The rumors came down fast & furious but, when the final bell tolled at 3:00 PM EST, the Flyers did not make the sort of franchise-altering transaction that was rumored leading up to Wednesday afternoon. Instead, the Orange-and-Black made the sort of simple, strategic moves that can improve their team in the short run without debilitating the framework of what they’ve been able to build over the last few seasons.
After acquiring defenseman Andrew MacDonald from the Islanders yesterday for a collection of draft picks, many wondered if general manager Paul Holmgren had any other plans up his sleeve. Over the course of the past week and leading straight up to the deadline, the Flyers were rumored to have involvement from anyone to Canucks center Ryan Kesler, to Winnipeg Jets forward Evander Kane.
— Flyers Nation (@FlyersNation) March 4, 2014
Rather than empty out their prospect pool for the millionth time for a forward, though, Philadelphia took a much more steady, economical approach to the trade deadline. In fact, their only transaction that occurred involving the Flyers Wednesday afternoon was the team shipping rotational defenseman Andrej Meszaros to the Boston Bruins for a 3rd round pick in the 2014 Draft.
Flyers sending Andrej Meszaros to Boston. 3rd round pick in return.
— Dan Murphy (@sportsnetmurph) March 5, 2014
Andrej Meszaros had no future with the team beyond this season. Despite undergoing a bit of a resurgence from an offensive standpoint (5 goals, 12 assists in 2013-2014), the former Barry Ashbee award winner is a free agent at the end of this season and, considering his limited playing time recently, it was clear the team had no interest in re-signing Meszaros. Instead, they receive value for a player who apparently was not in their plans for the short or long-term. The conditional 3rd round pick received from the Bruins can become a 2nd rounder if Boston reaches the Eastern Conference Finals. Also, by knocking Meszaros’ $4.1 million salary off the books, Philadelphia will finish the season under the salary cap for the first time since it was brought to the NHL.
So as far as the remainder of this season goes, it’s what you see is what you get with the Flyers. The addition of Macdonald improved the team’s defensive core, but Paul Holmgren has decided to ride it out with his current group of forwards and allow his young nucleus to remain together and develop as a team. The aggressive general manager did say the team had put out feelers for some of the larger names out there, but insists the team was only in the preliminary phases and nothing close ever really materialized. Basically every team in contention in the Metropolitan Division made an upgrade to some extent. Some deals were as small as the Devils acquiring Tuomu Ruutu for some scoring punch. Then there were blockbusters like the Rangers trading Ryan Callahan and picks for Martin St. Louis to gear up for a Stanley Cup run before their window closes. The Penguins, the runaway leader of the division, were unable to make an acquisition of note and thus, remain a flawed, albeit spectacular contender for a title.
Sitting in 2nd place in the division, it’s hard to believe the Flyers were 1-7-0 earlier this season. The organization clearly values the sort of resilience shown by a relatively young group to scratch and claw to the point they’ve reached. Craig Berube’s alterations to the team’s philosophy in all three phases seems to have had a profound effect on a relentless group that seems to be gaining confidence by the game. The remaining 20 games on the schedule for the Flyers are daunting. Multiple showdowns with juggernauts such as Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Boston await the reinforced Flyers as they try to hold down (or improve) their current playoff standing. Fortunately for them, every other team fighting for a playoff spot has the same brutal stretch ahead of them and it will be the teams that have prepared for the final sprint before the tournament.
For those frustrated by the team not making the sort of splash that is often rumored around this organization, consider the circumstances. The Flyers are a better team than they were last year at this time. They appear poised to return to the playoffs after last year’s uncharacteristic early end to the season. Should that happen, they will do so with most of their vital pieces being players in their low to mid-20s. Is this a team that is ready to challenge for a Stanley Cup? Maybe. It would take Vinny LeCavalier recapturing his mid-2000s form and Steve Mason going on the run of his life, but in hockey any team can make a run with the right formula. What this team is ready for is to approach the rest of the season like the building block the 2013-2014 campaign was supposed to be. We’ve seen it in some games, as recently as three games ago against the Sharks, that the Flyers are a flawed team. Their 11 3rd period comeback wins have been exciting, but it is not a formula for the type of success that a long playoff run requires. They still are without the unquestioned #1 defenseman they have sought since Chris Pronger left the ice for the last time, but they were able to bring in an upgrade on the blue-line that apparently is interested in staying for the long-term.
Finally, if the team does want to make waves during the upcoming offseason, they have much more flexibility to do so. The Flyers held onto every prime asset in their arsenal. Should they attempt to put together a package to try to coerce one of the elite blue-liners in the NHL, it would require a package that includes chips like Brayden Schenn & Sean Couturier (two players rumored to be involved in potential deadline deals). If they moved either one, they would most likely be unable to convince a team to unload their prized defenseman, arguably the most valuable position in the sport. On top of that, Paul Holmgren appears to have put more emphasis on managing the salary cap more effectively. In a couple of seasons, the Flyers could be in a position where they are looked at as one of the top contenders for the Stanley Cup. Right now, they might be looked at as one of 12 teams that could MAYBE make a run. Rather than bring in a player that would bump them up a slot or two, they are giving themselves the flexibility to do so when the rest of their pieces have the seasoning to take the next step toward bringing a championship back to the organization for the first time since 1974-75. Although there is still some evidence of their free-spending ways littered throughout the roster (LeCavalier), the Flyers appear to be slowly distancing themselves from the reputation that has labeled them as one of the more reckless organizations in the NHL. You never know what could happen when Ed Snider’s patience runs thin, though.