Can the Flyers afford to lose Scott Laughton?

Scott Laughton continues to show up in trade rumors. Is it wise if the Flyers pull the trigger?
Scott Laughton continues to show up in trade rumors. Is it wise if the Flyers pull the trigger? / Mitchell Leff/GettyImages
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Scott Laughton's name has been swirling in trade rumors for weeks. The Flyers aren't too keen on moving him, but they're rebuilding, and if the right offer comes along, they've made it clear they will not hesitate to pull the trigger.

Laughton's production has dipped this season; he's put up only seven goals and 16 assists in 54 games, a 35 point pace. Just a season ago, Laughton scored 18 goals and 43 points in a 78 game effort. It's not a massive drop-off, sure, but a 10 point difference in production for someone playing bottom-six minutes is still significant.

Even more glaring are the underlying metrics. Laughton is under-performing all over the sheet compared to last season. (Player card courtesy of JFresh Hockey)

The Flyers have gathered just 44.40 percent of the expected goals at 5v5 when Laughton is on the ice. Only forward Nic Deslauriers is worse at 39.90 percent. Notably, Deslauriers and Laughton have played about 25 percent of their total on-ice 5v5 minutes together. Together, they're a disaster, collecting just 30.54 percent of expected goals. Without Deslauriers, Laughton's numbers jump up a few percentage points to 47.92 (statistics via Natural Stattrick).

His on-ice deficiencies have been apparent to coach John Tortorella, too. Asked how he felt about Laughton's game, Tortorella said, "Inconsistent. When he's on, he's on. You can tell by where I put him in the lines. Sometimes he's getting minutes, sometimes he isn't... I'm hoping he steps up and gets on the right side of consistency."

Perhaps motivated by that comment and the trade rumblings, Laughton's offense has suddenly come alive in back-to-back games against the Seattle Kraken and Arizona Coyotes.

He opened the scoring against the Kraken in a rare appearance on the power-play, blistering a one-timer top shelf. Seattle goaltender Joey Daccord had no chance.

Laughton's goal the following game was no slouch, either. He took a Travis Sanheim pass behind the net and beat the Coyotes' netminder to the post for a wrap-around tally. Laughts even took a high stick to the face (courtesy of defenseman Matt Dumba) in the process and earned the Flyers a power-play after his goal cancelled out one half of the double minor. It was the go-ahead and game-winning goal.

If the Flyers were looking for a reason to hold onto Laughton, he certainly gave them something to think about, while simultaneously bolstering his trade value in an otherwise middling campaign.

But much of the discourse surrounding Laughton's status leading up to the trade deadline has had nothing to do with point production. It's had everything to do with his intangibles, leadership, and what he means to a room that is, by all accounts, extremely close.

In the same breath in which Tortorella criticized Laughton's inconsistent play, Torts also reiterated how essential he is to the aspects of the game oft unseen.

“He’s a very important guy for us…He’s the glue, especially with some of the youth that we have around here. I think they rely on him and ask him questions. Just the way he plays the game, I think it’s so important [for] what we’re trying to build here."

Make no mistake about it, trading Laughton now is the best move for the Flyers long-term. But if it's wise in the short-term is unclear, especially for a team in the throes of a playoff race. Moving on from a guy like Laughton at this point in the season is, like it or not, a message to the team that management is aware of the group's ceiling, and it's not a Stanley Cup. It could also damage the cohesion in the locker-room, which may impact the product on the ice. Whether the potential detriment is worth futures (presumably coming back in a trade) is something Danny Briere will have to weigh in the coming weeks.

A similar question was posed to Tortorella after practice on Wednesday, wondering if there would be any hesitation moving players so as to not disrupt the status quo.

"It's not a fear. It's again part of the process we're in as a team. We can't look for things not to continue our process."

As I was writing this, the Flyers named their 20th captain in Franchise history.

So, Sean Couturier gets captain honors, Travis Konecny gets an "A", and Scott Laughton keeps his letter. It could be nothing, but the timing of this announcement is suspicious. I can't imagine the Flyers would've liked the optics of them shipping out the only player with a letter in Laughton. Now, should he make his rumored departure, there will be a leadership group already in place.

For now, though, Scott Laughton remains a member of the orange and black and a valuable one at that.