The ping pong balls didn’t fall the Philadelphia Flyers’ way during Wednesday night’s NHL Draft Lottery. The Flyers didn’t move up or down, leaving them in the 14th slot. They’ll have the 13th overall pick due to the Arizona Coyotes being stripped of their first- and second-round picks this year.
The Flyers have never selected a player with the 13th overall pick in franchise history. They could make franchise history (in a way) by using the pick. However, if that happens, Chuck Fletcher will have failed.
We’ve already been through the rebuild and transitioning years in Philadelphia. Ron Hextall and the Flyers acquired all the draft picks, prospects, and young talent that they could through the mid-2010s. Those assets turned into a handful of players that were –– and are –– expected to be a big part of the next successful era of Flyers hockey.
Travis Sanheim, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Carter Hart, Nolan Patrick, and Joel Farabee were all drafted in the first two rounds between 2014 and 2018. The Flyers drafted –– what should be –– two top-four defensemen, a few top-six forwards, and a franchise goalie. However, that group of players hasn’t lived up to those expectations.
After failing to address some of the Flyers’ biggest needs last offseason, this summer could be Fletcher’s last chance to turn the Flyers into a consistent contender. No more one-and-dones in the playoffs. No more making the playoffs in every other year just to disappoint.
The Flyers spent the better part of a decade trying to get back to being recognized as a contender in the NHL again. Hextall set the Flyers up but couldn’t finish the job. Now, it’s up to Chuck Fletcher to bring the Flyers to the promised land.
Chuck Fletcher and the Flyers in win-now mode
That all starts with what could be one of the Flyers’ most sought-after assets this offseason: the 13th overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.
The Flyers are in win-now mode. Hell, they’re in win-yesterday mode. The years of accumulating assets and waiting for those young players to develop are over. Those players are entering what should be their prime as the aging veteran core exits theirs. That was an already pretty small window, and it’s gotten even smaller after the Flyers flopped this past season.
It’s rare for a rookie player to make an immediate impact on a team that wants to contend for a Stanley Cup. Those players usually only come in the first few picks and only every few years. This year, after COVID affected teams’ abilities to scout in-person and even the opportunity for some of the draft-eligible prospects to play, the 13th pick is nothing more than a lottery ticket.
For some teams, this year’s draft may be a blessing in disguise. Some players could fall down the draft board and rebuilding teams could get a steal. Rebuilding teams may even want a few first-round picks to have that extra lottery ticket.
The Flyers don’t need a lottery ticket. They need a sure thing.
Fletcher’s top priority with 13th pick
Chuck Fletcher needs to use the 13th overall pick as a trade chip to add the impact player that this underperforming roster needs.
Everyone knows that the Flyers need a top-four –– if not top-pair –– defensemen. There aren’t going to be many available on the free-agent market, so Fletcher may need to turn to the other general managers around the league.
During the season, rumors swirled about the Flyers and Nashville Predators talking trade. Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis are two top-four defensemen that would help the Flyers immensely, and perhaps they should revisit those talks this offseason.
The Predators are a great example of a team that might want an extra first-round pick, especially a lottery pick.
Nashville surprisingly made the playoffs and took the Carolina Hurricanes to six games in the first round. But they need a rebuild. Making the playoffs dropped them to the 18th pick, which is usually a bit too late to get an impact player. A handful of slots higher at pick No. 13 isn’t a huge difference, but having two shots to hit on a pick is a lot better than one. If the Predators do trade for the Flyers’ 13th pick, they could also package them to move up in the draft if they so desired.
Fletcher and Predators general manager David Poile likely laid some groundwork for a potential trade during the season. Now, with a full offseason ahead of them and a first-round pick on the table, perhaps they can close a deal.
It doesn’t have to be the Predators, though. There are other teams around the league that are in a similar position. The Flyers could also use the first-round pick as a part of a package or multi-team trade.
Another team to look at might be the Columbus Blue Jackets given the Seth Jones situation. I view Jones as a lesser option than Ekholm or Ellis due to his recent decline. However, he plays big minutes and is highly regarded around the league. Fletcher should at least kick the tires to check in on his pricetag.
The Flyers need to trade their first-round pick
Nevertheless, trading the first-round pick should be one of Fletcher’s top priorities before the 2021 NHL Draft on July 23rd.
All Fletcher has to do is look across the state to their biggest rival for an example of why he should trade the Flyers’ first-round pick after a disappointing season.
Last year, after failing to get out of the qualification round, the Pittsburgh Penguins traded their first-round pick to re-acquire Kasperi Kapanen. Then-GM Jim Rutherford said after the season that the Penguins needed to get “younger and hungrier.” He solved that problem with the trade for Kapanen, who woke up with a 30-point season (11 goals, 19 assists) in just 40 games in the 2020-21 season after recording just 36 points (13 goals, 23 assists) in 69 games in the season prior.
Fletcher knows that the Flyers need help on defense and a trade may be in the cards. He said during his end-of-season press conference that they’ll be “creative” to improve the team. Nothing should be off the table.
Unless no one is biting, Chuck Fletcher will have failed if the Flyers select someone with the 13th overall pick. They don’t need another prospect that might make an impact in a few years. They need an offseason trade so this team can finally –– actually –– take that step back into relevancy again.