Thursday, March 06, 2014

Around the Rink: Trade Deadline Edition

Thanks to the Courier Post
by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor 

Three PM came and went yesterday and the only thing that sizzled in Philadelphia on Trade Deadline Day were the atoms in excited states that are individual tweets bouncing off each other in a frenzy of motion over what the Flyers did not do, or should have done, today. 

Place yourself into the mind of Paul Holmgren, a la Being John Malkovich, and you'll encounter two separate but equal thought patterns:

1) Why would I want to make any major upgrades to the club? Mr. Snider has stated publicly that he likes our team, which is about as solid a vote of confidence as one can get. After 1-7-0 and 4-10-1 starts, we've gone 29-14-5 since, peaking at the right time and climbing from eighth to second place in the Metropolitan Division.

Save for getting a draft pick or two for either one of our pending UFA's (Andrej Meszaros ended up being the one, for a conditional pick in 2015), what is my incentive to disrupting what is a clear upward trend? We're in a position like a dozen other teams, trying to snare that missing piece, and there's no way anything less than a small ransom will consummate a deal from the other side.

That's why I'll exploit and dangle what little I have in the minors and in draft picks in order to reel in that elusive minutes-eater. No sense in talking anything other than low-risk, high-reward.

2) The Metropolitan Division is tight, with six teams separated by nine points, and vying for four potential playoff berths. The Blue Jackets have added a piece already without even dealing in Nathan Horton and shucked another in Marian Gaborik, while the Washington Capitals sprung for Dustin Penner on Tuesday and Jaroslav Halak yesterday. The Rangers have a difference maker in Henrik Lundqvist and picked up Martin St. Louis, while the Devils are primed and ready to play both spoiler and late-season surprise with their existing roster complete with Martin Brodeur wishing to throw a personal monkey wrench in our plans on the way out.

Why wouldn't I spring for the top player that's being shopped around? We're the Flyers, this is what we do. It is my job to make this team better by scouting only the best talent and working the phones to wrangle a deal from an unsuspecting colleague. Shea Weber, Ryan Kesler, Bobby Ryan, Thomas Vanek -- they're all bobbing on the horizon.

That's why I'll exploit and dangle what little I have in the minors and in draft picks in order to reel in the big fish. No sense in talking anything other than low-risk, high-reward. And if it doesn't work? The micro-season lasting from just before the draft through the start of free agency is where I can regroup, test the waters, and put on my best P.T. Barnum.

They are parallel lines of logic, and Holmgren seems to think he can and should have it both ways every year, all the time. When no such significant deal is forthcoming -- which has been dissected every which way every year at this time as Holmgren's possible weak point -- his cold, Nordic eyes are focused on the bigger prizes available in the offseason. Neither of those seem to permit the possibility of long-range planning. It's always "get something to let us stand out through the end of the season, the conference is a roll of the dice."

What he did pull off is typical Holmgren modus operandi: acquiring another potential UFA (Andrew MacDonald) from another failing team and only sacrificing picks and prospects. The only difference is, for the first time in a long time, he decided to pick the bones of an intra-conference, intra-division rival whose playoff prospects were severely limited.

For now, that move is redundant. There's Nick Grossmann, and MacDonald,a shiny new version of Grossmann. It doesn't address where Erik Gustafsson should play and how often, given that his stats elevate the club in a marginal, yet clearly positive way. Redundancy only works when constructing bridges, not when constructing a roster expected to contend for anything serious.

Enuff about "Buff"

Stop it. You don't want Dustin Byfuglien in Philadelphia. Not now, not ever. And not as a defenseman, anyway.


One of my younger Twitter followers posited the following on Tuesday afternoon, roughly 25 hours before the deadline: "Dustin Byfuglien is an elite NHL defenseman whose value is low because of public image & an unlucky SH%-against year,"  while citing a chart filled with advanced stats.

He's got a point if you're looking at the Minnesota native as a blueliner, but that's not the point. Byfuglien is an elite NHL power forward masquerading as a defenseman on a franchise which has never placed any value on sound defensive philosophy. The Thrashers/Jets have consistently ranked in the bottom third in total goals allowed and goals-per-game allowed, and the 2010 Stanley Cup champion isn't helping.

Plopping Byfuglien -- a force to be reckoned with at 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds -- on the blue line would be so Flyers that the concept would implode into a quantum singularity. It ignores the fact that upon the eye test, you see that he's little more than a slightly-zaftig body with an offensive upside (13G, 31A in 62 games this season) which has little concept of "defense" as it is supposed to be played in today's NHL.

Since his arrival as a salary-cap casualty from Chicago, Winnipeg placed 15th (2010-11), 12th with a negative goal differential in an above-.500 season (2011-12) and 12th in the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign. The Jets currently rank 10th in GA in the West, though the verdict on Paul Maurice's intended transformation remains to be seen. Although the mess in the rear third of the ice is also due to the front office's choices and the scattershot play of the other backliners, Buff is clearly miscast.

If you look at the damage Byfuglien can inflict on the front lines, a deal for his services makes more sense. The Flyers defense, no prize winners despite a deep playoff run, had no answer for him even with a healthy Chris Pronger four Junes ago.  Neither did the Sharks in the Western Finals.

He is a monster in the slot, behind the net digging for the puck, possesses a heavy shot with good hands and worth more than his weight in gold as a presence on the power play from the circles in -- the logical next generation of typical Flyer forward from the Legion of Doom -- and the guy Claude Giroux needs most on the top line.

Lindsey Buckingham might have been onto something...

when he said there are two kinds of people in this world: winners, losers. With that wild hair and coke stare circa 1984, it's not wise to doubt him.


The only team which truly "lost" at the deadline was the New York Islanders, shedding their skin and taking themselves wholly out of the postseason race by parting with Andy MacDonald and Thomas Vanek.

The only team which truly "won" at the deadline was the Pittsburgh Penguins, who managed to avoid the twin temptations of Ryan Kesler and Vanek, instead opting for forward depth which is something the club lacked at the NHL level despite a gold mine in the AHL. 

Every other club -- including the Flyers -- which made moves yesterday are nothing more than drowning men treading water and vainly trying to push each other below the surface in order to snag a few more precious breaths above the waves.

Beyond the jockeying for position and the eventual matchups, that's what makes the stretch run and the playoffs so interesting -- seeing reputations of front office personnel made or dashed based on risks taken. 

And finally...

Bill Barber is the only major player in franchise history to have been honored not once, not twice, but three separate times for his years of service to the organization.

He was rewarded with a banner ceremony at the end of the 2010-11 season, where the illustrious #7 was taken from the rafters and forever entrusted to the player who wore it best. He had the actual jersey retirement ceremony prior to the first home game of the 1990-91 season, but the first night in Barber's honor occurred 28 years ago tonight.

It was a tour-de-force for Flyers and Hockey Hall-of-Famer Mark Howe. Howe, in the midst of a Norris Trophy-caliber season, scorched the Toronto Maple Leafs for a season-high six points on two goals and four assists as the hosts eventually wrested a 7-4 victory from the lowly defensively-challenged Norris Division doormats.

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