Let’s all take a deep breath. The Philadelphia Flyers have lost eight of their last nine games, and well, let’s face it, aren’t exactly inspiring anyone.
With 13 points in 16 games, the orange and black sit sixth in the Metropolitan Division, while their $670,001 of available cap is a harsh reminder that there’s still more work to be done, much more. As rough as it may be, the last thing GM Ron Hextall needs to do is start moving core pieces.
Pieces in Place
Despite their latest struggles, the Flyers are still loaded throughout their current lineup.
Sure, their early season triumphs over the Blackhawks, Bruins and Rangers feel as if they were achieved during the Eric Lindros years, but let’s not forget this is a team that features a combined 154 points from a year ago on their top line alone in Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.
This is also a team that boasts one of the game’s top young shutdown forward in Sean Couturier, a power play machine in Wayne Simmonds, and a legitimate 1-2 punch in net with Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth.
Still, the Flyers are finding goals to be more and more elusive, scoring two or more goals in two of their last eight. Their special teams have been just as disappointing, posting a 27th-ranked 14.6 percent power play percentage, and a 23rd-ranked 76.7 percent penalty kill percentage.
Flyers are in somewhat of a perfect storm of shit right now. Special teams aren't producing, missing key pieces, top guys aren't producing.
— Jake (@J_Fahringer) November 3, 2015
With first-year coach Dave Hakstol making the transition from college to the NHL, and minor changes to the lineup over the offseason, most anticipated the Flyers to experience their share of growing pains, but even Hextall didn’t foresee this kind of showing.
“I’m not going to tell you all what goes through my head (when we struggle),” Hextall said after Tuesday’s 4-0 loss to Colorado, per NHL.com. “You’re always going to have ups and downs during the season but this one is a little too far down for me. We’ve got to be a team that gains consistency. That’s a huge part of having good years; a lot of teams have peaks and valleys and they have good parts to their season. I think when you look at us, we have to have a little more balance as a group. We can’t have such big swings in our performance.”
The obvious knee-jerk reaction would be to start moving pieces to free up cap space and further expedite the transition to the big club for prospects down on the farm. But while Hextall hasn’t ruled out the possibility of making a move to shake things up, don’t expect an all-out fire sale.
The Flyers are only 16 games into an 82-game slate, and despite their 4-2-1 start this season, they’ve been notorious for slow starts in recent years, both individually and as a team.
Their 1-7-0 start to the 2013-14 campaign was their worst in franchise history, while Giroux failed to register a single point in the first five games, and didn’t find the back of the net until game No. 16.
Philadelphia would go onto make the playoffs that year, while Giroux would finish with a team-leading 86 points and a third place standing in the Hart Trophy voting.
This season, it’s Voracek who’s off to a frustrating start, dishing out only five assists while still in search of his first goal. Although goalless, the 26-year-old’s five points are still more than 10 skaters throughout the Flyers’ lineup with 10 or more games.
But even though Giroux stands as the team’s only double-digit point-scorer through the first 16 games, blowing up the team’s nucleus would cause more harm than good.
“We got to get better looks,” said Voracek, per Tom Dougherty of CSN Philly. “We’re making it harder on ourselves. We’re running around on the forecheck and they make one play and it’s out of the zone.
“When we play good teams and we’re patient, make smart plays and forecheck that’s when we generate the chances. That’s why we had so many shots in the beginning of the season.
“We don’t have that (right now) because we go too fast or everybody is trying too hard. That’s what happens.”
With a 20th-ranked team SPSv percentage of 993, analytics suggest the Flyers are bound to see an uptick in scoring. The orange and black currently possess eight skaters with an SAT percentage above 50 percent, but when it comes to SAT percentage Close, that number jumps to 10.
Sure, the Flyers would garner great value for the likes of Giroux or even Wayne Simmonds. But while the Anaheim Ducks are the only team to pot less goals than Philadelphia’s 29 through Nov. 12, trading off pillars of the lineup wouldn’t exactly help them in that regard.
Besides, it’s not like the Flyers haven’t been down this road before.
In today’s NHL, trades involving franchise players are as common as earthquakes on east coast. With that said, you don’t have to look far for a history lesson in trading away the face or faces of an organization.
When former GM Paul Holmgren traded away Mike Richards and Jeff Carter in 2011, the Flyers did more than just ship off a pair of their most productive players, they began the rebuilding on the fly process that the team still finds itself in today.
While many see the Flyers coming out on top in both instances — especially with the circumstances that’s led to Richards’ exile from the NHL — the tandem still went on to win two Stanley Cup championships for Los Angeles while the Flyers have made the playoffs only twice since.
In his piece exploring the potential benefits of trading Giroux, the Philadelphia Daily News‘ Sam Donnellon further explains how the blockbuster trade of 2011 didn’t completely work out in the Flyers’ favor:
I know. The Flyers did this once, trading away Mike Richards and Jeff Carter for much of its current core. It might have been then-GM Paul Holmgren’s finest hour, but the success of that core has been greatly compromised by his other ones – the big, long-term contracts handed out to Chris Pronger, Ilya Bryzgalov and, more recently, Vincent Lecavalier and Andrew MacDonald, to name a few.
As a surprise to no one, there within lies the problem.
While Hextall undoubtedly wouldn’t wear out the touchscreen of his phone in finding suitors for a player like Giroux, or even Simmonds, he has worked tirelessly to no avail in finding one for Lecavalier and his $4.5 million AAV.
“I think he’d (Hextall) love to do something. I really do,” said hockey analyst Elliotte Friedman, per Chris Nichols. “But I think he’d love to do something for awhile. He’s had Brayden Schenn out there. He’s had Luke Schenn out there. Obviously he’s had Lecavalier out there. There’s no biting on this. From what I’m told, unless something happened in the last couple of days, he’s had no serious interest in Lecavalier in a long time. That’s a really tough one.
“They had a columnist this morning write that they should consider thinking about trading Giroux. I’m against that. You just cannot replace that guy. You lose him, and I mean – unless the offer is out-of-this-world unbelievable, you’re giving up the best player in a trade and a guy who has a lot of good years left ahead of him.”
By trading off a player like Giroux, for example, the Flyers would free up a significant amount of cap space — $8.275 million over the next seven years, to be exact — but they’d still be stuck with the contracts to Lecavalier and MacDonald, while Luke Schenn’s contract expires at the end of this season.
It simply doesn’t add up, nor would it for a player such as Simmonds, whose 2.71 percent relative High-Danger Scoring Chances-For trails that of only Giroux, Voracek and Matt Read.
At 27, Simmonds’ $3.975 million AAV through the 2018-19 season is a steal, as the eighth-year veteran has amassed 83 power play points in his four seasons and change as a Flyer.
Who’s to say what Hextall has up his sleeve, though. With the Flyers linked to rumors surrounding Colorado’s Matt Duchene, anything’s possible.
Given the history of such a scenario, along with their current immovable contracts, trading away any major pieces remains unlikely.