A slow news day wasn’t exactly good news for anxious Flyers fans as the National Hockey League’s trade deadline came and went on Monday.
The Flyers roster, which some would argue is in need of a shakeup after likely missing out on the playoffs for the fifth time in the last nine years, remained largely intact after dozens of players switched uniforms around the league.
Though General Manager Chuck Fletcher could be waiting until the offseason to make a major move or two, the Flyers missed on the opportunity to sell off pieces and clear salary cap space at the point of the season when other general managers tend to overpay for a piece they think can help reel in a Stanley Cup.
Perhaps, no one honestly thought a major contract was coming off the books. But the Flyers remaining somewhat silent is also a bit of a shock, considering how many bad losses the team has produced during a crucial playoff push. Only 24 hours before the deadline, the Flyers lost again to the last-place team in the league, as the Buffalo Sabres rallied for a 5-3 win in South Philadelphia. The only two moves Fletcher was able to make were dealing pending unrestricted free-agent and frequent healthy scratch Erik Gustafsson to the Montreal Canadiens for a seventh-round pick in next year’s draft, and trading fellow UFA fourth-liner Michael Raffl to the Washington Capitals for a fifth-round pick this year. Although Raffl played 504 games in eight seasons here and was well-liked in the locker room, neither move can hardly be described as a shakeup to the core of the roster.
“The majority of conversations I have with managers were about pending UFAs,” Fletcher said in a news conference after the deadline. “There was some hockey talk, and some of that might be helpful heading into the summer, but I didn’t really feel a strong push from a lot of teams looking to make those kinds of deals right now.”
Some teams managed to pull it off.
The Los Angeles Kings were able to deal former Flyer Jeff Carter to the Pittsburgh Penguins despite having a year left on his deal. The Red Wings traded Anthony Mantha, who has three more years remaining on his deal, to the Washington Capitals, and received a good young forward in Jakub Vrana in return.
Other deals, like the one involving Taylor Hall to the Boston Bruins, were quite creative, using a third party to broker deals and retain salaries.
According to national pundits, there was a lot of interest surrounding Scott Laughton leading up to the deadline. Laughton was in the final year of his contract and was due to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
“Certainly there was a lot of interest in Scott Laughton,” Fletcher said. “But we value him highly and we were happy with the deal and we were happy with Scott, the versatility he brings, the energy. He moves around the lineup and contributes offense. He can kill penalties. What I found out the last few days kind of confirmed our own opinion of Scott that he’s a very valuable guy and we’re happy to have him signed.”
The Flyers’ decision on Monday to sign Laughton to a five-year extension was a bit of a head-scratcher.
It’s not because Laughton is a bad player. He is a perfectly good middle-six forward who has shown grit and flashes of offensive ability during his eight years in Philly. The former first-round pick isn’t a guy you typically point the finger at when things go wrong, especially when he will make just $3 million a year.
But the timing strikes as odd.
Why wait all this time when they could have extended Laughton any time over the last year?
And if you planned on keeping him all along, why not wait until the offseason? If the relationship between team and player is so good, the Flyers could have waited until after the expansion draft to protect Laughton, knowing the Seattle Kraken would not take an expiring contract.
It’s only led to more questions.
Under former GM Ron Hextall, the plan, at least, was a bit more clear: Clear cap space, trade away veterans for assets and patiently let home-grown players come to fruition. You could argue that the franchise didn’t fully commit to Hextall or this way of thinking and demanded better results before they were really ready. And now it feels like the Flyers got caught halfway.
If things roll right next season, or maybe the season after that, Carter Hart will return to form, the defense will play better, the power play will improve and the Flyers will make the playoffs because they still have just enough talent on this team.
But is that enough?
If you look at what’s going on just in the Flyers’ division, the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils have rebuilt properly and loaded up with elite prospects. Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko and Jack Hughes will be the faces of the Metropolitan Division after Artemi Panarin, Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin start to wind down.
The Flyers don’t have that type of star power.
How do you throw a boatload of money at a top-pairing unrestricted defensemen like Dougie Hamilton this offseason if you don’t have the money to throw?
This needs to be a big offseason for the Flyers, and they are already slow out of the gate.