The Flyers enter the weekend with the eighth-best points percentage (.615) among the NHL’s 31 teams and have clearly demonstrated they can play with the big boys and should not be taken lightly in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Ah, but here’s the rub: They could finish with 100 points and still miss the playoffs. The Eastern Conference, and especially the Metropolitan Division, is that loaded this season.
All of which brings us to the 3 p.m. Monday trade deadline.
Should general manager Chuck Fletcher go all-in (read: sacrifice the future) and try to acquire someone such as Chris Kreider, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, or Mike Hoffman, a quality forward who would cost a lot in return and might just be a rental because he can become an unrestricted free agent in July?
No, it says here.
There’s no guarantee one of those players would help deliver the Flyers their first Stanley Cup since 1975 — back when gas was 57 cents a gallon and All in the Family topped the TV ratings. It’s not worth it to give up assets (read: Shayne Gostisbehere and high draft picks) for a rental.
The Flyers have a very good blend of young, on-the-rise players and quality veterans. They should stay the course and add a depth forward who won’t cost them a quality prospect or a high draft pick. That player (Derek Grant? Ryan Donato?) would be insurance in case of an injury, or perhaps bolster one of their lower lines.
Jeff Carter rumors
There might be another intriguing option available: former Flyer Jeff Carter.
Carter, who has a $5.27 cap hit and is in his ninth season with Los Angeles, has been mentioned as a trade candidate. He can play center or wing and could help the power play. But it would be difficult for the Flyers to fit him under the cap, even if the Kings were to absorb half of his cap hit, the maximum allowed. If L.A. paid half of it, the Flyers would be responsible for about $2.635 million annually until the contract expires after the 2021-22 season.
The Flyers are expected to have about $2 million in cap room at the trade deadline. If they could somehow fit Carter under the cap and get him at a reasonable price — say, a third-round draft pick — he would improve a team that could use a sniper. Now 35, Carter enters the weekend with 17 goals this season and 382 in a career that started with the Flyers in 2005. He is day to day with an undisclosed injury.
“You’re not doing your job if you’re not out there sniffing around,” said Fletcher, who wouldn’t comment on any specific players he is courting, though he did say he would like to add a forward.
If not Carter, Fletcher could add a less-expensive player and take his chances with a close-knit roster that, for the most part, has played with cohesion and pace this season.
Goalie Carter Hart and center Nolan Patrick are the X-factors on that roster. Hart, 21, has the potential to get hot and carry a team, like St. Louis’ Jordan Binnington did last season.
Patrick, 21, has missed the season because of a migraine disorder but has been practicing with the team recently and taking part in battle drills. He is close to being ready to absorb contact, but he will probably need a two-week rehab stint with the AHL’s Phantoms before he is ready to return.
If Patrick returns — and, again, there are no guarantees at this point — he would bolster the bottom six and give the Flyers’ lines more balance.
In other words, it would be like getting an important piece at the trade deadline.
“We’re approaching it that if we get him back, it’s a bonus,” Fletcher said Thursday in a radio interview with SiriusXM. “I do believe he’ll come back.”
Impressive vs. elite
The Flyers have done well against the NHL’s elite this season, compiling a combined 7-4-2 record against Boston, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Washington, Colorado, and St. Louis. And that includes going 0-2 against the Lightning in close games that could have gone either way.
If they reach the playoffs, there’s a good chance they would face Boston, Tampa, Pittsburgh, or Washington in the first round. All, especially Tampa, would be extremely difficult matchups, but this team seems to be peaking at the right time.
Are the Flyers perfect?
Far from it.
Are they legitimate Stanley Cup contenders?
Well, a lot of things have to happen — avoiding injuries, getting more consistent starts to games, Hart finding his stride, etc. — for that to happen.
Still, it’s a far better situation than this time last season. The Flyers are playing meaningful late-season games and figure to still be playing them when the playoffs roll around in April.
With or without a major addition at Monday’s trade deadline.