Philadelphia Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher certainly had a lot on his mind as this season’s trade deadline played out. Under normal circumstances the deadline will have GM’s pulling their hair out trying to determine what the best course of action is. The trials and tribulations that come along with the flat-cap created by the pandemic and a looming expansion draft served as extra variables to make things that much more difficult.
Although the Flyers made a handful of moves, the trade deadline qualified as quiet. The blood-thirsty fans clamoring for significant roster changes will have to wait for the offseason before having their demands met.
With the Flyers in a precarious position in terms of making the playoffs – they need a legitimate miracle at this point to get in – Fletcher chose to flip two of their expiring contracts for draft picks. He sent Erik Gustafsson (50% salary retention) to the Montreal Canadiens for a 7th round pick in 2022 and long-tenured veteran Michael Raffl (25% salary retention) to the Washington Capitals for a 5th round pick in 2021.
Neither player was going to factor into the roster down the stretch as Gustafsson had been an unmitigated disaster all season and had slipped behind Sam Morin, Robert Hagg, and Phillippe Myers on the depth chart. Raffl had served as a healthy scratch a handful of times and the Flyers prefer to get rookie Tanner Laczynski as much playing time as possible as Fletcher noted in his post-deadline press conference.
The big move of the day turned out to be the contract extension given to Scott Laughton who signed a 5-year deal at $3 mil AAV. Laughton had begun to garner significant interest from competing teams but ultimately the Flyers deemed Laughton more valuable as part of the team.
"“We have a couple other holes on our team and the thought of creating an additional hole to me wasn’t very appealing.” Fletcher said in regard to the Laughton extension. “He’s part of the solution for us going forward.”"
So what’s next for the Flyers?
First things first, they’ll play the season out and get a look at a handful of prospects such as Laczynski, Wade Allison, and perhaps Cam York to see how they perform in NHL roles. For Fletcher, seeing who will compete hard the rest of the way could greatly influence his decision of who stays and who goes in the offseason.
With the substantial extension given to Laughton we know that he will be one of the players that gets protected from the Seattle expansion. That most likely means that two of James van Riemsdyk, Jakub Voracek, Oskar Lindblom and Nolan Patrick will be left unprotected. Odds are Fletcher protects Lindblom and Patrick in hopes that Seattle poaches one of the two highly paid veterans, clearing a big chunk of cap space to reshape the roster.
So how should the roster be re-shaped?
As has been acknowledged, the first order of business post-expansion should be finding a top-pair defenseman to pair with Ivan Provorov long-term. The Flyers could throw the bank at Dougie Hamilton in free agency or pursue a trade to fill that hole.
After that I think the Flyers would benefit greatly from acquiring a sure-fire third-line center. Between Patrick’s struggles, the injury to Morgan Frost, and the preference to play Laughton on the wing, the Flyers have had to turn to Claude Giroux to fill that center role.
Although still capable of playing center adequately, Giroux provides way more value on the wing at this point in his career. Keeping Giroux on the wing for the entirety of the 2021-22 season should be a major priority in order to get the most out of him and keep him healthy.
As tantalizing as Patrick’s upside is, the goal is to win now. They can’t afford to wait for his development. Ditto with Morgan Frost who missed the season with a shoulder injury. Could these two fill the hole someday? Maybe. But the Flyers can’t afford to wait for that day. Don’t be surprised if Fletcher holds a similar sentiment.
One thing we know for certain is that after this year’s colossal disappointment, this offseason will be franchise altering and very well may define Fletcher’s tenure with this team. With a bevy of draft picks, valuable prospects, and avenues to clear cap space at his disposal, he has all the tools to push this team firmly into Stanley Cup contention. Or at least try to.