Flyers should have bid for Vanek or Moulson

Posted: March 07, 2014

WHEN PAUL HOLMGREN hung up his phone for the final time on Wednesday afternoon, business having been concluded at the NHL trade deadline, there was an overwhelming feeling of contentment in the Flyers' front office.

The thinking was that this crop has earned the right to enter the final 6-week sprint toward the Stanley Cup playoffs as an already-assembled band of brothers.

Why fix something that isn't broke? The Flyers had won six of their seven games before the deadline. They already have set a franchise record for most third-period comebacks (11) in a single season.

But 2 days after the fact, I can't help but believe the Flyers missed an enormous opportunity in the deadline's final hour.

Even up until the last 5 minutes before the NHL's 3 o'clock deadline, two "rental" players in the Islanders' Thomas Vanek and Buffalo's Matt Moulson who we knew had to be traded were still available. As the clock was ticking, Holmgren should have been dialing.

The Flyers never made a push for two quality wingers who ultimately could have sent their team on a run deep into May.

"We didn't look into that at all, certainly not in any rental situation," Holmgren said. "I like our forward group, I like our young core."

If I sound crazy, hear me out: I know the Flyers have geared up for playoff runs before - only to end up with a barren list of prospects for the future and no silver chalice to show for it. In fact, most years, I would chide the Flyers in this space for making such an "all-in" trade.

The thought of a prospect plus first-, second- and third-round picks to Washington in 2002 for 14 games of 39-year-old Adam Oates and a first-round exit is sickening.

When I examine what Vanek and Moulson went for, it would be enough to keep me awake at night as an NHL general manager.

To recap: Vanek was dealt to Montreal with a conditional fifth-round pick in exchange for prospect Sebastian Collberg and a conditional second-round pick. Collberg has a "D" grade probability of NHL success, according to HockeysFuture.com.

The real kicker is that neither of the picks in this trade will swap if the Canadiens fail to make the playoffs. So, if Montreal collapses, it will be Vanek - a soon-to-be unrestricted free agent - straight up for Collberg. Seriously?

Moulson arrived in Minnesota with fellow Sabres teammate Cody McCormick in exchange for a player who asked to be dealt, Torrey Mitchell, and two draft picks.

Somewhere along the line Wednesday, the NHL's market changed. What was believed to be a "sellers" market for general manager Garth Snow on Long Island turned into a "buyers" market. And the Flyers, along with 25 or so other teams, failed to adjust properly.

Was it because the initially advertised prices scared teams off? Or did Vanek's unbecoming exit from the Olympics as Team Austrian captain leave a dent in his reputation? That shouldn't be the point.

"This is the best offer we received," Snow said, incredibly. "We were very fortunate with the deal we made, to be honest with you."

Even if either of these players landed with the Flyers for the final 20 games of the season and the playoffs, it would have been a steal for those prices. Both are transforming wingers. Vanek, 30, has 94 points in his last 98 games on two terrible teams. Moulson, 30, has scored at least 30 goals in each of his last three full seasons.

Either one would have looked awful nice on a wing with Claude Giroux or Brayden Schenn.

A common belief is the Flyers are playing with house money right now. They weren't supposed to make the playoffs after a brutal, 1-7-0 start. Five months and 55 games later, that is no longer the case. This could have been the year.

The Flyers have played at an elite level since Nov. 7: a 29-14-5 record, fifth most wins in the NHL. Pittsburgh, one of the teams they will need to get through to get to the Eastern Conference finals, is 30-11-4 in that stretch but falling apart.

The Penguins didn't get the third line center GM Ray Shero so desperately desires - and they remain largely two-dimensional. Defensemen Paul Martin (hand) and Kris Letang (stroke) are out long-term. We've all seen what Marc-Andre Fleury has looked like in the playoffs recently, and backup Tomas Vokoun (blood clot) hasn't played this season.

Why wait until this summer to bolster, when the cap goes up, and Shero suddenly realizes the Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin window won't be open forever?

So few of the Flyers' draft picks in rounds 2-7 have panned out over the last decade. They could have done worse than to dangle a nonconditional second-round pick and a midlevel prospect for one of those traded players. The Flyers could have made the money work.

Even if Vanek or Moulson bolted as a free agent this summer, they would have been worth the pick. Remember, this is a team that once gave up a third-rounder just for the right to talk to Ilya Bryzgalov.

Sometimes, the sexy move isn't always the right one. Holmgren still won by hanging onto the future in a franchise that has too often ignored it. He just didn't swing when he could have knocked it out of the park.

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