Flyers hold brief practice amid 'stresses' of trade deadline day

Flyers hold brief practice amid 'stresses' of trade deadline day

VOORHEES, N.J. – The Flyers held a very brief morning practice on trade deadline day.

It wasn't a coincidence.

It was by design.

"We wanted to go out and get a good work day in, get a good sweat and we went short, went 20 minutes," coach Dave Hakstol said.

"Just pace and execution. Certainly, you want to be respectful of some of the stresses of today. Those are legitimate stresses for players and I am understanding of that."

For one day, the focus wasn't on the Flyers critical upcoming game Thursday against Florida but whether they'll all be around to see it.

Players seemed nervous in the dressing room. Some quickly undressed and left the room. This wasn't like last season when the Flyers were already on a playoff push and had some momentum. Guys weren't as nervous.

Not so this time around. The Flyers have been terribly inconsistent and most of their forwards have flat-lined in goal production. Their playoff chances are "iffy." Sportsclubstats.com rated this chance of qualifying at 2.3 percent.

"Guys checking [their] phone to find what's going on," Jakub Voracek said of the mood today. "It's never a very good day.

"If we were seven or eight points in the playoffs, it would be a different scenario. There's nothing in our control right now."

If the Flyers were seven or eight points up in the wild card, general manager Ron Hextall would likely be standing pat.

One player generating some interest, reportedly from Pittsburgh, was defenseman Michael Del Zotto. He admitted there was tension within the dressing room today.

"I've been through eight deadlines every year and it's the same every year," Del Zotto said. "My teammates and best friends have been traded. You learn early on how to deal with that.

"It's not easy, but it's part of the business. It’s tough. You're with these guys 8-10 months of the year. All day, every day. They become your second family. It's always tough when you see guys leave."

Nothing yet on Michal Neuvirth, but plenty can happen for Flyers on trade deadline day

Nothing yet on Michal Neuvirth, but plenty can happen for Flyers on trade deadline day

It's the least favorite day of the NHL season for most players.

Welcome to trade deadline day.

Because of salary cap restraints and an ongoing rebuild over the past couple seasons, the Flyers enter this year's deadline pretty much the way they entered last year's -- as sellers, not buyers.

General manager Ron Hextall stood pat a year ago on the team that was on the upswing at the end and headed to the postseason.

That can't be said this time around for coach Dave Hakstol's squad as the Flyers entered Tuesday's games six points behind Toronto in the wild card.

There isn't a single player available that would guarantee the Flyers a playoff berth and Hextall knows that.

Hextall said over the weekend in Pittsburgh, he would be inclined to sell. Tuesday's 4-0 massacre of Colorado has to be taken with a large dose of reality (see story). The Avs are the worst team in the league.

Florida and Washington will offer considerably more of a challenge this week.

"We haven't gotten results," Hextall said last Friday. "We need to get results. It's not about moral victories or playing good against Washington. That's fine and dandy but not good enough. We have to win games."

They haven't won enough to this point and remain a long shot to earn 93 or 94 points, which could get them in.

Which is why Hextall will likely try to sell Wednesday unless there is something out there long term that benefits the club. Most teams make deals on deadline day for this season, this playoff run.

Hextall won't dive into the fray for a major signing unless the benefit goes into next year and beyond because there are no guarantees his team will even qualify for the postseason right now.

The Flyers' current scoring woes run deep throughout the roster. No single-player acquisition is going to change those fortunes this season.

Hextall has three pending unrestricted free-agent defensemen -- Mark Streit, Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz -- one or more of whom might be of draft pick value to the Flyers in a trade.

Hextall also has two goaltenders -- Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth -- whom are set to be UFAs. Either of them might be of value as a backup to some club, but that ship seems to have sailed with the L.A. Kings' rather inexpensive acquisition of Ben Bishop from Tampa Bay earlier this week.

A report by ESPN's Pierre LeBrun surfaced Tuesday night that the Flyers were trying to re-sign Neuvirth right now. Sources said no deal was reached Tuesday.

Colorado has spent a lot of time over the past month scouting the Flyers and other clubs in an attempt to move Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog.

Yet, if the Flyers were going to do anything there -- the asking price was rumored to be enormous -- they would have completed a deal Tuesday before the Flyers played the Avs to assure their acquisition wasn't injured during the game. Didn't happen.

One thing Hextall has at his disposal on Wednesday is a slew of young defensemen (see Future Flyers Report), at least two of which will be NHL-ready next fall, plus a deep pool of goaltenders, one of whom figures to be the club's next long-term franchise goalie, the way Hextall was during his playing days.

Since returning to the organization in the summer of 2013, Hextall has been very careful about protecting his assets. Both of L.A.'s Stanley Cups during this decade owe a chunk of its success to the organizational depth Hextall built and oversaw as the Kings' assistant GM to Dean Lombardi.

He won't move future parts without getting similar, significant parts in return. He hasn't forgotten that 11 players from the Kings' Cup roster of 2014 were players he oversaw in player development.

