Week Leading to Deadline a Critical One for Flyers
A weekend sweep of Detroit has not made decisions any easier for the Flyers. With wins in 12 of their last 15 games, to the tune of a 12-2-1 record, the Flyers have moved to within six points of a playoff spot.
The week ahead for the Flyers is a critical one, both on and off the ice. The trade deadline is one week away from Monday. The Flyers will also play three games that should define where their playoff hopes stand during the week, providing some added transparency into their playoff push and their deadline plans.
On the ice, the Flyers schedule ramps up. They host the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday.
The game on Thursday in Montreal recently got some added stakes, with the Canadiens as one of the three teams tied for the final playoff spot six points ahead.
Saturday’s Stadium Series game is already sure to be a spectacle, but also holds playoff stakes just like the meeting between the two teams on Feb. 11 did.
So on the ice, the opponents continue to get tougher. The Flyers may have been able to gain some points with wins over Anaheim and a pair of games against Detroit. But in order to finish the job, they will have to face some of the NHL’s best down the stretch. This will be a good preview of how the Flyers handle the challenge.
Off the ice, activity only picks up as the 3 p.m. trade deadline nears on Feb. 25. GM Chuck Fletcher has already made a series of minor moves, each one becoming a little more significant. His latest around midnight on Saturday morning, acquiring Cam Talbot for Anthony Stolarz, was almost more of a buy than a sell.
Fletcher has said the Flyers will look into moves that fit both sides of the spectrum. If there is a deal where they can add and it is favorable, they will do it. If they can get something for a valuable piece of the current roster, that will also be explored.
It’s a fine line for Fletcher to walk. The Flyers have pulled to within six points of a playoff spot with 24 games remaining. It’s certainly not fair to break up too much of a team that has cut the deficit from 15 points to six and done it in the span of a little more than one month.
On the other hand, the Flyers have a few pending free agents that could fetch a solid return and should be explored. Wayne Simmonds is at the top of the list and seems to be a focal point for teams looking to add size and power to their forward group. Michael Raffl is a jack of all trades that can eat ice time, add energy and fit in on a fourth line. He could also be on the move if the right offer comes in. Those are really the only remaining pending free agents that the Flyers could move. They could also look into traded players who are not pending free agents but carry some good value, like Radko Gudas, but deals like that can sometimes be more likely in the offseason when the pressure is off.
Fletcher has to decide what is more important -- to go for the playoff spot with the team remaining status quo or adding a player or to see what the market dictates for the expiring contracts and make seller moves.
The Flyers certainly got a shot in the arm from the 20-year-old in goal. Carter Hart has almost single-handedly turned the team around and is the reason the deficit has decreased. With him in goal, anything is possible, even completing an improbable comeback in the standings to reach the playoffs.
Of course, Fletcher can’t be shortsighted either. The odds are still stacked against the Flyers to make the playoffs. Getting what you can for pending free agents may still be the best path, even if it means turning the tide on playoff chances.
The Flyers will have Sunday and Monday to make those decisions between their final game -- the Stadium Series on Saturday -- and Monday afternoon’s deadline. What happens leading up to that could determine everything else to come.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.