February 12, 2018 | 8:58pm ET
By Anthony Di Marco, The Fourth Period
DEADLINE FLIGHT PLAN FOR PHILLY
Ron Hextall, GM
MONTREAL, QC -- Ever since taking over as General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers back in May of 2014, Ron Hextall has made no secret of his beliefs of building a successful team. On the day of his inauguration, Hextall promptly stated, “I like prospects, and I like draft picks.” Considering those two things, it’s normal as to why Hextall has been quiet (to say the least) at the three past Trade Deadlines in his early years as Flyers GM.
During his first three years as GM, Hextall has only made three deals on the day (or few days prior) leading up to the 3pm ET deadline. Back in 2015, he sold high on veteran defencemen Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen in deals to Tampa Bay and Chicago (who ironically met in the Stanley Cup Final that year), respectively. After going silent in 2016, Hextall made a minor move last year, sending defenceman Mark Streit to Tampa (who later flipped him to Pittsburgh) for Valtteri Filppula and two late round draft picks. All in all, it seemed clear that if the Flyers weren’t selling assets, they were doing nothing at the deadline.
But after winning 20 of their last 30 games, the tune may have changed in the Flyers’ front office. Unlike other deadlines, this year the Flyers are sitting nicely (and relatively comfortably) in a playoff spot, which begs the question: Will Hexy look to add?
To assume the Flyers may be looking to add for a playoff run is perfectly reasonably. The Flyers are playing some of the best hockey since their miracle stretch run back in 2016, and arguably have the best roster since the Hextall regime began. After winning back-to-back games in Arizona and Vegas on the weekend, the Flyers are sitting in third place in the Metropolitan Division, with a three point cushion over the Devils and just one point back of the Penguins for second place.
But despite sitting in such a nice spot in the playoff race, is it enough to sway Hextall to make a move to bolster the roster for the post season?
Well, I’ll tell you something right off the bat: there is no way that the Flyers will be in on any of the big fish this month. Names like Evander Kane, Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh (you can refer to our TFP Top 30 Available Players List for further names) will surely not be entertained by Hextall. These names will be highly sought after commodities league-wide, and will likely garner an overpayment, which Hextall will surely not be in the market to do.
Remember, although the Flyers are looking more and more like playoff team in the here and now, the plan is still to build for the future, so giving up future assets is not something the Flyers will be looking to do.
But although the big names will not be entertained, it’ll be interesting to see whether Hexy takes a look at some less popular names come the deadline. As I talked about this past Saturday on “Off The Rush” on NHL Network Radio on SiriusXM, the Flyers could use some bottom-six help (preferably a left wing) at forward. With the coaching staff recently loading up the top two lines, and the offensive inconsistency from forwards like Jordan Weal and Filppula (who both started the season as top six forwards and have since fell off an offensive cliff), the bottom-six has lacked consistent offensive fire power in recent weeks.
One name that has jumped out to me is Benoit Pouliot of the Bufalo Sabres. Pouliot, who is on a low-cost expiring contract, could be a nice fit on the team’s third line, which could jump into the top-six if need be in case of an injury. Sportsnet’s Elliott Friedman reported the Flyers and Sabres had been scouting each other in recent weeks, so perhaps there may be something brewing. If Pouliot could be had at a low cost, it would be worth considering.
With the recent demotion of defenceman Travis Sanheim, it’d be safe to conclude the Flyers would welcome some defensive help. The team’s top four has been consistent for the most part all season with Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg and Andrew MacDonald. But the drop off to the third pair has been noticeable, as Brandon Manning and Radko Gudas have struggled as a duo in recent weeks, as the latter was benched in the third period of Saturday’s game vs the Coyotes.
While Gudas is a more than adequate third pairing guy (on most nights), Manning is not a top six defender in an ideal world. With Mark Alt currently dressing as the seventh, the Flyers are not especially deep on the back end, and could be exposed badly if an injury were to occur.
With all this considered, Hextall may be wise to look for some low cost, veteran defensive help. Names like Johnny Oduya, Josh Gorges and Nick Holden could all be useful additions, all of whom are on expiring contracts. Perhaps Hextall may dabble in the rather thin free agency pool, as USA Olympian James Wisniewski stated that he’s, “ready to go” if a team were to come calling for his services post-Olympics. If the price is right, Hextall may pull the trigger on one of these names.
With the recent injury to starting goaltender Brian Elliott (who seemed to have re-aggravated his prior injury, suspected to be a groin pull) this past Saturday in Vegas, the Flyers may be in the market to sure up their goaltending. With Michal Neuvirth’s inconsistency (both the ability to stay healthy and play wise) and the mediocre play of AHL call up Alex Lyon, Elliott’s importance to the Flyers has gone unquestioned in recent weeks. The severity of Elliott’s injury has yet to be determined, but if it is a long term thing, Hextall may look to add someone between the pipes for insurance (Chad Johnson?).
Although the Flyers will probably entertain all of these possibilities over the next two weeks, do not be the least bit surprised if Hextall stands pat at the deadline. Hextall has stayed the course his entire tenure as GM, and it’s very likely that he saves the future assets and takes his chances for the playoffs with what he currently has.
After all, this is still just another “rebuilding” year for Philadelphia. But with the team playing so well and the Flyers currently in the top three of their division, the temptation to beef up the roster for a showdown with the cross state Penguins will be too sweet to pass up for Hextall.