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.

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg wins 14th as Nationals down Indians

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg wins 14th as Nationals down Indians

CLEVELAND -- Stephen Strasburg shut down Cleveland for seven innings and bounced back from his only loss this season, leading the Washington Nationals to a 4-1 win over the Indians on Wednesday.

Strasburg (14-1) began the season with 13 straight wins before he was beaten by the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 21. The powerful right-hander shook off that blemish, holding the Indians to only three hits as the Nationals recovered after blowing a two-run lead in the ninth and losing on Tuesday night.

Washington rookie Trea Turner drove in three runs and Daniel Murphy hit his 20th homer off Carlos Carrasco (7-4), who nearly matched Strasburg but was done in by one bad inning.

Nationals reliever Blake Treinen stopped Cleveland's threat in the ninth, getting a game-ending double play for his major league save.

Strasburg walked one and struck out seven (see full recap)

Cardinals snap Familia's saves streak, rally past Mets 5-4
NEW YORK -- Yadier Molina and pinch-hitter Kolten Wong each stroked an RBI double in the ninth inning, and the St. Louis Cardinals ended Jeurys Familia's streak of 52 straight saves in rallying past the New York Mets 5-4 on Wednesday night.

Yoenis Cespedes hit a go-ahead homer off Adam Wainwright to cap a three-run comeback in the seventh that gave the Mets a 4-3 lead. But then Familia, who hadn't blown a regular-season save opportunity since July 30 last year, finally faltered.

Jedd Gyorko drew a one-out walk in the ninth and was replaced by pinch-runner Randal Grichuk. Molina hit the next pitch to deep center field, and Grichuk scored standing up to tie it.

Molina was thrown out at third by Familia (2-2) on pinch-hitter Jeremy Hazelbaker's comebacker, but Hazelbaker stole second and scored when Wong lined a double just inside the left-field line.

Familia's franchise-record saves streak was the third-longest in major league history behind Tom Gordon (54) and Eric Gagne (84).

Jonathan Broxton (3-2) tossed a scoreless eighth and Seung Hwan Oh got three quick outs for his sixth save (see full recap)

Padres hit 3 HRs to extend streak, beat Blue Jays 8-4
TORONTO -- Adam Rosales hit a two-run home run, Alex Dickerson and Brett Wallace each hit solo shots and the San Diego Padres beat the Toronto Blue Jays 8-4 on Wednesday, avoiding a three-game sweep.

San Diego extended its club-record streak of games with at least one home run to 25. It's the longest run since the 2002 Texas Rangers set a major league record by homering in 27 straight.

Luis Perdomo (5-4) allowed four runs and six hits in 5 2-3 innings to win back-to-back starts.

Wallace reached base three times. He was hit by a pitch and scored on Rosales' homer in the third, connected off R.A. Dickey in the fifth and hit an RBI single off Joe Biagini in the sixth.

Dickerson homered for the fourth time in four games when he connected off Franklin Morales in the eighth. He is first Padres rookie to homer in four straight games.

Dickey (7-12) allowed seven runs, six earned, and four hits in 5 2-3 innings. The knuckleballer is winless in three starts and has allowed six home runs in that span (see full recap).

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Earlier this week, Doug Pederson admitted cornerback Eric Rowe had some “hiccups” during the spring, and seemed to indicate they stemmed from learning a new defense. 

Rowe says that wasn’t the problem at all.

“It wasn’t the new defense that was giving me whatever hiccups [Pederson] was talking about,” Rowe said on Wednesday as he reported for his second training camp (see Day 3 observations). “It was just, I was having trouble breaking on top of the routes, specifically the curl routes. But fade ball, deep post, digs, I didn’t have any trouble there. It was just curl routes. I just knew I had to work on it after the OTAs.”

Rowe, 23, said the problem was technical; he just needed to get his feet down quicker.

Whatever the problem, whatever the hiccups, it seems as though Rowe’s standing within the organization and on the depth chart isn’t what it once was.

Many thought he would be a starter in 2016, like he was at the end of 2015, but that wasn’t the way things were in the spring. Instead, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks took those positions, and it looks like Nolan Carroll, returning from an injury, and rookie Jalen Mills, who hasn’t yet practiced in pads, are vying for playing time, too.

In back-to-back days earlier this week, Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz failed to mention Rowe’s name while listing players at the cornerback spot. Coincidental omissions or a vocalized unofficial depth chart?

