There are two ways Flyers general manager Ron Hextall can look at the Feb. 26 NHL trade deadline:
1. The Flyers are too inconsistent to be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, so Hextall might as well put out feelers for veterans such as Wayne Simmonds (he’d bring a bundle) and Val Filppula (he wouldn’t) and continue building for the future by adding prospects and draft picks.
2. Acquire a couple of veterans to bolster the offense and the penalty kill and see if you can make a run this year. After all, the NHL is loaded with parity. Just because the Flyers are on the playoff bubble doesn’t mean they can’t make a long run if they earn a berth. If you get hot at the right time — as 16th-seeded Nashville did last year en route to the Finals, or like the 2010 Flyers, who came within two wins of a Cup — well, you never know.
“It all depends what’s coming back,” Hextall said. “But this isn’t the time of year you think you’re going to get a bargain. I’m not overspending to try to make our team” just a little better.
Hextall said he would “be open to anything” and do whatever it took to help his team improve, but he gave the impression he would rather get a root canal than trade a high draft pick. He has two first-round selections this June.
“We do have kids who I feel can fill in if we have injuries or erratic play,” he said, referring to prospects with the AHL’s Phantoms, “so unless it was a nice upgrade at a reasonable price, I’m not going to trade a good young player at this point.”
Around the NHL, many players who could help the Flyers are reportedly on the trade block, including Toronto left winger James van Riemsdyk, a pending unrestricted free agent. The former Flyer is a dependable scorer and he would bring life to the third line.
Buffalo’s speedy Evander Kane, a pending UFA who has said he would like to go to a playoff contender, would also impact the attack. He’s just 26, on a pace for 28 goals, and he or van Riemsdyk would jump-start the Flyers’ weak second power-play unit.
“I don’t think anything earth-shattering is going to happen,” Hextall said of his trade plans, “…but you never say never.”
Just never ask for one of the Flyers’ promising young players, like Phantoms left winger Oskar Lindblom.
“We’re not going to give you a good young prospect to try to get into the playoffs,” Hextall said. “If we can do something to help get us into the playoffs at the right price, we’ll look at it. But the deadline typically is not a great time to get great prices.”
That said, Hextall knows there are exceptions. He was part of the Kings’ management team when they acquired Jeff Carter from Columbus just before the 2012 trade deadline and he helped Los Angeles win its first Stanley Cup that year. (Goalie Jonathan Quick, of course, was the main reason.)
“We’re not at a point where we feel we can add just one piece and elevate us to the top of the league,” Hextall said.
The New York Rangers are supposedly going to break up their team – they wouldn’t dare move Henrik Lundqvist, would they? – and winger Michael Grabner is reportedly available. Grabner, who entered the weekend with 21 goals, would also help the Flyers’ sad-sack penalty kill with his quickness. Arizona center Brad Richardson, a defensive specialist, is another player who would upgrade their PK.
And if Hextall decides he needs more experience on the back end, the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh and Columbus’ 6-1, 227-pound Jack Johnson are among the available players.
Hextall was asked whether the next three weeks would determine whether he would be a buyer or a seller.
“Here’s where we’re at: We have our eye still on now and the future. It’s not just now,” he said. “Maybe at some point, it’ll be a little more ‘now.’ Again, if we can get better today, we’d try to do it. That never changes.”
If Hextall decides the trade market doesn’t make sense, he can turn to his strong farm system, which features Lindblom.
“He’s playing very well and has sustained it for quite some time,” Hextall said. “He’s getting closer every day.”
Bottom line: Hextall isn’t going to deviate from his plan: Building through the draft. It is why he will listen to offers for Simmonds, a standout power forward who has a team-friendly deal that ends after next season, when he will be almost 31. Even if the highly popular Simmonds isn’t dealt, the Flyers will have lots of cap space to make upgrades in the off-season.
That said, Hextall needs to make a tweak – improving the penalty kill is a must – to give the Flyers a better chance to sneak into the playoffs. They aren’t going to win the Cup this year, but getting some playoff experience would only help the development of young players like Nolan Patrick, Robert Hagg, Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov, and Taylor Leier.