Ford: Flyers don't get much help at deadline

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall.

If it's any consolation to Flyers general manager Ron Hextall, who was unable to propel the becalmed team much closer to its future on Wednesday, his was still only the second-most disappointing trade deadline performance in the city this year.

Unlike the Sixers, however, Hextall is not in the troubling position of having too many good, young players at one position. In fact, he doesn't have too many good, young players at any position, which is why the Flyers are slogging along in the mediocre middle of the NHL, not awful enough to blow up entirely, probably not talented enough to even make the playoffs.

In all likelihood, the current team, even with the injection of some young players breaking through, will finish about 10 points shy of last year's record. In another year or two, Hextall expects other prospects in the organization to make their marks as well, and then the team will be on its way.

While waiting for that sweet by and by, though, things have gotten a little ragged. Since a 10-game winning streak from late November to mid-December, the team has gone 9-16-4. It isn't a very big team and isn't a very fast team, and the two goalies, Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth, who seemed so promising a year ago, have become largely unreliable. When you watch the team on a nightly basis, the shock isn't that it has fallen so far but that it could have ever won 10 games in a row.

"If we don't finish with as many points as we had last year, that will be disappointing," Hextall said Wednesday. "But the goal is to get younger and better every year. It's not easy, but that's the goal."

The Flyers got younger at the deadline by trading 39-year-old defenseman Mark Streit for center Valterri Filppula of Tampa Bay, who will turn 33 in three weeks. Otherwise, not much happened. Hextell did get two draft picks in the Streit deal, a fourth-round and a seventh-round pick, and he signed free agents Neuvirth and forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare to two-year contracts.


Thumbs up or down on the Flyers trade?

If you were expecting something more interesting, some wholesale sell-off for future picks or prospects, the market wasn't there, according to Hextall. Plus, there is still an outside shot at the playoffs, and Filppula is expected by the organization to add a stabilizing force in the offensive zone. While it isn't old-school, delusional Flyers thinking - go for it, get hot at the right time, win a Cup - it didn't advance the long-term plot very much, either.

What is most frustrating about the Flyers on the ice is that they put themselves in a position to do well but then don't have the talent to finish the job. They are sixth in the league in shots per game but 21st in goals per game. They are seventh in the league for fewest shots allowed but are 26th in goals allowed. So, they are pretty good at getting shots but not at making them, and they are pretty good at limiting the other team's shots but lousy at stopping the ones they do allow. That's a bad combination, and it doesn't come down to a lack of hard work or effort or character, all those things that hockey players and coaches love to chatter on about. It's about talent, and they don't have enough.

Not having a goalie the team can rely upon for the future is also a familiar problem with the Flyers. Neuvirth got a contract yesterday, but it was at a nice price for the team, and Mason, who is also an unrestricted free agent, could be the one who sticks around. One goalie under contract has to be exposed in the expansion draft this summer, and it might be Neuvirth, particularly if the team has hope for Jersey boy Anthony Stolarz, currently minding his business with the Phantoms.

In any case, the Flyers need to get better there. Mason's save percentage (.903) is second-worst in the entire NHL among goalies with at least 40 games played. Not to be outdone, Neuvirth's .887 save percentage is the worst among goalies with at least 20 games played. It isn't all the goalies' fault, of course. It never is. But these guys aren't lifting the team on their shoulders, either.

There's a lot still to fix with the Flyers, and even Hextall would admit not much of it got done Wednesday. He made the phone calls, worked the corners, and came away with Valtteri Filppula.

"We tried to do a lot of things," Hextall said. "We were looking toward the future, but we weren't going to give players away for nothing."

Instead, he took a patient approach. They didn't really buy, and they didn't really sell at the deadline. They just moved around some money, made a minor trade, and tore another day from the calendar that separates them from the arrival of all those talented prospects. It wasn't exciting, but there have been years when the Flyers did a lot more and ended up with a lot less.