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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

Eagles-Vikings Week 7: What they're saying

Eagles-Vikings Week 7: What they're saying

Riding a two-game losing streak, the Eagles (3-2) return home Sunday for the first time in nearly a month and welcome a familiar face to the confines of Lincoln Financial Field. 

Sam Bradford and the Vikings (5-0) will come to Philadelphia fresh off a Week 6 bye and, most notably, as the league's lone unbeaten team. Minnesota boasts one of the league's top defenses, ranking first in points allowed (12.6 per game) and second in yards allowed (287.6 per game), and is looking to improve to 6-0 for the first time since 2009.

The last time these two franchises met was back in December 2013, when Matt Cassell and the Vikings put up 48 points in a win over Chip Kelly's Eagles.

To get a better handle on this year's Vikings, here's what they're saying about the Eagles' Week 7 opponent.

Brian Robison poses yet another challenge for Big V
Making his NFL debut in a start against the Redskins last week, Halapoulivaati Vaitai struggled mightily. Ryan Kerrigan beat Vaitai and got to Carson Wentz for 2½ sacks, all of which came in the first half.

It won't get any easier for the rookie right tackle this week either, as he'll likely be lined up against Brian Robison for most of the afternoon. Robison has four sacks and two forced fumbles on the season and, according to Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune, the versatile 10-year defensive end could be difference maker on the defensive side of the ball Sunday.

"Whether his hand is in the turf at left end or he’s standing over a guard or center as the defensive tackle, Robison could be dropping back to cover a tight end or running back," Krammer wrote. "At the line, he’s given responsibilities to call stunts or twists depending on their own play call. Sometimes he’s setting the pick to free another teammate. ... And on Sunday against the Eagles and their rookie right tackle, keep an eye on Robison when he lines up at his traditional spot of left end. All four of his sacks this season, including two strip-sacks, have come from there."

Makeshift offensive line remains a question mark
The Vikings may be undefeated, but by no means are they made up of perfect parts. As the midway point of the NFL season approaches, Minnesota's injury-battered offensive line is still a work in progress. 

Starting tackles Matt Kalil and Andre Smith are both sidelined with season-ending injuries. Starting guard Brandon Fusco suffered a concussion Week 5 against the Texans, but is expected to return against the Eagles. Center is the only position on the line the Vikings haven't had to replace because of an injury at some point this season.

But despite the constant changes up front, Minnesota has been stout overall in protecting the quarterback, allowing eight sacks and 27 quarterback hits across five games. According to Brian Murphy of the Pioneer Press, the performance of that makeshift offensive line is going to be key in the Vikings' potential success down the road. 

"What’s best for Bradford and the Vikings’ standing as the NFC’s top dog is better pass protection," Murphy wrote. "He was sacked twice when Houston defenders turnstiled Clemmings and hit hard in the pocket other times. ... Offensive line intrigue never is a sexy storyline, but how well the Vikings manage the unit week to week figures to be an underlying factor to their continued success."

Strong away from home
The Vikings are a just a few years removed from going winless on the road, finishing 0-7-1 away from home in the 2013 season. Minnesota secured wins in only two of its first 10 away games under the tutelage of Mike Zimmer, but have since gone on a tear.

Minnesota has won seven of its last eight road games dating back to last season and, in their most recent game away from U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings took down the Panthers, 22-10, in Week 3. A testament of a true contender is having the ability to win consistently on the road, which holds true with the Vikings.

According to Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press, the Vikings' vast improvement over the past two-plus seasons has contributed to them becoming a stronger team away from home.

"Facing a tough opposing crowd once was a tall order for the Vikings, but it’s much less of one now. After being one of the worse road teams in the NFL earlier this decade, they’re now one of the best," Tomasson wrote. "Overall, the Vikings have improved, having gone from 7-9 in 2014 to 11-5 last season to 5-0 this year. That’s the main reason the road record has gotten so much better. Still, players say the continuity the team has had has especially helped when entering rugged road environments."

