RALEIGH, N.C. -- With the biggest snoozefest of the season going on inside the RBC Center, perhaps the most interesting Flyers action on Tuesday night was taking place nearly 800 miles north of North Carolina.
That’s because Flyers director of player development Don Luce was spotted for the third time in as many weeks at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto for the Maple Leafs’ contest against Buffalo.
Luce’s consistent presence in Toronto fuels trade speculation between the Flyers and Leafs. The NHL trade deadline is just 47 days away, expiring on Feb. 27 at 3 o’clock.
Coincidence, you say, for someone who makes his permanent residence in nearby Buffalo? That’s a fair assumption. But let’s put all of the pieces together:
- Luce, who was hired by the Flyers in 2006, also spent a lot of time in Toronto before last year’s pre-deadline trade on Feb. 14 for Kris Versteeg.
- Leafs general manager Brian Burke and Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren are close friends. Holmgren was Burke’s head coach in Hartford in 1992-93 in Burke’s first GM job. Most recently, Holmgren and Burke were on the U.S. Olympic management team for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Holmgren employs Burke’s son, Patrick, as a scout.
- Burke has a history of making the bulk of his trades before the NHL’s popular deadline.
"I do try to get my lineup set well in advance of the deadline," Burke told ESPN.com on Friday. "I’ve never been a deadline guy. So January is when I try to make a splash. We are listening to a lot right now, and there is a good chance something will happen ...”
Last year, Versteeg ended up collecting just 7 goals and 4 assists in 27 games with the Flyers.
This time, the Flyers are in the market for a depth defenseman to fill Chris Pronger’s void. Fittingly, the Maple Leafs have a few pieces on their blue line that could move.
The most interesting is Luke Schenn, the older brother of Flyers forward Brayden Schenn. The elder Schenn, 22, has watched his minutes wane in his 4th NHL season. He’s dropped from an average of 22:22 last season to just 16:36 this season.
Schenn is in the first year of a 5-year, $18 million deal which pays him a manageable $3.6 million salary cap hit per season. He has a modified no-trade clause which does not kick in until the final year of his deal.
I like Schenn because his role with the Flyers would be three-fold. He would be the perfect No. 4 or No. 5 in an already stable defense corps for the Flyers' playoff run. He would quickly jell on a roster that already features his brother. And he is a capable replacement for Matt Carle, should the Flyers not be able to re-sign the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent.
While organization figureheads remain tight-lipped on Carle’s contract status for next season, that doesn’t mean there have not been discussions about an extension. It just seems hard to believe that Carle would be willing to agree to an extension below his market value just to stay with the team. Carle makes $3.473 million this season and his rate could increase considerably on the free market this summer.
Schenn is also durable. It's hard to say, though, what Burke would want in return for Schenn. Last year, Versteeg went for 1st and 3rd round picks, but Schenn might actually be more affordable since he would be coming with 4 more years on his deal. Plus, teams aren't exactly jumping up and down to spend $3.6 million on players only good for 16 minutes per game.
Schenn isn’t the only interesting trade consideration from Toronto. Cody Franson, 24, would likely be readily available. He provides a cheap alternative to Schenn and at just $800,000 salary, Franson is an extremely affordable pro-rated rental player.
The biggest thing that Burke needs to decide in between now and Feb. 27 is how much of a buyer he would like to be at the deadline. The Leafs enter Wednesday’s practice in 6th place in the East, searching for the first NHL playoff since being eliminated by the Flyers in 2004.
With the playoffs in clear sight, it’s hard to envision Burke being willing to unload defensemen Carl Gunnarsson or John-Michael Liles.
Then again, we’re not even at January’s mid-way point. A lot can change between now and the end of February. Between now and then, it makes sense to keep an eye on the Flyers and Maple Leafs.
For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers