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Carchidi Column: For Flyers’ GM, Next 5 Weeks Critical to Future

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Danny Briere. Philadelphia Flyers. (Photo, photo, Philadelphia Flyers)

If someone had told you before the season that the Philadelphia Flyers would be in a playoff spot at the All-Star break and sitting in third place in the Metropolitan Division, you would have said: Sign me up!

And here the Flyers are, with a 25-19-6 record, ahead of teams like the Islanders, Devils, Penguins and Capitals, and one of the NHL’s biggest surprises.

We interrupt this 50-game celebration for a dose of reality.

It is still a longshot for the Flyers, who have lost five straight, to earn their first playoff spot in four years. The absence of goaltender Carter Hart has greatly reduced their chances.

That said, even if the Flyers fail to make the playoffs, this has been a good season for the Orange and Black. They have developed an identity, have rarely been outworked, and have received growth from many young players.

And it could be a VERY GOOD season if general manager Danny Briere is able to add a No. 1 draft pick or two before the March 8 trade deadline, along with some top-notch prospects.

Needed; offensive firepower

Sure the Flyers could increase their chances of getting into the playoffs by adding a few veterans, but now isn’t the time to do that. It’s time to build for the future. time to acquire draft picks that will give the Flyers some much-needed offensive firepower down the road.

Being virtually forced to trade Cutter Gauthier, a talented winger/center who figured to be a top-six forward next season, has made that almost imperative.

Defenseman Sean Walker, 29, has played much better than expected, but he is going to be an unrestricted agent this summer, and if you can get a first-rounder for him, well, you owe it to your fan base to deal him.

Ditto Rasmus Ristolainen, 29, who, like Walker, has extra value because he is a righthanded defenseman.

Scott Laughton, 29, one of the leaders of the Philadelphia Flyers’ second-in-the-NHL penalty kill, might also fetch a first-rounder. Laughton is the consummate pro, but he’s not a top-six forward.  Trading him for a high pick makes sense.

Gritty defenseman Nick Seeler, 30, who is having a career season and is second in the league in blocked shots, is also drawing interest in the trade market. If you can get a second-rounder, you jump. If teams offer less, it may be more valuable to sign the potential unrestricted free agent.

If Morgan Frost’s name comes up in trade talks, Briere has to listen. But as mentioned above, the Flyers need all the offense they can get, and I’d be careful about dealing the creative 24-year-old center unless overwhelmed by an offer. Once upon a time, the Flyers gave up too early on forwards Patrick Sharp and Justin Williams. So only deal Frost if the offer is ultra-appealing.

Pipeline’s strength

The strength of the Flyers’ pipeline is with defensemen and goalies. Forwards take a back seat. That makes Frost more valuable to them.

Right winger Cam Atkinson is still productive, but his value to the Flyers isn’t as high as Frost’s. Atkinson is 34, so if Briere can get some quality prospects or a fairly high draft pick he will probably pull the trigger. Atkinson’s $5.875 million cap hit could turn off suitors.

Getting back to Hart and the Hockey Canada sex scandal, his situation could be tied up in the courts for a long time. Hart, 25, was once the centerpiece of the Flyers’ rebuild. Now? No one knows how this will play out.

But it wouldn’t be surprising if Hart didn’t play again this season. (And maybe for a lot longer.) That’s bad news for the new No. 1 goalie, Sam Ersson, 24, a gifted player who seemed to play with more confidence knowing Hart was there as a fallback.

Ersson now has a lot more pressure on him as the top dog. Can he handle it?

If Hart is playing hockey next season, the Flyers will have to decide whether to sign him as a restricted free agent this summer. But a lot has to go Hart’s way for him to even be thinking about playing in 2024-25.

For now, Briere’s attention in the next five weeks will be on the trade market. These five weeks could net prospects and draft picks that will expedite the rebuild. In short, how Briere does in the trade market — and not whether the overachieving Flyers make the playoffs — is the most important part of their odd-but-interesting season.

Sam Carchidi writes a weekly column for Philly Hockey Now. He and Jeff Hare are working on a TV series on the Flyers’ glory days, tentatively called Bullies: A Love Story. Carchidi can be reached at samcarchidi55@gmail.com.

Report: Flyers Fielding Trade Offers for Scott Laughton

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