It’s not exactly a secret the Flyers have missed the services of defenseman Matt Niskanen, who unexpectedly retired at the end of last season.
Not only was he a valuable partner to Ivan Provorov on the team’s No. 1 defense tandem but Niskanen was also a calming veteran presence for a young backline corps.
The Flyers did sign veteran Erik Gustafsson but his play has been sporadic and he doesn’t nearly carry the weight Niskanen did in the locker room.
So in assessing the prospects of the Flyers making a deal on or before the NHL trade deadline on April 12, the search for a possible candidate to replace Niskanen remains at the top of the list.
Back in his days with the Minnesota Wild, Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher wasn’t too shy about making some bold personnel moves.
Depending on the Flyers’ salary cap situation and their positioning in the standings the first couple weeks in April, Fletcher could try to pull the trigger on a deal which would give the Flyers a bit more experience on the blue line.
If the Flyers should continue their inconsistent play – which some say originated after the team’s four-game/six-player pandemic pause – then maybe the Flyers won’t be willing to go after a high-profile veteran and give up young talent in the process.
Should the Flyers get back on track, one defenseman who might fill the bill currently plays for the Nashville Predators.
Mattias Ekholm, a 30-year-old Swede, has the size (6-foot-4, 215 pounds), the speed and the savvy to play alongside someone such as Provorov.
Ekholm has one more year after this one left on his contract which pays $3,750,000 annually.
In the seasons between 2014-15 and 2018-19, Ekholm amassed a plus-minus figure of plus-82. Through 23 games this season, he has five goals/13 points with a plus-8.
Currently, the Flyers’ team plus-minus has dropped into the red at minus-7. Almost all playoff-bound teams are in the black (plus numbers), so it would seem to behoove Fletcher to go for some outside help.
The only drawback in such a potential trade might be the asking price. The Predators would probably seek more than draft picks, so for a deal to take place, the Flyers might have to give up some prospects.
Again, it might all depend on where the Flyers rest in the standings come mid-April. That’s about a month from the season’s finish line and Fletcher should have a fairly good idea which direction his team is headed.
>Yeo’s name comes up again for coaching hires
Flyers assistant coach Mike Yeo, who formerly guided the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues as a head coach, has been mentioned as a possible hire in both Seattle (home of the expansion Kraken) and Buffalo, where the Sabres just fired Ralph Krueger.
The Flyers would hate to lose Yeo, who helped Philly move all the way up to 11th in the penalty kill rankings last season.
Yeo is said to a stickler for details and also works well with young players, which would make him a good fit for either of the aforementioned coaching vacancies.
It’s the nature of the business that assistant coaches get promoted to head coaches for other teams, but the Flyers would sure be disappointed to lose either Yeo or their other prominent assistant coach, Michel Therrien.
>Back to drawing board for Hart?
Just how concerned are the Flyers with Carter Hart’s continuing struggles?
Well, coach Alain Vigneault continues to pull punches most of the time when Hart experiences a bad game.
But it’s clear Vigneault doesn’t have complete confidence in the 22-year-old netminder right now.
When questioned about Hart’s current state of mind, Vigneault insists he pretty much leaves the goalie alone and lets goaltending instructor Kim Dillabaugh do most of the talking.
However, there may come a time when Vigneault has to have a candid conversation with Hart and explain to him that he expects more than a 3.70 goals-against average and .880 save percentage.
The one thing Vigneault doesn’t want to do is overload 35-year-old Brian Elliott’s schedule with so many games in such a short period of time. That’s just a recipe for an injury.