NHL Trade Deadline Marks a Crossroads for Flyers' Season: Where Do They Go From Here?

NHL Trade Deadline Marks a Crossroads for Flyers' Season: Where Do They Go From Here?

The trade deadline is rarely if ever a quiet time in the NHL, and the Flyers are usually among the names involved in multiple rumors and eventually a few actual deals. Counting the annual start of free agency, I've probably typed some variation of that sentence a dozen times or so. In part that's due to my lack of creativity in composing ledes, but it also comes with the territory of following a team that is remarkably consistent in its patterns, whether they be strengths or weaknesses.  

So far, the Flyers have traded for a pair of veteran defensemen ahead of the frenzy, and while they aren't currently linked to any big fish, there's still buzz that they aren't done yet. For a variety of reasons, the question as to whether they should make a significant move this time around remains a difficult one to answer.

With the deadline coming at 3PM today, we'll take a look at those factors below.

ARE THEY CONTENDERS?
In the month or so leading up to the deadline, teams must first evaluate where they are on the Buyer-Seller spectrum. This decision doesn't always directly correlate to the degree to which they are true contenders, but that's certainly among the biggest factors. Since the day the Flyers made their flurry of major off-season moves, fans and media alike have wondered the degree to which they were better, worse, or about the same in terms of ability to challenge for Stanley Cup.

On record alone, the team is short of its mark from the same point last season. Through 61 games, the Flyers sit at 34-20-7; last year, they were 40-15-6. Of course, this was also around the point at which a season with great potential began falling apart for the previous group. Exactly a year ago Sunday, they lost their first of four games in a row, and they'd win consecutive games only once more the rest of the season. While this team hasn't won as many games as it had last year, none of that matters if they can experience the opposite of the trend that sunk that team.

This year's team is very different in terms of the personnel that makes it up, but even after 61 games, it's hard to say whether they're currently better. They too have been unable to string together consecutive wins for weeks, dating all the way back to a pair of victories in Carolina and Long Island in mid-January. They haven't been able to beat the top team in the conference even once this season, and they've had trouble with other contending teams lately. But, there is still time for that to change. Without a move, will it?

That's the big question for Paul Holmgren et al as the deadline approaches and the market, in all likelihood, explodes.

The safe bet is, given the current market's relative paucity of elite talent availability, the Flyers likely believe they are close enough to being true contenders that they'll try to improve incrementally as the season moves on, hoping along with the rest of the field that they'll be the team that puts it all together just in time. Wasn't long ago we saw the club do just that, barely making the playoffs before running all the way to game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Ilya Bryzgalov suddenly snapping into form could go a long way to making that a reality, but it seems increasingly unrealistic to expect dominance from him this season. It isn't out of the question though. A few great starts in a row could ramp up his confidence, and a locked in goalie makes this a much different team.

Or Maybe Next Year?
With youth and talent in abundance in their forward ranks and less than a season since the roster overhaul, there is also belief among some outside the organization (fans and media, not NHL sources, which I don't pretend to have) that this Flyers team is built to win next year and thereafter, that expecting more this season is foolish. We'll see. That rarely fits the Flyers' MO.

HEALTH
A sudden injury or a series of blows to the overall health of a contending team can derail even the brightest postseason hopes. Accordingly, teams lacking in depth will deal for it, and teams that have lost a key player might even overpay for it.
 
Obviously, the Flyers are among the NHL clubs most affected by a significant injury this season, having lost their top blue liner, quite possibly for the remainder of his career. However, after already upgrading the defense corps with two mid-range trades, a move for another defenseman would appear less likely. Neither Nicklas Grossman nor Pavel Kubina will be confused with a Chris Pronger replacement, and both are currently only short-term solutions to a long-term blue line need. But, neither required the Flyers to overpay, and the defense is more likely to improve as this group gels than it was before the deals were made.

The key forwards are all essentially healthy right now. If any changes are made up front, it will be change for the sake of wanting something different, not seeking forward depth or an injury replacement. The Flyers forward lines are as deep and healthy as any unit in the league.

