Philadelphia Flyers: Cam Atkinson trade brings the picture into focus

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

In the span of a week, the Philadelphia Flyers have traded five players, four draft picks, and the faith of more than a few fans in a seemingly slapdash attempt to recompile their roster heading into the 2021-22 NHL season.

Some of the moves have been great. The decision to trade Ryan Ellis for Nolan Patrick and Philippe Myers received near-universal acclaim from fans across the league, while other decisions, like shipping Shayne Gostisbehere to the Arizona Coyotes alongside a pair of picks, haven’t drawn as much praise.

Heck, the decision to trade two premium picks, a first in 2021 and a second in 2022, for Rasmus Ristolainen earned the dreaded F- from the folks over at The Athletic, even though such a grade doesn’t technically exist.

But with the draft officially over and one of their more tenured players, Jakub Voracek, now a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets, things are finally starting to come into focus. And that future, for the next four years, will include two-time All-Star Cam Atkinson.

The Philadelphia Flyers aren’t the same team as a month ago.

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In his media availability, Chuck Fletcher made one thing abundantly clear about the Philadelphia Flyers’ future, “We can’t bring back the same players year after year and expect the same results.”

Boy, talk about hitting the nail on the head.

For years now, the Flyers have had a consistent core of players that has more or less remained unchanged. Sure, players like Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn will leave in one way or another, and youngsters like Joel Farabee will gradually slot in to take their place, but when you think about the Flyers over the past decade or so, you think of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Sean Couturier with a revolving cast of players of role players slotting in around then.

Has that pairing been successful? Heck yes. The Flyers have had a 370-276 record since Couturier joined the big club full time in 2011, but in time, especially during the 2021 NHL season, the cracks started to show.

Cam Atkinson, despite coming off of a pair of down years, could serve was the spackle to fill in those cracks and allow for a few fresh coats of paint over the same old orange and black.

You see, Atkinson is a shooter, a sniper off the wings who can capitalize on well-placed passes and draw money on the power play. He has six 20-plus goal seasons under his belt, including the 2018-19 season, where he cracked 41, and even at the tender age of 32 could remain a viable piece for the Flyers moving forward.

In a way, he sort of has to be, as the Flyers are now on the hook for the final four years of his contract at an AAV of $5.875 million.

Is that a long time to commit to committing a fairly sizeable amount of money to a player who will be 36 when his contract expires? Sure. Much like the decision to trade for the final six years of Ellis’ deal, this could go south in a pretty spectacular fashion if Atkinson suffers any sort of major injury. But based on the other moves Fletcher has chosen to make this offseason, it falls in line.

For better or worse, Atkinson is now one of the Flyers’ core players, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

For years now, the Flyers have been on the lookout for a good-to-great wing shooter to fill a top-six role moving forward. They’ve signed players like James van Riemsdyk in the hopes of filling that role and drafted players like Farabee in the hopes of blooming a bomba – to paraphrase Brett Brown – but so far, a consistent 30-plus goal scorer has eluded the team since Simmonds was a scoring machine in the mid-2010s and Scott Hartnell had the occasional Cinderella run over his seven-year tenure with the organization.

Wow, Hartnell also left Philadelphia for Columbus just like his once teammate Jakub Voracek. That feels oddly poetic.

With two more years left on his contract at a notably lower AAV than Voracek, Atkinson is the definition of a change of pace forward who could add a different dynamic to their top-six while simultaneously providing a few extra dollars to address positions of need moving forward. His presence may not make the team better than Voracek when he’s firing on all cylinders, and he may ultimately finish off the season with fewer assists than Czechoslovakia’s favorite son, but his ability to snipe right-handed shots off the wing should at least present some new looks that haven’t been available to the Flyers in some time.

For a team looking to win now and push for a playoff spot in their usual division, that’s valuable.

Don’t blame Rasmus Ristolainen for being traded. dark. Next

When Cam Atkinson took the mic to answer questions about his trade to the Philadelphia Flyers, he did so wearing a Gritty tee shirt. To some, this may feel like pandering or a bit cheesy, but to be so excited about a new NHL home that you explicitly procure a shirt through whatever channels featuring the team’s mascot gives off an air of excitement that simply wasn’t around these parts all that often during the 2021 NHL season. Whether you like the trade or don’t, it’s clear Atkinson wants to be here, and in my humble opinion, that’s valuable for a team looking to reconstitute themselves on the fly as they prepare to go all-in on winning ASAP.