Yesterday, literally, news broke that the Philadelphia Flyers may be looking to get in on a trade for Vladimir Tarasenko following the St. Louis Blues’ decision to leave him off their protected players list heading into the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft.
Were those two nuggets of news all that surprising? Not particularly. Tarasenko had already requested a trade earlier in the summer, and after trading a pair of highly valuable players for Ryan Ellis a few days prior, it’s clear Chuck Fletcher is going all-in on competing right now instead of shipping out older players for a shot at rebuilding a younger corps moving forward.
Will it work? Will the FIyers, um, fly higher than they have in years? Or is the decision to sacrifice a pair of sub-25-year-olds for a roster loaded with 35-year-olds a few years down the line?
Either way, if new reporting from Andy Strickland of Bally Sports Midwest and Greg Wyshynski, the senior NHL writer for The Athletic is of any indication, any attempt from Fletcher to acquire Tarasenko may just have to go through inaugural Kraken GM Ron Francis, as Seattle may just sign-and-trade him following an expansion draft selection.
Could the Philadelphia Flyers land Vladimir Tarasenko in a draft-and-trade?
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Think back, if you will, to the summer of 2017.
The Philadelphia Eagles weren’t yet Super Bowl champions, Joel Embiid saw his inaugural NBA season limited to 31 games following a February knee injury, and the Philadelphia Phillies? Well, they were about to see the ill-fated Pete Mackanin-era bottom out in not-so-spectacular fashion.
And as for the Philadelphia Flyers? Well, they’d just finished out an underwhelming 2016-17 sans a playoff appearance and were about to have one of their players poached by the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL’s first expansion draft since the turn of the century.
Who was going to go? After losing Artem Anisimov and Martin Streit to the Minnesota Wild and the Columbus Blue Jackets back in 2000, only one player was a guaranteed selection by Vegas, with only 11 third-plus year players – seven forwards, three defensemen, and a goalie – were safe from George McPhee’s clutches.
Well, as it turns out, Pierre-Édouard Bellemare, the Le Blanc-Mesnil native who initially signed with the Flyers at the tender age of 29, saw his Flyers playing career limited to three seasons, as he became the 12th overall selection in the expansion draft.
Fun Fact: Pierre-Édouard Bellemare was the highest Flyers player selected in an expansion draft since Darren Rumble went eighth overall to the Ottawa Senators in 1992.
Was the loss of Bellemare a particularly tough pill to swallow? Eh. Despite being a solid defensive center capable of racking up blocks and hits with the best of them, Bellemare never quite established himself as a viable top-liner and was more of a grinder than a true star in the making. Still, his selection was far from the most exciting aspect of the draft.
No, the most exciting aspect of the draft was the plethora of trades that saw 14 teams exchange draft capital to either acquire selected players or to convince a team to take an undesirable asset off of their books.
From the Pittsburgh Penguins shipping a 2020 second-round pick to Vegas to get off of Marc-Andre Fleury’s contract – a deal that worked out pretty well for Vegas – to the Carolina Panthers’ decision to trade Reily Smith and a fourth-round pick to Vegas in exchange for their selection of Jonathan Marchessault, and a three-team deal that rerouted Marc Methot to the Dallas Stars for Dylan Ferguson and a 2020 second-round pick, the Golden Knights had themselves a very busy third Saturday in June back in 2017.
Why, you may ask, is this particularly relevant? Because the Seattle Kraken may be similarly interested in wheelin’ and dealin’ when they officially fill out their roster with NHL bodies, including the apple of many a Philly fan’s eye, Vladimir Tarasenko.
As stated previously by yours truly and surely many, many others, the Kraken’s inaugural head coach, Dave Hakstol, spent the better part of four years as the Flyers head coach. His team earned points in 56 percent of their games during his 277 games tenure in South Philly – 289 if you count the playoffs – and earned playoff berths in half of his seasons holding the whiteboard. While he will questionably walk away from the expansion draft with either Shayne Gostisbehere, Jakub Voracek, or James van Riemsdyk – depending on how things shake out – why not double or even triple dip on some former talent and land a few extra players to help install Hakstol’s culture in a brand new NHL market?
I mean, think about it, when Alain Vigneault was named the Flyers head coach, he slowly started to work players like Ghost out of his rotation because they no longer fit the system he wanted to run. Why wouldn’t Hakstol, who coached Voracek and Gostisbehere to their best seasons in the NHL, want to land multiple players he’s familiar with in the hopes of doing something similar?
Assuming Seattle isn’t particularly high on the idea of building their franchise around a top-tier winger who very well may have had his prime cruelly snatched away by the surgical scalpel of multiple shoulder injuries, why not turn a potentially valuable risk-or-reward player into multiple solid contributors? If Tarasenko returns to primo form, surrendering his services for, say, Voracek, Robert Hagg, and a pick would be pretty bad value but, if he turns in another sub-10 goal season, then such a return – plus Ghost in the Expansion Draft – could be a pretty solid start to a viable franchise.
Are the Philadelphia Flyers willing to take that bet? If their goal is to win a championship, it might just be a risk worth taking.
On Wednesday, June 21st, the NHL as we know it will officially change. The league will finally have an even number of teams, each conference/division will have an even number of members, and most importantly of all, 30-plus players will have to land real estate in the Pacific Northwest for the foreseeable future. Will Vladimir Tarasenko be one of those 30 players selected in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft? Maybe, maybe not, but either way, it’s safe to say he might not be there for long, as a team like the Philadelphia Flyers could, um, fly in (I’m sorry) and secure his services for the price of a few old Dave Hakstol favorites and a draft pick for good measure.