LOGJAMS AND DEARTHS
Too Many Forwards, Not Enough Pucks
Of course, depth and good health can work both ways when it comes to trade motivations. While the Flyers don't need to trade for a forward, they could seek to deal from the depth they have in order to upgrade on defense or even up front. They proved to themselves and others that they can replace scoring with a combination of their fast-paced attacking system and some effective personnel decisions. After all the summer moves, it was assumed the Flyers would need to keep more goals out of their own net, because they couldn't possibly score more than they did last year. Instead, they're first in the league in goal-scoring, and 26th in goals allowed.

But, the Flyers don't currently have enough offensive ice time to go around—a great problem to have, but also a reason they may be looking to make a deal. If the right match isn't there, they'll be well served with having depth as injuries set in over the final months of the season and into the playoffs.

However, James van Riemsdyk's name is among those most linked to a handful of possible relocations, and betting site Bovada.lv is giving 2/1 odds that he'll be moved. JVR has had some injury woes, but overall he has not performed at the level most hoped for when the team appeared to be placed in his and Claude Giroux's hands, another chapter in an up-and-down career with the Flyers that started not long after he was drafted. Does their relationship end on Monday? With the emergence of the team's talented group of rookies, JVR is more expendable now than he would have seemed at the start of the season, but it would still be a major surprise to see him traded. Due to his injuries and performance so far, the Flyers would be selling low despite what most still consider to be a promising career ahead.

Rear Guardian Project
Defensively, the injury to Pronger created a void they haven't been able to fill. Just as was the case in 2010-2011, they are not the same team without Pronger. If there's one thing they could really use, it's an elite blueliner. Unfortunately, there don't appear to be any currently available, so the Flyers will likely have to wait until free agency opens, but they'll need some help in the salary cap area to do it. Pronger's uncertain prognosis also makes longer-term decision making difficult.
Still, it's certainly possible they package one of their current d-men with a forward in order to upgrade, though it'd be tough to find another side willing to part with anyone who would be considered an upgrade from their current group unless they give up someone with a with a pretty bright future.

It Ain't the Flyers if There's No Goalie Drama
One of the goals of the Flyers' off-season overhaul was to improve their goaltending to the point where it could be considered a consistent strength on par with the elite teams the Flyers will meet in the playoffs. So far, that hasn't been the case. Bryzgalov has not come close to meeting expectations, and the team is financially committed to his being the starter. In Sergei Bobrovsky's starts, he hasn't forced their hand, if that is even possible after the mega-deal Bryz was signed to. Because this is Philadelphia, there's gonna be some discussion of bringing in another goalie.

But, there are a variety of reasons that a deal for a goalie is unlikely, unless there's a need to replace Bobrovsky if he is traded. The biggest, most obvious reason is, the team is wed to Bryzgalov for the foreseeable future. They need him to improve and gain confidence, which are less likely to happen as a result of bringing in a competitor for starts. I think they'd be far too wary of making his season setback permanent, and anyway, goaltending isn't the only reason for the Flyers' struggles.

Still, as usual, the brass can't be happy with their goaltending, and as they showed in the off-season, no deal is completely "off limits," and considering people's feelings is for girls. At least one outlet, The Fourth Period, is reporting that the Flyers are actively trying to trade for a goalie. The report is fairly loose, with speculative names in abundance rather than a solid link to one target. If you haven't seen it already, TFP says the Flyers are eyeing Nikolai Khabibulin, who was out with injury when they were in Edmonton, JS Giguere, who Bryz backed up during the Anaheim Ducks' Stanley Cup run, and Ondrej Pavelec, whose performance was stellar despite taking on five goals in an eventual overtime loss to the Flyers. Said to be on the table are Bob and JVR.

