Maybe Flyers should be sellers at trade deadline

Hal Gill, veteran Montreal defenseman, could be available before the trade deadline.
Hal Gill, veteran Montreal defenseman, could be available before the trade deadline. (Associated Press)
Posted: February 14, 2012

LURKING JUST three points behind the Rangers on the morning of Feb. 1, the idea that the Flyers would quietly bow out of pulling the trigger on a marquee addition at the NHL trade deadline would have sounded preposterous.

Today, it not only seems like a more likely option, but it also sounds like the best option. And it has nothing to do with the standings.

It has everything to do with the Flyers' three "measuring stick" games against the Rangers and Red Wings the last two weekends. They came up embarrassingly small.

Over the last month, the Flyers haven't looked like the fast, aggressive team that let serious adversities - like losing Chris Pronger, playing 20 out of 29 games on the road, or even the haphazard play of Ilya Bryzgalov - roll off their sticks like a crisp saucer pass.

Instead, they've made the Flyers of the first half look like a crop that maybe overachieved.

They're just 3-4-3 in their last 10 games, with one of those wins coming in the shootout. The Flyers now trail the Rangers by eight points - and before the week is over, they could fall back to sixth place for the first time since November.

"Obviously, we've struggled here of late in a lot of different areas," general manager Paul Holmgren said Sunday. "One night it's the power play, one night it's the penalty kill. We're not playing as well as we need to play in our own zone right now. That's a five-man thing."

Notice: Holmgren did not say it was a "Bryzgalov thing" or a "Sergei Bobrovsky thing." And he's right. The defense has been sluggish, turnover-laden and soft in front of its own net.

Clearly, this Flyers team - as it is currently made up - is not going to skate long into the spring with two rookie defensemen chewing up minutes on the back end. Then again, not one veteran - not even All-Star Kimmo Timonen - has been impressive lately.

"I think to pin it on the young guys right now . . . is a [stretch]," Holmgren said. "I think everyone can play better: goalies, defensemen. It's not any one issue. We've got to do a better job in our own end. We've shown a pretty good ability to score goals, but I do think it's harder to score goals when you get this late in the year.

"That goes back to my point about the young guys. It's a different game now and they've got to bear down on things. Overall, we need to just play better."

Holmgren has made it no secret that the Flyers are interested in adding a defenseman before the Feb. 27, 3 p.m. deadline. But which team isn't shopping for defensive help?

"Everybody's looking for a defenseman right now," he said, "even the teams that have them."

The prices for a typical "rental" player - a pending unrestricted free agent - have been tough to swallow. That's why there have only been three trades in February compared to 17 at this point last year. The Flyers acquired Kris Versteeg from Toronto exactly a year ago.

This late in the game, with three quarters of the slate done, each franchise has a vague idea whether it is in the playoff hunt. In the hunt for a ticket to the dance is one thing. In the hunt as a bona-fide contender is another.

There are maybe six true contenders. The rest are pretenders. And the way the Flyers have measured up lately, you'd have to think that Holmgren can see the same thing.

Somewhere over the last 6 weeks, the Flyers went from "a really good team" to a "really young team" with flaws.

It is not in the Flyers' mantra to sit tight at the deadline. Sometimes, that can be a tough thing for a spend-to-the-limit franchise to sell to its fan base, especially when it has $4 million in salary-cap cushion that it almost never has. But maybe this is not the year to go for it.

No one is questioning the talent - or the vast summer remodel. Just the price to add to it.

Is a rental defenseman like Montreal veteran Hal Gill or even Toronto's 22-year-old Luke Schenn really going to put this team over the top? Which key, young piece would you give up for one of them? The biggest names, like Nashville's Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, aren't even available - and if they are, it will be in the summer.

That's why it might even make sense for the Flyers to move a piece or two - and become sellers for a change - if they can get a meaningful younger player who would change their dynamic moving forward. Wasn't trading Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, though financially lucrative, an admission that this team has a master plan that takes years and not months to come to fruition?

"I don't think that means we're not looking around to try to improve ourselves," Holmgren said. "I think you weigh what the cost is. I don't really have any trouble making a deal that makes sense now and for the future. With those rental deals, you have to weigh the costs and make a call.

"If we have opportunities to improve our hockey club, we'll need to think seriously about that. Everyone is trying to load up."

Then again, the Flyers did get to the Stanley Cup finals in 2010 with Michael Leighton in net. That year, they were radio silent at the trade deadline.

ON-ICE

RINALDO SUSPENDED: Zac Rinaldo was suspended for two games yesterday by the NHL's Department of Player Safety for his hit on Detroit defenseman Jonathan Ericsson in Sunday's loss.

"Rinaldo launches himself high and into Ericsson, his skates considerably leaving the ice. This is charging," disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan said in his explanation of the suspension. "Although Ericsson should have been more prepared and aware . . . that still doesn't allow Rinaldo to deliver such a high hit."

Shanahan conceded that "Ericsson is absolutely eligible to be hit in this situation" when he was rounding the net with his head turned away from Rinaldo.

Shanahan said that he took into consideration that Rinaldo was fined 8 days earlier for two separate incidents against the Devils on Feb. 4 and that Ericsson was uninjured on the play and remained in the game. Rinaldo received a 2-minute minor for charging.

Shanahan's full video explanation is available at www.philly.com/frequentflyers. Rinaldo is eligible to return on Feb. 21 in Winnipeg. He will forfeit $5,885.88 in salary, which goes toward the NHL's Player Emergency Assistance fund.

THE WEEK AHEAD:

vs. Buffalo Thursday, 7 o'clock: This season, a full eight points back of eighth place, there doesn't appear to be a miracle playoff run in the cards for the big-spending, small-market Sabres. Ville Leino has just 15 points in 44 games for Buffalo. To add injury to insult, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff – the second-longest tenured coach in pro sports behind Gregg Popovich – was upended and broke three ribs in practice last week.

vs. Pittsburgh Saturday, 1 o'clock: Since December, the Flyers and Penguins have been battling for fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Saturday's game will start the deciding process; these teams have another four matchups remaining, including two in the Steel City within 6 days in the last week of the season. Evgeni Malkin is the obvious target without Sidney Crosby, but All-Star James Neal has been nearly a point-per-game player this season.

Flyers' Wives Fight for Lives Carnival:

Sunday, 12-4:30 p.m.

Sunday marks the 35th anniversary of one of Philadelphia's great charitable endeavors. This year's events at the Wells Fargo Center include a chance to meet your favorite players, a dunk tank, take shot on goal, a photo with the Stanley Cup and plenty of autographs and prizes. Tickets are available at FlyersCarnival.com.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|