About a month ago, Dave Scott, the Flyers’ governor, said he wanted general manager Chuck Fletcher to be aggressive at Monday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline.
“I don’t want to hold back,” he said at the time.
But stuff happened between then and now. Mostly bad stuff. Horrendous starts. Defensive lapses. Goaltenders unable to make critical saves. An offense that went flat.
Put it all together and the Flyers -- who are 8-12-3 since the start of March -- are four points behind Boston for the final playoff spot, and the Bruins have two games in hand.
Which is why the Flyers went from buyers to sellers at the deadline.
They made two minor trades Monday, including a deal that sent popular winger/center Michael Raffl to Washington for a fifth-round pick, which was previously acquired from Vegas. The Flyers, who retain 25% of Raffl’s remaining $1.05-million salary this season on a prorated basis, will play the Capitals on Tuesday in Washington.
The Flyers also dealt offensive-minded defenseman Erik Gustafsson to Montreal for a seventh-round pick (previously acquired from St. Louis) in 2022. The Flyers will retain half of his prorated $3 million salary.
Fletcher’s biggest move was signing versatile forward Scott Laughton, a pending unrestricted free agent who had drawn interest in the trade market, to a five-year extension that carries an annual $3 million cap hit. He is earning $2.3 million this season.
“I woke up this morning not knowing whether we would trade Scott Laughton or sign him,” Fletcher said. “That was the big decision today. We’re very pleased we were able to sign Scott.”
Fletcher could have dealt Laughton for a quality draft pick and then tried to re-sign him in the offseason, but he hinted that was too risky.
“Certainly there was a lot of interest in Scott Laughton, but we value him highly,” he said.
Fletcher said he hasn’t given up hope on the season.
“We still have 15 games to play,” he said. “We’re still in the fight.”
With Raffl traded, rookies like Tanner Laczynski and Wade Allison figure to get playing time.
“This is an opportunity for the group that’s here to rally around each other and push hard to the end,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher conceded that if the Flyers had made up more ground on Boston in recent weeks, he would have been “more aggressive in terms of buying” before the trade deadline.
The underrated Raffl played 504 games with the Flyers, which is more than Paul Holmgren, Ross Lonsberry, Ron Hextall, Bernie Parent, Eric Lindros, Dave Poulin, Mike Richards, Mel Bridgman, and many others.
Raffl, 32, a pending unrestricted free agent, spent eight years with the Flyers and played on all four lines. He had a 21-goal season in 2014-15. A skilled penalty killer, he was plagued by injuries this season and had three goals and eight points in 34 games.
Fletcher thanked Raffl for his eight years of unselfish play. “He played hurt. Played hurt a lot this year. He’s hurt right now, and he almost refused to be taken out of the lineup” Fletcher said. “Hopefully, Michael has a chance to have a big role with the Capitals.”
Gustafsson signed as a free agent in the offseason, and he had the unfair implication that he was replacing the retired Matt Niskanen, one of the Flyers’ best all-around defensemen.
Gustafsson, 29, had numerous defensive shortcomings and was a frequent healthy scratch this season. He had a goal, 10 points, and a minus-2 rating in 24 games.
“Clearly, it didn’t work. Erik wasn’t playing, and I thought it was very important -- not just from our perspective, but from Erik’s perspective -- to give him a chance to play,” Fletcher said, adding that the emergence of Samuel Morin and the resurgence of Shayne Gostisbehere made Gustafsson expendable.
With the trade deadline gone, Fletcher needs to have a successful and busy offseason if the Flyers are going to be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. He failed to get a suitable defensive replacement for Niskanen after last season, and that will be his No. 1 mission in the upcoming months.
Fletcher didn’t want to talk about his plans -- though he acknowledged the defense wasn’t set up in an ideal way -- until after the season ended. “I think it’s a little too early to get into what we need to do,” he said.
By signing Laughton, the Flyers locked up a hard-nosed player who does a lot of little things at both ends of the ice. Laughton, who turns 27 next month, has seven goals, 17 points and a plus-7 rating in 38 games this season.
Laughton was the Flyers’ first-round selection (No. 20 overall) in 2012. The Flyers will have to protect him if they don’t want to expose him to Seattle in the expansion draft.
They plan to do that.
“Those type of players are hard to get,” Fletcher said. “Scott was drafted by the Flyers; we developed him. He loves being a Flyer, and at the end of the day, he made a commitment to sign and stay with us. He’s part of the solution for us going forward.”