The clock is ticking toward Monday’s NHL trade deadline. Philadelphia Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher is going to have to bet big if he wants to stick with his original plan.
On March 24, the Flyers sat two points behind the Boston Bruins with a record of 15-12-4, and three extra games played. “We’re certainly not looking at selling right now,” he told the media at that time.
But heading into Thursday’s matchup against the New York Islanders, the Flyers’ odds of making the playoffs have shrunk to just 1.7 percent, according to SportsClubStats.
In the 15 days since Fletcher’s pronouncement, the Flyers have gone 3-3-1. After an overtime win and a regulation loss in this week’s head-to-head games against Boston, they’re five points out of fourth place as they prepare to host the Islanders, still with two extra games played.
Making matters worse, they’ve also been caught by New York Rangers. The Blueshirts are 8-3-2 since Artemi Panarin returned from his nine-game personal leave of absence on March 13.
Heading into Thursday’s games, the Flyers and Rangers are tied with identical records of 18-15-5. If the playoffs started today, New York holds the edge in the tiebreaker (regulation wins) by a margin of 15-12. SportsClubStats has their current playoff odds set at 19.7 percent, while Boston is at 86.2 percent.
Thursday night, the Rangers will once again be hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins, after Panarin collected four points in a rollicking 8-4 win on Tuesday. Philadelphia will be hosting a new-look Islanders team which added veterans Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac via trade on Wednesday and plans to have both players in the lineup.
New guys on the Island 😎 pic.twitter.com/lpzVCbFDRi
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) April 8, 2021
Beating The Bruins Too Little, Too Late?
On Monday night, the Flyers beat the Bruins for the first time this season. Under the circumstances, there wasn’t much cause for celebration.
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) April 6, 2021
Travis Sanheim’s deke around a sprawling Patrice Bergeron in overtime was a thing of beauty. But it gave the Flyers a net gain of just one point in the standings. They lost that and more the next night, when Brad Marchand’s third-period shorthanded goal proved to be the winner in a 4-2 defeat.
Thursday’s game will be the last of the year against the Islanders. Once again, bragging rights in the season series will come down to Game 7. The teams have identical 3-1-2 records against each other. The Flyers can take some comfort in the knowledge that they’re the only team to have beaten the Islanders in regulation at Nassau Coliseum so far this season.
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Who Could Be Traded?
If Chuck Fletcher does decide to reverse course before Monday, Scott Laughton could be on the move.
The versatile, gritty forward was drafted 20th overall by then-GM Paul Holmgren in 2012, and turns 27 on May 30. Playing out the second year of a two-year contract that carries a cap hit of $2.3 million, he’s headed toward unrestricted free agency.
Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet has reported that teams are interested in Laughton, and that list could even include arch-rival Pittsburgh. Not such an impossibility anymore, now that Ron Hextall’s at the helm. A third team might need to be involved to help broker such a deal.
On Tuesday, Laughton told the media that he hadn’t thought about the possibility of being traded. “If that happens, it happens,” he said. “But my focus is here in Philly.
“I love it here in Philly. I love the staff here, I love the guys here. So I’m focused on coming to work every day and trying to get better. Push the pace a little bit and get a playoff spot.”
Four other roster players are also impending UFAS: forward Michael Raffl, defensemen Erik Gustafsson and Sam Morin, and goaltender Brian Elliott. Taxi squadders Nate Prosser and Alex Lyon are also approaching free agency.
In addition to those players, Fletcher would almost certainly listen if another general manager inquired about Shayne Gostisbehere. That could be a deal where the money would need to balance, but both teams could shake up their blue-line chemistry.
Gostisbehere has played well since getting back into the lineup after he cleared waivers last week. Morin has brought some much-needed size and snarl to the blue line since he was called up on March 25.
Who Could Be Added?
In addition to salary-cap considerations, the Flyers are also heading into the trade deadline at the league’s maximum of 50 total contracts, according to CapFriendly. Nobody’s coming in unless someone else goes out. That could be a taxi squadder or a Phantom, as long as they’re signed to an NHL deal.
We won’t see a depth defenseman acquired for a draft pick, unless a player moves out in a separate trade.
Thankfully, Philadelphia’s goals against have come down in March, to a respectable 2.67 per game. And Carter Hart has looked more like his usual self since he got back in net after this week.
With Seattle’s expansion draft also a consideration, major roster surgery will almost certainly have to wait until summer.
Fireworks are unlikely, but Fletcher could make some light incisions with his scalpel over the next few days.