Rowe could possibly go from starter to deep bench player, but that’s not what he’s planning on.

“I know I had a little ups and downs in OTAs, but now the pads are coming on,” Rowe said. “I feel like it’s a fresh start for me and I’m just ready to get out here.”

Pads go on Saturday.

“Right now, I think I still stand in a good position (with the team),” Rowe said. “Football is about the game with pads on. Now we’re really about to see in a couple days when we put the pads on.”

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

He looks like a small back. He's built like a small back. He wants to play like a big back.

Wendell Smallwood, trying to make the Eagles as a reserve tailback, stands 5-foot-10, 208 pounds, but he said he’s got a surprise for defenders that think he’s one of those itty-bitty backs that dances around looking pretty … until they get hit.

“I think that’s what most people expect,” he said Tuesday. “But when I actually put my head down and fight for those extra yards and get under guys, guys start to say, ‘Hey!’ They start to feel me a little bit.

“So I definitely think that started to show my last year in college, and I started becoming more of an inside zone type of runner instead of an outside runner.”

None of this should be a surprise considering Smallwood’s position coach is Duce Staley, who during his 10-year NFL career was much more interested in running over people than around them.

Smallwood is nowhere near as big as Staley, who played at about 235 to 240. But that’s the kind of back he wants to be.

“It’s definitely important to me and it’s definitely what Duce wants me to do,” Smallwood said. “He wants me to hit the holes and hit ‘em hard and that’s the reason he got me here.

“Duce, he doesn’t like small backs. He doesn’t. I don’t think he believes in those guys. He was a big boy. Running dudes over left and right. That’s what he wants.”

Smallwood played sparingly as a freshman at West Virginia, shared time with Rushel Shell as a sophomore, then took over last year when he led the Big 12 with 1,519 rushing yards and added nine touchdowns, 26 catches and a 6.4 rushing average.

The Eagles plucked him out of Morgantown in the fifth round, and in an uncertain running back picture, he’s got a realistic chance to not just make the team but also play a role.

Just don’t expect him to play like a typical guy his size.

“I don’t consider myself a small back anymore,” he said. “People have always said that and I kind of started to agree, but then I looked at some of the guys who are around and I’m not a small back at all.

“I’m not little and the running style I like to do is suited for a big back, and my catching kind of throws people off. I definitely think I’m a mixture of both.”

Smallwood ranked 13th in Division I in rushing yards last year, and his 6.4 average was tied for ninth among backs with at least 200 carries.

He said a lot of defenders expect him to be a finesse back, a guy who likes to juke safeties and linebackers instead of bowling them over.

“Get me going downhill and I’ll get you what I can get you,” he said. “A lot of [defenders] kind of take the easy route and think it’s going to be easy and then the rest of the game they’re going low and trying to take my legs out.”

Look at the Eagles’ running back picture.

The starter is Ryan Mathews, who is talented but injury-prone. The backup right now probably is Kenjon Barner, who has 34 career carries. Then there’s Darren Sproles, whose 3.8 average last year was his lowest since 2009 and second lowest of his 11-year career.

With a strong camp, there’s no reason Smallwood can’t work himself into that picture.

The last frontier for the Northern Delaware native is blitz pickup. Something he was never asked to do at WVU.

“I don’t think I did basically any in college,” he said. “They didn’t ask me to block at all. I was mainly running routes.

“But as soon as I got here, Duce emphasized, ‘If you want to get on the field, you’re going to block. If you’re not going to block, you’re not going to play.'”

Staley’s No. 22 wasn’t available, but Smallwood is happy to wear the jersey number of another one of his favorite backs growing up, Correll Buckhalter’s No. 28, who he seems quite similar to.

It’s not fair to compare Smallwood to Staley, Buckhalter, Brian Westbrook or any other former Eagles back until the pads go on and we see what he’s really made of.

But Smallwood said he’s thrilled Staley is his coach and said there’s nobody he’d rather be playing for.

“I think he’s a great fit for me as a coach,” Smallwood said. “I need a kind of guy who drives me, tough guy, who’s not going to let up, who’s going to keep his foot on my back. I definitely need that kind of coaching.

“Just being around him growing up and seeing what he did when he was here and how he runs and him being one of my favorite backs, I was kind of star-struck to be around him, and now he’s my coach. It’s definitely a great situation for me.”