The Flyers just got a little better.
After a sleepy 3-8-0 start to the season, many in the hockey world expected the Flyers and general manager Paul Holmgren to make a panic move. Instead, the aggressive GM closed on a depth trade, moving forward and defensive specialist Max Talbot to the Colorado Avalanche for physical forward Steve Downie.
And that’s an overall win for the Flyers.
At face value, what the Flyers get in Downie is familiarity with head coach Craig Berube, a jolt in bullish energy and a pinch of offensive capability that was desperately needed at the wing position.
He’s three-years younger than Talbot and brings different, much-needed strengths to the Flyers’ roster. More of an offensive player than Talbot, Downie, who isn’t completely inept defensively, averaged 16:43 time on ice per game and was a top-four forward on the Avs’ eighth-ranked power play.
Looking for a top-six winger that isn’t Michael Raffl and for someone to help their 25th-ranked power play, the Flyers may tap Downie to play solid minutes next to Claude Giroux, who has struggled without steady finishers and forecheckers on his line.
Downie, who once scored 22 goals with the Tampa Bay Lightning, is currently on pace for a career-high 55 points this season. He has seven assists and one goal in 11 games and was a solid contributor to the Avalanche’s current 10-1-0 record.
This move also makes slight financial sense for the Flyers. With Talbot signed on for three more years at $1.75m, the Flyers give themselves options. If the Downie experiment doesn’t work, that’s OK. He is in a contract year at $2.65m. They can simply walk away.
Tossing that all aside, here’s why the Flyers win this trade: It’s less about Downie’s numbers and more about the decline of Talbot.
Scouting reports will tell you that 29-year-old Talbot is a gritty, physical, energy forward that is above average defensively, an elite penalty killer and will chip in offensively. He has also slowed considerably during the last two seasons.
Talbot was one of the Flyers’ best penalty killers, if not the best. He averaged 15:08 time on ice per game, 3:35 of which went into the PK -- a high for Flyers forwards. And though that’s what the Flyers will miss most, it’s also where his contribution ended.
The smallish forward has just 11 hits in 11 games and hasn’t shown the same aggressive forechecking fire that got him his reputation. Caught between being a fourth-line center and third-line winger, Talbot drew tough defensive assignments but couldn’t really overcome them, scoring just one goal and one assist this season. He has also managed just 14 shots on goal, his lone score coming off an unknowing skate defection.
Coming off a shortened season in which he only earned 10 points in 35 games, Talbot’s decline from his 19-goal 2011-12 season was swift. Though his tempo and production might change under Avs coach Patrick Roy, Talbot was little more than a slowing bottom-five defense-only player on a bad team.