Last June, newly installed general manager Daniel Briere made his first big move as he attempted to fix the struggling Flyers team. He tried away former first-rounder Ivan Provorov to the Columbus Blue Jackets in a trade that involved the Los Angeles Kings. In exchange for some depth pieces and salary retention of some players in the deal, the Flyers received Sean Walker, Helge Grans, and Cal Petersen from Los Angeles and a first-rounder of CBJ.
Normally, you wait a few years to see how a trade has panned out, but not with this one. You can say that Philly won this one hands down. A quick look at the standings will show you that the Flyers and Columbus are heading in opposite directions. They were the bottom two teams in the Metropolitan Division last year. Both teams made moves to improve. Philadelphia made a lot of depth-piece signings while jettisoning Kevin Hayes and Tony DeAngelo (addition by subtraction). Columbus made a lot of key moves trying to bolster their defense.
Halfway into the season, Columbus is still at the bottom of the Metro, while the Flyers have been near the top all season. More importantly, there is a report coming out of Ohio. The Jackets are open to shopping Provorov. Columbus needs assets. They are far away from contention. Provorov is playing...well...ok. If you've seen him over the years in Philadelphia, you get it. He's an overpaid second-pair lineman at best. He's not putting his body on the line much anymore for blocked shots. He's under contract for one more year at just under $5 million. Teams need defense in the playoffs, and he'll probably be on the move.
It's not that he was bad. He wasn't. He just never really grew. Provorov kind of plateaued and never really got better. It almost seemed like he didn't care to. He was happy being himself and doing his thing, no matter what any coach tried. He had potential but never seemed to fulfill it.
When Provorov was drafted, he was praised for his offensive capabilities and was projected to be a first-round pick.
"Provorov is much more adept at jumping into the rush and creating chaos in the offensive zone for the other team. There’s a lot to like about Provorov. He’s a big-bodied Russian with strong skating. He’s creative in the offensive zone and responsible in his own end, though he may jump into the rush too often"- Ryan Pike --- The Hockey Writers, 2015
As we know, he was a first-round pick in Philly. He spent just a year in juniors before playing in Philly. His best season was his second year in the NHL, where he scored 17 goals with 24 assists. Both have since remained career highs. To be fair, in Philly, he has also played under five head coaches (two interim), all of whom had different ideas for how to employ him. One of the reasons he was traded was that Provorov wanted to play a more offensive role as a defender, and new coach John Tortorella wanted him to sit back and patrol more often. Provorov didn't like it but kept it quiet, unlike his teammate DeAngelo.
It was hoped that a change of scenery would do him good. Columbus had added the firepower of Johnny Gaudreau the season before only to flounder in last place. This past offseason, CBJ added Erik Gubrandson, Damon Severson, along Provorov to fortify a blueline with Jake Bean, Adam Boqvist, Adam Peeke, and the venerable Zach Werenski. To be honest, it has the appearance of being a fairly formidable defensive corps.
And yet, Columbus is in last place in the Metro, just two points up on the Ottawa Senators for last in the Eastern Conference, and currently in the bottom five of worst teams in the NHL. It would be unkind and unwise to say that Provorov is the reason. He isn't. He has four goals with 19 assists. His offense has been jump-started in Columbus.
At the same time. he's turned off his physical game. He has delivered just 38 hits; just one more than Flyers' rookie Tyson Foerster. His 91 blocked shots are second on the team to Gubrandson, but he leads Columbus with 28 giveaways. His 10 takeaways are amongst the team's starting defenders. Provorov has a -9 rating, the third lowest amongst the starting defenders (Gubrandson and Bean). In short, while his offensive skills are decent, his defensive skills are lacking.
This is not a surprise. It's what we all saw here. He's good and talented, but he's not a top defensive guy. He's only been as good as who he's been paired with. In Philadelphia, part of the issue was that he was often paired with guys who were slower or not as good and ended up giving up odd-man rushes in the Flyers' zone. Columbus fans are seeing some of the same.
Likewise, Provorov has shown that he can be difficult to coach at times. He may not publicly air his complaints but he may pout and be lifeless on the ice. He tends to do what he is going to do on the ice. Sometimes that can create scoring opportunities for himself or his teammates. And when it happens, it's great. However, there are also times when it can leave a goalie facing down two or three attackers by himself and put the team down a point.
It's interesting that, after coughing up a first round and second round pick to acquire him, that Columbus would be willing to get rid of him so soon. Perhaps they feel that, because defensive players are always a premium heading into the Stanley Cup Playoff season, they could recoup some of those draft picks, if not more. Maybe they can. Time will tell.
In comparison, Walker has become an unlikely star in Philly. The oft-injured defender has blossomed here. It's to the point where Briere and Co. are having discussions about trading or extending him. I could even envision a Justin Braun-type scenario where he is traded for picks only to come back as a free agent. Because he is cheaper, he may even bring in a bigger haul to Philly. than Provorov could being to Columbus.
At the same time, Grans is playing well enough in the AHL with one goal and five assists. We're stuck with Cal Petersen and he's been unimpressive so far; at the NHL or AHL levels. Hopefully, he won't have to suit up too much. That first-round pick has become Oliver Bonk and he is performing well at the junior level. He may end up in Philly in another year or so.
However, if we look at the early returns on the Provorov trade, Briere hit a home run...err...scored a penalty shot in overtime. If he can continue to make deals like this, the Flyers' future is going to be secured.