It’s the question on the mind of every general manager whose team is on the bubble at the NHL trade deadline:
Do I sell or do I buy?
Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher could do one or the other or both as Monday’s 3 p.m. cutoff line approaches.
On one hand, he has several unsigned, potential unrestricted free agents such as Wayne Simmonds and Michael Raffl which could be used as trade bait for draft picks or prospects.
Or he could be in the market for a depth player or two, such as the recent deal which brought winger Justin Bailey from Buffalo.
One thing is pretty certain – either way, Fletcher is going to be making, and taking, a lot of phone calls leading up to the “buzzer.’’
If you had asked Fletcher six weeks ago, on Jan. 12 (when the Flyers lost at New Jersey to fall to the bottom of the Metro Division standings), what was in his plans, he probably would have just smiled, figuring you already knew he was in sell mode.
But since then, the Flyers have gone on a very encouraging 13-3-1 run, topped off by Saturday night’s eye-opening, come-from-behind 4-3 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stadium Series game at Lincoln Financial Field.
In the process, the Flyers have cut a 14-point playoff deficit down to seven.
Will all that be enough to perhaps change Fletcher’s mind and try to keep this group together as much as possible?
In Simmonds’ case, probably not.
The Flyers had a couple years to get Simmonds signed to a new contract and didn’t. It would be pointless to just let him walk away on July 1 without compensation.
For other possibilities with other players, it just might come down to whether Fletcher believes he has a legitimate contender this year.
“We could both buy and sell, but I guess my point is, every decision we make, if we’re going to try to improve our team going forward and we can get that player now, great. . .there’s always opportunities,’’ Fletcher said recently.
“But from this point forward, we have to get better. To be better next year, we may have to try to get better this year. That’s what we’re trying to do, whether it’s the coaches on the ice (and their teachings), or adding players, or whatever we have to do. I could see us buying and selling, I guess to use those terms.
“But the bigger focus is, we’d like to get some pieces in here that will be a part of this for a few years. That’s really where my focus has been and what we’ve talked to the scouts about.’’
If the Flyers do send Simmonds packing to a serious contender such as Nashville, his teammates say he will be missed.
After the Flyers gave Simmonds the “player of the game’’ helmet in an emotional locker room scene on Saturday night, Jake Voracek summed it up well.
“I think everybody around the league, in Philly knows what kind of guy, what kind of player he is and obviously everybody knows what kind of position he is in,’’ Voracek said after the game against the Penguins.
“He’s one of my best friends so obviously it been kind of stressful for me as well, not as much as for him but it’s something we cannot change in the locker room and he knows it. He’s been a warrior, throughout last year, this year, whatever happens, it’s going to be tough or good. He’s been amazing, he’s been a good friend and we’ll see what’s going to happen.’’
Claude Giroux and Simmonds have been teammates for going on eight years, so playing the waiting game now has to be stressful.
“It’s a tough situation,’’ Giroux said. “I just don’t know what’s going to happen. He’s been an ultimate warrior. He’s been the best teammate all these years. It’s not something that we can control. It’s definitely frustrating a little bit, but we’ve all been here for a lot now and we understand the business of it, but it doesn’t mean we have to like it.
“There’s not enough words I can say about Wayne Simmonds.’’
There were rumors that Giroux and some of the other veterans approached Fletcher a couple weeks ago and made a push to keep Simmonds here.
“I don’t like to comment on it right now because we don’t know what’s going to happen,’’ Giroux said. “All I have to say is, Wayne’s been the best teammate, and it’s just frustrating to think about it right now.’’
For Simmonds, this feels like a bittersweet time. He’s likely to make a pretty big haul if/when he reaches free agency this summer but it’s likely the Flyers portion of his career – where he’s experienced his greatest success – is over.
“I don’t watch TSN (The Sports Network), SportsNet, Twitter, InstaGram. . .any of those things,’’ he said with a chuckle. “It’s obviously tough but I try to be a professional.
“I’m never going to quit on anything – play right to the very end. Hopefully I’m still here come Monday, but you know, if not, if not. I’m happy with what I’ve done for this city. I can truly say that. I’m grateful for everything I’ve done here.’’
If Simmonds’ Flyers career is over, he finishes with 584 games, 203 goals, 175 assists for 378 points. In the playoffs: 30 games, five goals, 10 assists, 15 points.
At least Simmonds knows Monday will bring some finality to the situation.
“It’s one way or another,’’ he said. “I think that’s huge. My wife is six-and-a-half months pregnant, so we have to figure out what we’re going to be doing. It’s more than just hockey that’s been running through my mind.’’
>Our Top 10 Trade Candidate List
>1. Wayne Simmonds, RW, FLYERS.
>2. Mark Stone, RW, Ottawa.
>3. Artemi Panarin, LW, Columbus.
>4. Kevin Hayes, C, New York Rangers.
>5. Adam McQuaid, D, New York Rangers.
>6. Gustav Nyqvist, RW, Detroit.
>7. Derick Brassard, C, Florida.
>8. Jimmy Howard, G, Detroit.
>9. Marcus Johansson, LW, New Jersey.
>10 Jack Roslovic, RW, Winnipeg.