That model for success is what Hextall is trying to duplicate here in Philadelphia, amid an anxious fan base that would like to see the "process" accelerated at a faster pace.

Won't happen.

Hextall believes time is on his side and, as he said last week, he won't promote any young prospect to the NHL level until he's certain they're ready.

Loose pucks
With trade deadline day Wednesday, Hextall has his key people in town (scouting and personnel), including senior vice president Bob Clarke, who Hextall leans on for advice about the makeup of certain players. ... Michael Raffl's injury against Colorado was listed as lower body, but the fact is, he took a very hard hit to the upper body along the boards.

End to End: Which 1 move will Flyers most likely make at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline?

End to End: Which 1 move will Flyers most likely make at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline?

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End this week are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

Today’s question: Which one move is most likely at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline?
 
Dougherty
There has been a lot of chatter about why the Flyers should sell at Wednesday's trade deadline. They won't be buying. Sell is the wrong word here. The Flyers are not selling and changing course. They are not trading Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and starting over. Instead, the next logical step in the rebuild is to shed an expiring contract and open up a spot for a kid.

It just so happens the Flyers have three expiring contracts on defense, and one player comes to mind who would be attractive to contending teams and also paves the way for a defenseman at Lehigh Valley to gain some valuable NHL experience the rest of the season.

That player is Mark Streit, a 39-year-old puck-moving defenseman who can help a team's power play and provide some veteran leadership to boot. Streit has a modified no-trade clause in his contract, meaning he has a list of 10 teams he can be traded to, but that should not be a roadblock in moving him. He'll be a free agent on July 1 and a playoff run is far more attractive than wasting away the final two months of the season in mediocrity.

Streit does have a high cap hit ($5.25 million), but the Flyers could retain some of it. He comes off the books on July 1 and a rental for an acquiring team anyway. The cap hit would not be a deal-breaker here. That is an easy hurdle to clear in this situation.

There are valid arguments against trading Streit, and moving, say, Michael Del Zotto, another attractive expiring contract. Streit is a veteran voice in the Flyers' room and respected within the organization. He's still a valuable piece here. In a perfect world, general manager Ron Hextall can shed both Streit and Del Zotto and open up two spots on the blue line, clearing the way for two (2!) Phantoms defensemen to get some experience.

But, trading Streit is the one move I see as most likely to happen before Wednesday's deadline. Acquire a draft pick for Streit and call up Robert Hagg or Sam Morin. In this scenario, the bet here would be on Hagg. And remember, it's not selling, it's the next step.
 
Hall
Before the season, I was a big believer in trading one of the Flyers' goalies at the March 1 deadline.

Now, it makes even more sense in a season that appears to be headed for not much of anything.

Why hold on to two goalies set for unrestricted free agency when you'll almost certainly lose at least one for absolutely nothing this offseason? 

Michal Neuvirth turns 29 next month, as does Steve Mason in May. Both are having down seasons, but are still tradable and capable goalies -- whether it be in a starter's role or backup duty.

Is either goalie the Flyers' future when the team is ready for contention?

The orange and black are stocked with goaltending prospects in Anthony Stolarz, Alex Lyon, Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom. Stolarz got a small taste of the NHL earlier this season and could more than hold down the second-string fort the rest of 2016-17. When the offseason comes, then you worry about what's next between the pipes.

But right now, one of the most rational decisions for the Flyers at the trade deadline would be moving a goalie. Neuvirth currently carries a more reasonable cap hit at $1.625 million, while Mason is at $4.1 million. Make a tough decision and start prepping more for the road ahead.

I think a trade can and should be done by Wednesday.

Paone
Thanks to injury and Dave Hakstol's recent emphasis on defensive structure, Del Zotto hasn't been in the Flyers' lineup much recently. Del Zotto is now healed from the lower-body injury that kept him out for a couple of weeks, so the part about an emphasis on defensive structure is important here when talking about his status with the Flyers.

Del Zotto has never been a defense-first type player. His strength is clearly his offensive ability. But unfortunately for Del Zotto, that's just not what the Flyers need out of their defensemen these days. So it should be no surprise he has slid down Hakstol's depth chart as the need for his role has decreased dramatically. But there are plenty of teams out there, contending ones, too, that could use some offensive punch on the blue line and on the power play. Del Zotto has played in only 30 games this season with four goals and six assists and is a role player these days, but there's a role for him somewhere out there. It's just not in Philadelphia anymore.

His $3.875 million cap hit is a bit steep, but he's a UFA at season's end, so it will come off the books. That should make a team much more willing to take a chance on Del Zotto and his cap in exchange for a draft pick, which Hextall values. Plus, he's not likely to be back here next year anyway, as the Flyers will likely start infusing more of the defensive talent they have in the minors into the big club. So might as well get something for him while you can. Contending teams can never have too much depth and those teams like to build depth through the trade market at this time of year. There's a fit somewhere out there for Del Zotto before the March 1 trade deadline.