CHARACTER / PLAYOFF LEADERSHIP
Teams as young as the Flyers often try to add one of the more sought after and readily available trade deadline commodities—a veteran presence that can provide leadership as the season wears on and the playoffs begin. Because this commodity is often in greater abundance than elite positional talent, and consistency has been a problem for the Flyers again this season, this could be a target area. However, two questions stand in the way. First, they already have a few of the types of players they'd be targeting. Pavel Kubina matches that description, as does Jaromir Jagr. Kimmo Timonen clearly fits the bill, as does Max Talbot, and Danny Briere once the playoffs roll around. Scott Hartnell has also stepped up in this regard. If these guys aren't enough to provide the needed character or leadership, will a rental player be? The other is, where would you put this player? They're full up at every position right now, so a rostered player would have to go.

The Flyers could also look to add some toughness, but again, Hartnell, Talbot, and Simmonds all fit that bill, as does the newcomer Kubina. Zac Rinaldo is an instant energy injection when needed, but the cost of any associated penalties increases along with the stakes. With the way the PK has been going lately, adding potential PIM might not be on the ticket.

Kris Versteeg seemed a good addition last year, but it did not prove fruitful, and he was dealt away at the start of free agency. Will that experience have Homer a little wary this time around?

YOUR PREDICTION TIME
Given all of the above, your agreements or disagreements acknowledged, what do you see the Flyers trying to do at the deadline? Fully standing pat? Adding one of the commodities in particular? Building for this postseason, or the future?

Although it may seem like this post points to it being unlikely the Flyers are movers and shakers at the deadline, their organizational history of making moves at trade deadlines and in free agency is hard to overlook. They don't currently scream "true contender," and if there's a move that Homer thinks will get them any closer, this year or next, he's going to make it. I don't think there will be a major deal, but there will more than likely be an exchange or two to round out specialty areas the Flyers feel they have.

Your thoughts?

Feel free to discuss the trades of the day here.

Provorov, Schenn shine in Flyers' last scrimmage before preseason

Provorov, Schenn shine in Flyers' last scrimmage before preseason

VOORHEES, N.J. – Five games.

That’s what the Flyers are facing this coming week, which is why coach Dave Hakstol had his players involved in a full scrimmage Sunday morning at Skate Zone.

“I like it better than practicing,” offered Michael Raffl. “A little more action. A little physical and it gets you in game shape. I enjoyed it.”

The Flyers have two split-squad games on Monday – one in New Jersey against the Devils and other in Brookyln against the Islanders.

The scrimmage was up-tempo. So much so, Raffl and defenseman Will O’Neill were involved in a dangerous collision in the left corner that could have been disastrous with both players getting up slowly, but uninjured, on a puck chase.

“I don’t know, I was coming in hard,” Raffl said. “At first, I thought about playing the body and then I didn’t want to. So I was mixed in-between trying to slow down and there was a lot of contact as I fell into the boards. I felt fine afterwards.”

Raffl hit his neck awkwardly and was lucky to be uninjured. O’Neill took the hit.

“I went into the wall and knew he was coming and tried to be strong on my feet,” said O’Neill, a free agent signed over the summer. “Contact play in a bad area. Tough part of the ice.”

Hakstol held his breath there.

“It could have turned out differently,” he said. “It was kinda awkward play. You’re always happy to see him pop up and come out for another shift right after that.”

Raffl’s gray team won the scrimmage, 2-1, with rookie defenseman Ivan Provorov setting up a play that resulted in Brayden Schenn’s game-winning goal from Wayne Simmonds.

“Good tempo, competitiveness … kind like the first few days where tempo and work levels were good,” Hakstol said of the scrimmage. “It tends to be a little scrambly in those first scrimmages.”

Jordan Weal centered the top line with Schenn on the left. Hakstol has Schenn on the left right now to get him used to playing there again. Once Claude Giroux returns from the World Cup of Hockey, the top line of Schenn-Giroux-Simmonds will be reunited.

“I made the play up there to Simmer and a nice pass by Provy to me and then Simmer back door to Schenn,” Weal said of the game-winning goal. “It felt good ... I’ve played just one game in nine months.

“I’m just trying to get a feel for being on the right side of pucks. It’s not going to come in the first game.”

