The Philadelphia Flyers need a defenseman. It’s the worst-kept secret in hockey right now. Most of their young players haven’t lived up to expectations this season. While they will likely still turn out to be solid NHL players, they could definitely use some help on the back end. It’s up to Chuck Fletcher to help them out.
Chuck Fletcher is likely going to end up selling at the deadline. The Flyers are six points behind the fourth-place Bruins, who have two games in hand. Saturday’s matchup will be big, with the Flyers having a chance to get back within four points. However, even if they win that game, it’s going to be a steep uphill battle.
Even if the Flyers are going to miss the playoffs and sell some pieces at the deadline, Fletcher should still look to acquire a defenseman. A top-pair or even top-four defenseman would be ideal, but even a solid, right-handed depth defenseman would work as well.
Flyers need help on defense
Right now, the Flyers have a rag-tag group of defensemen that are doing their best to keep it together. They have been playing better recently, which could be partially due to Carter Hart returning to form a bit, but this Flyers defense isn’t built for the long-haul.
Ivan Provorov, 24, is proving to be a very good No. 2 defenseman. He hasn’t shown that he can carry a shutdown top pair. Provorov can be the No. 2 or perhaps even the 1A to someone’s 1B, like he was last season with Matt Niskanen.
Travis Sanheim, 25, is making strides as of late, but his ceiling might be as a good No. 3 defenseman. He might not have what it takes to be a shutdown top-pair guy and that’s perfectly fine. Sanheim can use his size and skill to jump in offensively while still being able to hold his own in the defensive one.
Philippe Myers, 24, has taken a huge step back this season. He hasn’t looked like himself since coming back from a fractured rib. That could still be bothering him, but if it was you’d hope that the Flyers would shut him down or limit his minutes.
If Myers is healthy, this is a huge learning year for him. Alain Vigneault has made him a healthy scratch a few times due to his inconsistent play. Myers hasn’t used his size to his advantage and he has struggled in front of the net.
Outside of those three, the Flyers have a bunch of bottom-four –– or bottom-pair –– quality defensemen. Justin Braun is holding his own on the top pair, but he’s showing his age at times. Shayne Gostisbehere is a third-pair power-play specialist. Robert Hagg and Samuel Morin are both stay-at-home defensemen that are fine to have on the third pair. Erik Gustafsson is still on the roster, but Fletcher should ship him out at the deadline.
The Flyers are lacking a stud defenseman. If Provorov isn’t going to turn into that –– and it looks like he won’t ––, Fletcher needs to go out and solve that issue.
Adding a top-four defenseman would stabilize the defense and put the players in their more optimal roles. Getting someone that can play 20+ minutes a night and is strong on the penalty kill would go a long way for the Flyers. It’d take pressure off of the struggling young defensemen and help get things going in the right direction.
Unfortunately, the trade deadline isn’t always the best time to make a franchise-changing trade. Usually, teams are either buying or selling players with expiring contracts. However, the Flyers have reportedly shown interest in defensemen with term left on their contracts.
Defensemen options for Chuck Fletcher
Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis in Nashville are the two big names, but the Predators may not want to sell anymore. They are solidly in fourth place in the Central Division with a four-point cushion on the Chicago Blackhawks. The Dallas Stars are seven points behind them with three games in hand, however, and could make a run. But those two could be off the table until the offseason.
Another name that has come up is a member of those Dallas Stars: John Klingberg. Klingberg is a 28-year-old defensemen with a $4.25 million cap hit through the end of next season. If the Stars want to shake things up, perhaps they make a move with the Flyers.
A few other less-exciting names that the Flyers have been linked to may also be off the table. The Arizona Coyotes have Jason Demers and Alex Goligoski, but they’re back in a playoff spot with a three-point lead on the Blues in the West Division.
The one name that keeps coming up is David Savard. Unfortunately for the Flyers, there may be quite a few teams looking to acquire Savard. Savard is a pending free agent, so he could be a rental option for teams, but the 30-year-old could decide to re-sign with whoever acquires him.
Fletcher’s options in the offseason
Chuck Fletcher may have to wait until the offseason to put his mark on the Flyers defense. However, there aren’t many options available in free agency.
Dougie Hamilton is the lone bonafide top-pair free-agent defenseman and he has expressed a desire to stay with the Carolina Hurricanes. Signing him would do wonders for the Flyers and Provorov on the top pair, but Fletcher can’t put all his eggs in that basket.
Outside of Hamilton, Tyson Barrie wouldn’t be a bad option, but he leans more to the offensive side of things. Then there is the aforementioned Savard, Brandon Montour, and Adam Larsson. It’s not a great group to pick from.
Fletcher could always revisit those conversations with David Poile and the Predators in the offseason, too. There will be less unknowns after the season, particularly after the expansion draft, and that could open up more possibilities for Fletcher.
No matter what happens in the next few days, Fletcher needs to get a top-pair defenseman in order for the Flyers to take that next step and be a true contender.
Photo: Heather Barry Images