Since the start of March, the Flyers are 8-12-3, have allowed an NHL-high four goals per game and own a minus-32 goal differential.
Those marks have the club stumbling into Monday's 3 p.m. ET trade deadline.
The Flyers' 5-3 loss Sunday to the Sabres felt like a punctuation mark on the team's underachieving 2020-21 season. The defeat just so happened to come the day before the deadline.
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"The trade deadline, I've been in a lot of them — the unknown, not knowing who's going to be here tomorrow or what the future has for us," Claude Giroux said Sunday after the loss. "It's out of our control. It's not on us to make those decisions."
It's in the hands of general manager Chuck Fletcher, who has likely been shifting course going back to March. His deadline motives were much clearer last season. The picture is convoluted this season.
While deals can still be processed after the cutoff point, we should know around 3 p.m. ET what the Flyers will look like moving forward as 15 games remain in this shortened campaign that has gone awry.
Let's get into everything you need to know ahead of the deadline:
Where do Flyers stand in playoff race?
The Flyers are four points back of the Bruins, who hold the fourth and final playoff spot in the East Division. Boston acquired Taylor Hall late Sunday night, according to multiple reports, and has two games in hand on the Flyers. The Bruins also have a favorable schedule down the stretch with six more matchups against the Sabres and two with the Devils.
Via a tiebreaker, the Flyers are in sixth place, behind the Rangers. The two clubs share identical records, but New York has more regulation wins.
How should Flyers approach deadline?
The Flyers need to turn their focus to next season. After the Flyers produced notable progress in 2019-20, the 2020-21 campaign simply has not materialized how management or the coaching staff had envisioned.
Problems have compounded and the club has regressed in a myriad of key areas. Retooling and regrouping for next season can start at the deadline to set up the best possible offseason canvas.
"I think the makeup of our group probably is not right, I think that’s a fair comment," Fletcher said on March 24. "I think we do need to address that going forward to get the right mix. Certainly some of our young players need to continue to take steps. I think our back end, like the rest of our team, needs to get better. But overall our team defense has been a collective effort; we just haven’t been good enough in any aspect of the game yet."
The Flyers might not be thinking they need wholesale changes. Is a ground-shaking type of move possible? Sure, Fletcher is going to listen on anything and evaluate everything, but not sure he's quite there yet or going to overreact. The GM noted two-plus weeks ago how "you want to be a little bit careful overanalyzing the results of this season."
The Flyers should absolutely take into account what has gone wrong through 41 games this season. The club clearly has flaws that need fixing. The significant step backward has been troubling. But the Flyers will also take into account that they were a top-six club last season over 69 games, had the NHL's fourth-best goal differential and were a game away from the Eastern Conference Final.
Every team has had to deal with the challenges of the coronavirus-impacted 2020-21 season. The Flyers had a COVID-19 shutdown from Feb. 9-15. Six key regulars had 14-day quarantines after testing positive. The Flyers got their full lineup back for the first time March 2 and played 17 games that month.
March ended up not going well.
"We haven't been the same since our COVID stoppage," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said at the end of the month. "I'm aware of that."
Which Flyers could be moved?
Scott Laughton, Michael Raffl and Erik Gustafsson are all candidates to be moved given they're on expiring contracts.
Laughton has spent his entire professional career in the Flyers' organization. Raffl has spent his entire NHL career with the Flyers. Both have said they "love it" in Philadelphia.
Laughton could get an extension and be a part of the Flyers' future. He's only 26, he's a versatile forward, he's consistent, he's a relentless forechecker and he has 20 goals and 24 assists (all at even strength) in 87 games over the last two seasons. In that span, his on-ice goal differential at even strength is plus-20, second best on the Flyers to only Sean Couturier (plus-23).
The 32-year-old Raffl is a player contending teams could be interested in. He can protect the puck in your bottom six and help kill penalties. Raffl did not suit up in the team's final game before the deadline. The well-liked Austrian has played 504 career games with the Flyers but might not fit in the club's plans after the regular season.
Gustafsson was signed last offseason to a one-year, $3 million deal. The 29-year-old puck-moving defenseman has been relegated to a healthy scratch all of this month. He will not be re-signed this offseason, so you have to think the Flyers will try to move him for any compensation.
- No trade and a done deal — Flyers, Laughton nail down extension
- An underrated Flyer heads to division rival
- Short-lived deal as Flyers trade Gustafsson
Brian Elliott is a pending unrestricted free agent, as well. Maybe a team will be in desperate need of a backup and come calling, but a goalie trade seems less likely.
Shayne Gostisbehere has heard his name pop up in rumors over the past two trade deadlines and offseasons. He's exhibiting some of his best offensive hockey since 2017-18, when he put up a career-high 65 points. Since Feb. 24, Gostisbehere is tied with Jakob Chychrun for most goals by an NHL defenseman as both have eight.
Fewer than two weeks ago, NHL teams passed up on Gostisbehere when the Flyers placed him on waivers. His $4.5 million cap hit and two years left on his deal in a flat-cap world likely had a lot to do with that.
Nolan Patrick's future in Philadelphia isn't sacrosanct. He'll be a restricted free agent after this season and currently has a cap hit of $874,125. The Flyers aren't looking to give up on his future — he's only 22 years old — but he's not untouchable and the potential of a second overall pick holds value.
Any chance Flyers buy at all?
It's not outside the realm of possibility that the Flyers can sell but also buy in a way. If they do buy, it could be geared toward next season.
They need defensive help and have not filled the void left by Matt Niskanen's retirement. But that could be better addressed in the offseason.
Fletcher has to be frustrated with how his team has performed heading into the deadline. If a solid rental is there at crazy cheap, maybe they consider it. But rentals don't seem to make sense right now like they did last season for the Flyers, who were trending upward at the time of the deadline.
What are Flyers' assets?
The Flyers have six selections in the 2021 NHL draft. They lost their fifth-rounder in the Nate Thompson trade.
The club still has a very good prospect pool. Right now, it doesn't appear the Flyers are going to be moving prospects unless there's a huge, unforeseen deal revolving around contending for next season.
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