Weal was impressed with Provorov.

“He’s a really good player,” he said. “You can see it in his skating, his passing. He’s got a lot of confidence. He tore up the WHL and that’s a great league. It’s going to be exciting to see him moving forward.”

Hakstol rated Provorov as “solid and efficient” in the scrimmage.

Loose pucks
Steve Mason worked with Carter Hart in goal … Alex Lyon and Anthony Stolarz worked for the black team. Mason didn’t give up a goal. “We have eight exhibitions on the schedule and I will get into three or four of those,” he said. “By the time those wrap up, I’ll be where I want to be. Right now, I am feeling great which is a good start.” … Hakstol said Mason won’t play on Monday … Rookie forward Travis Konecny sat the scrimmage out (maintenance day). He said he was given a day off, but Konecny was receiving treatment by the medical staff on Saturday. “I see the trainer every day, I’m fine,” he said. Konecny should play in one of the split-squad games on Monday … Greg Carey had the other goal for the gray squad; Nicolas Aube-Kubel had the lone goal for the black squad … The defense rotated for both teams. Provorov was with Philippe Myers much of the game … Jakub Voracek practiced on his own. He won’t see action in the first three games and neither will Shayne Gostisbehere because of the World Cup, Hakstol said ... The scrimmage consisted of  two, 25-minute periods with a running clock. Sounds like the Public League, no?

Alec Asher's two-seamer shines in another effective outing

Alec Asher's two-seamer shines in another effective outing

NEW YORK -- Alec Asher’s two-seamer was nearly perfect against the Mets on Saturday night — even if the pitching line was attached to his name was decidedly less so.

The rookie exited after five innings with four unearned runs attached to his name — two Phillies’ throwing errors on playable ground balls will do that — but lowered his ERA to 1.66 in a 10-8 victory that was far, far closer than it needed to be.

Lost in the shuffle of the Phillies bullpen’s attempt at self-immolation was just how effective Asher’s newly-developed two-seam fastball was in the early innings against the Mets’ full lineup. The relatively slow pitch — it was sitting around 90 MPH Saturday — generated six popouts during his perfect first trip through the batting order.

“Being able to throw a pitch that’s not straight works wonders,” Asher said. “Last year, I didn’t really have success throwing the four-seam, so just adding that little bit of movement misses barrels, [generates] mishits and gave me a lot of ground balls and weak contact, which is all I can ask for.”

Opponents are batting just .182 off Asher’s two-seamer in his four starts this year, according to data from Fangraphs.com, a complete 180 from his disastrous September call-up in 2015.

In his first major league starts, Asher struggled to establish a mound presence with a four-seamer that nearly touched 95 MPH. Opponents batted .250 and got seven extra-base hits off the four seamer as Asher finished 2015 with an ugly 9.31 ERA.

The Phillies challenged Asher to generative more movement on the pitch and he returned in Spring Training with an entirely new repertoire.

So far, the effort has paid off.

“It’s outstanding. It’s been a real good pitch for him and his changeup,” manager Pete Mackanin said of Asher’s two-seamer. “He didn’t have either pitch last year, and for him to come up with it over the course of the winter and throw those pitches so effectively is huge.”

Asher relied on the changeup to escape the fifth inning — the only high-stress situation he faced all evening.

With four runs already in, a fifth runner poised on third base and a Citi Field crowd beside itself in hopes of a miracle comeback, Asher got pinch-hitter James Loney to top a low changeup out of the zone down the first base line that Tommy Joseph stopped with a dive.

“[I wanted] just to slow the game down and take it pitch by pitch,” Asher said.

Even if Saturday wound up being perhaps a bit more frantic than he would have liked to be, Asher has developed a formula for future success as he prepares for his final start of the season next Friday — also against the Mets — and 2017.

“Just establishing the fastball, commanding both sides of the plate and changing speeds,” he said.

His two-run single in the first inning on Saturday night — his first two career RBIs and, ultimately, the winning margin — was a bonus.

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