 win over the Avalanche on Monday.