As the trade deadline approaches, Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher is not dealing from a position of strength.
Despite Saturday’s thrilling 2-1 win over the Rangers, the Flyers’ poor month has put them in a precarious spot. They have 23 games left and need an ultra-strong finish to earn a playoff berth.
And the team clearly needs a defensive upgrade to make that happen. Opposing general managers know that, putting Fletcher in a weakened spot.
That said, if Fletcher truly believes the Flyers can still make a playoff run, as he said last week, he would probably prefer to make a trade sooner rather than later.
Like during the next few days.
That’s not likely to happen because teams looking to deal usually wait until closer to the trade deadline — this year, it’s April 12 — when their players’ values typically escalate.
“If we can fill a box for the long-term right now, we can potentially explore that,” Fletcher said last week. “Certainly, if we can upgrade our team, we’ll do that.”
The Flyers face lowly Buffalo on Monday and Wednesday — losing is not an option — and then their schedule gets murderous.
Starting Saturday, the Flyers play five consecutive games against either the Islanders or Boston. The Isles are one of the East’s top teams, and though Boston has struggled lately, the Flyers have lost all five games (0-3-2) against the Bruins this season.
If Fletcher is unable to acquire someone before Saturday and the Flyers (16-13-4) don’t have a productive five games against Boston and the Islanders, Fletcher might reverse his course and become a seller. Or try to add someone for the future, like injured Nashville defenseman Ryan Ellis.
That makes the next seven games, including the next two with the worst-in-the-NHL Sabres (6-23-4), critical for the way this team is molded moving forward.
The Flyers are three points behind Boston for the fourth and final playoff spot in the East Division. The Bruins, who dropped a 1-0 decision Sunday to visiting New Jersey, have two games in hand.
Fletcher has been contacting general mangers and discussing potential deals, but they haven’t been very receptive so far.
If he is unable to make a trade this week, it will at least give him a chance to see how 6-foot-7, 230-pound Samuel Morin progresses and how he affects the team’s defensive picture. Morin began the year as a converted left winger, but has been switched back to his natural position on defense. Recalled last week from the AHL’s Phantoms, he has been solid defensively in his last two games with the Flyers, played with physicality, and scored the winning goal in Saturday’s workmanlike victory over the Rangers.
“It was pretty hard,” Morin, who played sparingly in the previous three years because of injuries, said about the ill-fated experiment at left wing. “It’s hard when you’re a defensive defenseman and trying to go to forward. I was a little bit lost out there. I think everyone can tell. I tried my best. I went down and played defense. I played defense good. Got the call-up. Chuck told me that I’m a D-man now. I’m going to play defense for the rest of the year. That’s kind of what I wanted, and I’m extremely happy about that. For sure, I’m a D-man.”
The Flyers will monitor Morin’s progress, but, as anyone who has watched the games this month knows, they still need a veteran defenseman, whether they get one for the stretch run or for next season. In March, the Flyers have gone 5-9-1 and have allowed 4.4 goals per game.
Morin, no matter how well he plays, isn’t the sole answer to improve those numbers.