Philadelphia Flyers: The Trade Deadline and the Future of the Defense

The Philadelphia Flyers have trade-able defensemen to move at the trade deadline, although the trade outlook is very murky

The NHL trade deadline is less than a week away, so it’s time to get silly with the rumors and speculation.  There are a few relatively big names that are likely to move, such as Andrew Ladd and Mikkel Boedker.  After the flashy forwards, there’s has been a bunch of talk regarding trades of defensemen.

Depth defenders are always valuable to playoff contenders.  A playoff run is a long road, often requiring 7 or 8 defenders.  Furthermore, coaches can never have enough reliable hands back there.  The Hawks may have won the Stanley Cup last year with only four effective defenders, but no one is going to use that as a blueprint.

To that end, trades for defenders have already started.  On Tuesday, the Toronto Maple Leafs traded Roman Polak to the San Jose Sharks, primarily for a return of 2 second round picks.  Yesterday, the Buffalo Sabres traded Mike Weber to the Washington Capitals for a third round pick.  Surely there are more such moves to be made, and these preliminary moves set the market prices.

So where do the Philadelphia flyers fit into all of this?  Mostly it will come down to how Ron Hextall envisions the future of his defense corps.

It is well known that the Flyers are flush with high-end defensive prospects.  Shayne Gostisbehere has already arrived and turned heads at the NHL level, Sam Morin and Robert Hagg are developing in the AHL, and Travis Sanheim and Ivan Provorov are still teenagers but may be the best of the lot.  It’s clear they are the future of the Flyers defense, but they’re not the present, nor even the near future.

The Trade Candidates

When it comes to Flyers defensemen on the roster there are two easy calls.  Mark Streit and Nick Schultz are definitely stop-gaps until the next generation arrives.  Both players are in their 30s, and on the downside of their career.  Additionally, both are under contract through next season.  That extra year on their contracts significantly complicates things.

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December 27, 2015; Anaheim, CA, USA; Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Evgeny Medvedev (82) moves the puck against Anaheim Ducks during the third period at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

A bit more intriguing is the case of Evgeny Medvedev.  At 33, he’s not any younger than Schultz, but he’s a unrestricted free agent after this season.  Thus any team that trades for him has no commitment beyond this spring.  The real intrigue, however, comes in his skill set.  To put it simply, he has the skill set nearly every team would want.  This is offset by his inexperience in North America, which may or may not be keeping him out of Hakstol’s lineup.  Either way, it appears Medvedev will not be a core player in the Flyers defensive lineup going forward.

Lastly, and most intriguingly, is Radko Gudas.  Gudas has had quite a season, going from healthy scratch to gaining some degree of notoriety for overly physical plays.  He’s a bit of a throw-back player, as a physical and nasty defenseman who racks up hits.

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Jan 5, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas (3) checks Montreal Canadiens left wing Max Pacioretty (67) during the third period at Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers defeated the Canadiens, 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Some may characterize him as having an obsolete skillset for today’s NHL, but that perspective entirely ignores how effectively he paired with Michael Del Zotto, and that he is the top Corsi performing defenseman on the team. The guy’s doing something right.  On top of that, he’s only 25 and getting paid peanuts this season.  It all adds up to a unique player a playoff team could add to their roster.  Of course he could be a unique asset for the Flyers going forward as well, but it is very difficult to get a read on how committed the Flyers are to Gudas themselves.

Buying Teams

There are a few teams that are looking for defensemen.  Scratching San Jose and Washington off the list after the trades mentioned above, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Boston, Tampa Bay or possibly Vancouver all could use defensive reinforcements.

Starting with the Dallas Stars, they are likely looking for experience on defense.  Their defensive group is very young right now.  That makes them possible fits for either Streit or Schultz.  Schultz would be the low-risk low-return option.  A third round pick should be enough to complete a deal, and Schultz would be a stay-at-home guy on the bottom pairs.  Streit would be a more interesting option, and the team could even use him next year if Alex Goligoski leaves in free agency.  That trade package would be closer to a first round pick, or a second-round pick and a prospect.

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Feb 7, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby (70) makes a save on Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Mark Streit (32) in the second period at Verizon Center. The Capitals won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Moving on, Pittsburgh and Boston both generally need capable bodies on defense.  Either Gudas or Schultz could help Boston, with Schultz again being the cheaper option.  Boston may be looking to move Loui Eriksson, and while he is having a good season, the Flyers won’t be interested in a 30-year old player that is out-of-contract.  That makes a bigger Gudas trade with Boston pretty messy.

Regarding Pittsburgh, Medvedev could actually be a very interesting fit there.  You don’t see too many trades between the Flyers and the Penguins, but Medvedev’s puck possession and movement could really help them.  A third-round pick would be worth the investment for a Pittsburgh team that has been coming on strong since their coaching change.

Lastly, there’s Tampa Bay.  For a while the word has been that Tampa Bay wants a right-shooting defensemen to help on the power play.  Mark Streit is good on the power play, but he shoots left.  Tampa Bay also has very little cap space, both this season and going forward.  The best thought that comes to mind in regards to Tampa Bay remains Streit plus a good prospect for Drouin and Filppula, as speculated 6 weeks ago.

The Big Picture

All of this presumes the Philadelphia Flyers will be deadline sellers, which they certainly should be.  The condensed standings make them appear to be on the cusp of a playoff spot, but the Flyers are now 5 points and 4 teams out of the playoff race.  Chances of making the playoffs are slim, and nothing that happens in the Flyers’ two remaining games before the deadline is going to change that big picture.

If the Flyers are not committed to any of the aforementioned 4 defensemen beyond next season, they must be on the table.  I think that test certainly applies to Streit, Schultz, and Medvedev, but it is unknown for Gudas.

Of course the Flyers aren’t the only sellers out there.  The Flyers defenseman on sale are probably not even the most desirable players, as others may be younger or more well rounded defenders.  The Flyers might be lucky to find a partner for just one of those four, and two would be a bonus.

It was reported online the other day that the Flyers turned down an offer for Gudas of 2 second round picks.  Might this have been the Sharks, who have since traded 2 such picks for Roman Polak?  Would Hextall move Gudas if offered something better?

Very little is clear at the moment, and there are no strong or persistent trade rumors involving the Flyers.  Despite this, you know Hextall is working the phones, and he could be sneaking up on something.  There’s a lot on the table to work with, but all anyone can do at this point is wait and see.