While Vegas has the Vikings as light favorites on the road, national experts have them heavily favored straight up to hand the Eagles their third straight loss.

ESPN: All nine experts picked the Vikings

CBS Sports: Seven of eight experts picked the Vikings

FOX Sports: Three of five experts picked the Vikings 

Flyers Skate Update: Ivan Provorov has a new partner

Flyers Skate Update: Ivan Provorov has a new partner

Ivan Provorov has a new partner.

Provorov will be paired with Brandon Manning on Saturday night against the Carolina Hurricanes, a changeup from the first four games of the season. Mark Streit drops to the third pair with Nick Schultz, a tandem that worked together most of last season.

"We're going to change them up," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said after the team's morning skate. "We're going to look at a couple of different things. Some of the combinations are some familiar ones, such as Streiter-Schultz. They played a lot of minutes together last year. It's a move that we want to take a look at."

The Provorov-Manning pair is an interesting one. It should allow the 19-year-old to activate more in the offensive zone with Manning playing positionally sound. Manning has played with an extra edge thus far, showcasing a far more aggressive brand of hockey than he's shown previously with the orange and black.

With Streit, an offensive-minded blueliner, Provorov had to cover for his partner. Provorov also ran into some tough luck situations, too. Now with Manning, Provorov has the handcuffs off a little bit. Manning plays well positionally and while he has been more aggressive, he knows when to stay back, which will help Provorov.

It's another adjustment for the rookie. Through four games, he said, there haven't been any surprises in terms of his expectations for how the NHL game plays.

"I think what I expected is what I got," Provorov said. "It's the best league in the world, you expect all four lines to be great, you expect fast pace, physical game and that's what I got. I'm still learning, but I'm trying to do better as the games go on."

Provorov has one assist this season and enters Saturday as a minus-5, largely because of the Chicago game Tuesday. Hakstol praised Provorov's maturity level and ability to self-evaluate. What he hasn't done with Provorov is talk about numbers.

"There are some meaning in stats and we take the meaningful areas and apply those," Hakstol said. "But I haven't talked to any of the young guys about their statistics. We're four games in. I don't make too much of statistics right now. We're evaluating day-to-day play and looking at areas that we can use as strengths and areas individually we can improve."

Starting slow
If there has been one common theme through the first four games, it's the Flyers' poor starts. In first periods this season, they've been outscored, 6-1 (see game notes).

On Thursday night, the Flyers again came out of the gates slow. It was their first game back after a season-opening road trip out West, which Jakub Voracek said was a factor.

Voracek, who has four assists, said the burden falls on the individual player to focus on the small details and avoid committing mistakes.

"As a player, if you don't have that extra step, you just have to keep it simple," he said. "It's going to come around. The first 10 minutes, you have to make sure you don't make mistakes and I think that we were trying to do too much if we weren't feeling right. It showed last game against Anaheim. We were a half-a-step slower."

Four games isn't a large enough sample size for Hakstol to make a definite statement on the Flyers' first-period woes. The second-year coach said he'll have a better understanding where his team is at after the Carolina game.

"I think we'll answer that question after the start tonight," Hakstol said. "I think we'll get a fair evaluation of our starts after our start tonight, and if we have a problem, we'll know it after tonight. If we don't, we'll know that as well.

"Pretty clear, crystal clear, black and white in my mind. Tonight should tell else what type of team we are at the start of the hockey game."

Projected Flyers Lineup
F: Brayden Schenn-Claude Giroux-Wayne Simmonds

Travis Konecny-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek

Nick Cousins-Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-Matt Read

Chris VandeVelde-Boyd Gordon-Roman Lyubimov

D: Andrew MacDonald-Shayne Gostisbehere

Ivan Provorov-Brandon Manning

Nick Schultz-Mark Streit

G: Steve Mason