RALEIGH, N.C. — The rumor mill says the slow-starting Calgary Flames could soon put left winger Johnny Gaudreau on the trade block.
If so, the Flyers should be first in line.
Gaudreau, 26, whose Flames will play at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday, has deep roots in South Jersey and has said he would like to play for the Flyers some day. He would be a perfect fit for the Flyers, whose core has grown stale and needs a change, needs to be reenergized.
Gaudreau has a manageable cap hit ($6.75 million until the end of the 2021-22 season) and would give the Flyers some much-needed speed and scoring. He’s not off to the best start of his career (five goals, 18 points in 24 games), but he’s a natural scorer — he set career highs with 36 goals and 99 points last season — and hasn’t reached his prime.
He would cost a lot, obviously, but he is the type of player worth sacrificing some high draft picks.
The Flyers also would have to deal salary to make Gaudreau fit in their cap, and maybe sending Jake Voracek ($8.25 million salary cap until the end of 2023-24) to Calgary would help everyone.
A change of scenery might be good for Voracek, who quietly has been the league’s fourth-highest-scoring right winger (518 points) since he joined the Flyers in 2011-12. James van Riemsdyk, who has averaged more than 30 goals over the last three seasons, is another trade option, and his cap hit ($7 million per season until the end of 2022-23) matches better with Gaudreau’s.
The Flyers are getting great production from their young players, but little from their veterans.
They have played only 21 games and are using a new system, so maybe the vets will snap out of it and are just going through an inevitable slump, albeit all at the same time.
Or maybe they are aging right before our eyes.
Maybe general manager Chuck Fletcher needs to make a drastic move — adding Matt Niskanen, Justin Braun, and Kevin Hayes in the offseason wasn’t enough — to make this team click.
The Flyers’ leaders were outplayed by Florida’s top players in Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the Panthers. They continued to work hard, but continued to come up empty. To use a baseball analogy, the veterans’ struggles and the Flyers’ four-game losing streak are as connected as Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Ryan Howard were in the Phillies’ glory days.
The Flyers are a fragile team right now. You can see how they sag after a bad goal (see Brett Connolly’s tally from a nearly impossible angle that banked off Carter Hart’s noggin Tuesday) and let it affect their play for a while.
And their leaders are pressing. You can see it as they continually miss open nets or try to make an extra pass to create the perfect play.
Morgan Frost, 20, could have been excused if he was pressing Tuesday because he was making his NHL debut. Instead, he was the Flyers’ best player, continually in the middle of scoring chances and scoring a highlight-reel goal, making Sergei Bobrovsky look ordinary instead of a two-time Vezina winner as the league’s best goalie.
While Frost had an eye-opening debut, Hayes (0 goals in last 12 games), Voracek (0 goals in last 11 games), van Riemsdyk (one goal in last 12 games), and Claude Giroux (on pace for 51 points, which would be his lowest full-season total since 2009-10) continued to scuffle.
“There’s a couple guys — I don’t have to get into precise names — who are obviously fighting [it],” said coach Alain Vigneault, whose 10-7-4 team will play Thursday in Carolina (13-7-1). "Their intentions are good. Their work ethic is good. Sometimes you go through something like this and you come out stronger.”
Half the Flyers’ 60 goals this season have been scored by players 23 or younger. Eight skaters 23 or younger have produced a total of 30 goals, compared to 14 skaters older than 23 who have produced a total of 30 goals.
Fletcher would have more pieces to deal if he hadn’t acquired Braun, who is minus-13, by sending a second-round pick in 2019 and a third-rounder in 2020 to San Jose in the offseason.
In his history as a GM, Fletcher has not been gun-shy about trying to rectify a bad trade by making another bold move.
Acquiring Gaudreau would be bold, but would not be easy — hey, this a salary-cap world, not your friendly fantasy hockey league — and the Flyers might have to deal a couple of high draft picks and the talented but erratic Voracek or van Riemsdyk. If it was Voracek, they might also have to take on an additional player who earns around $1.5 million to make the salaries compatible because both teams are close to the cap.