By the Flyers not adding any players at Monday’s NHL trade deadline, is it safe to say general manager Chuck Fletcher might be throwing in the towel on this season?
He wouldn’t go as far as to say yes but there are legions of fans who would try to have you believe no action means no satisfaction.
Fletcher did manage to hold on to one of his own players, Scott Laughton, who agreed to a five-year contract totaling $15 million that was announced just about an hour before the 3 p.m. deadline.
There was much speculation that Laughton, a pending unrestricted free agent, might be changing addresses but the deal was hammered out to keep one of the Flyers’ longest-tenured players in place.
But then Fletcher turned around and traded away two other potential UFAs – Michael Raffl, who went to the Washington Capitals for a fifth-round pick in the 2021 draft and defenseman Erik Gustafsson, who is headed to the Montreal Canadiens for a seventh-round pick in the 2022 draft.
Just because Fletcher didn’t land a big-name player doesn’t necessarily mean he’s given up on this group. At least for now.
There’s always the offseason, where there figures to be a lot more personnel changing teams.
Fletcher is being a realist when he notes the Flyers are four points behind Boston with the Bruins holding two games in hand plus tiebreakers as Philadelphia has only 15 games left on its schedule.
“Based on my conversations (with other NHL GMs) the past few weeks, there wasn’t anything imminent,’’ Fletcher said in a late afternoon media Zoom call. “I haven’t seen the whole trade list for today but the vast majority of trades involved players on expiring contracts.’’
The Flyers are in no position to go chasing “rentals’’ given their tenuous spot in the standings.
“I woke up this morning not knowing whether we would trade Scott Laughton and that was the big decision today,’’ Fletcher said. “We were very pleased that we were able to sign Scott.’’
Fletcher doesn’t sound like he’s giving up hope. If he was, he probably would have unloaded another player or two.
“We still have 15 games to play,’’ he said. “I realize we’re four points out and Boston has a couple games in hand. Right now we’re still in the fight.
“At the end of the season we’ll sit down with our group, but I think it’s a little too early to get into what we have to do. We still have to perform a review of the season with our group. I think we’ll have a lot of ideas at the right time.’’
Laughton, 26, was a first-round pick (20th overall) in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
After a brief five-game trial in 2012-13, Laughton joined the Flyers for pair of seasons (2014-16), then was sent back to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms for the 2016-17 campaign.
He sort of rediscovered his career there and in each of the past three seasons has set career highs for goals, topping out with 13 in just 49 games last year.
Laughton is known for a strong two-way game, including penalty killing. He was a force in last season’s playoffs, picking up five goals/nine points in 15 games.
He’s been a combined plus-20 over the past two seasons and with seven goals this season, could approach his career high once again.
“Scott wanted to be a Flyer,’’ Fletcher said. “We started working on the deal prior to the season. Both sides worked hard. I give Scott credit. We were able to come to an agreement this morning.’’
Raffl, whose 504 NHL games have all been with the Flyers, was a favorite with teammates, fans and media.
But, as mentioned, he was a pending UFA and the Flyers are looking to go younger next season.
The 32-year-old Austria native signed with the Flyers in 2012 and began his career here in 2013-14.
He registered a career year with 21 goals in 2014-15 and has been steady ever since, twice hitting the 13-goal mark and finishing his Flyer career a plus-11.
“I just can’t thank him enough for his eight years of service to the organization,’’ Fletcher said. “Played hurt. Hopefully he gets a chance to have a big role on the Capitals.’’
Gustafsson, 29, was signed to a one-year $3-million free-agent contract last offseason. The Flyers were hoping he could pull up some of the slack left by the retirement of Matt Niskanen but it didn’t work out.
He played in only 24 games, was a frequent scratch and couldn’t even find chemistry with fellow Swede Robert Hagg.
As recently as four seasons back he lit it up with the Chicago Blackhawks, compiling 17 goals/60 points.
` The Flyers will pick up 50 percent of his pro-rated salary.
“Clearly it didn’t work,’’ Fletcher said. “Erik wasn’t playing. I thought it was very important, not just from our perspective but Erik’s perspective to give him a chance to play.’’
The GM said the emergence of Sam Morin helped make Gustafsson expendable.
Fletcher was asked if Sunday’s brutal loss to Buffalo might have played a part in not being more aggressive toward adding players. The GM said that was possible but there was more to it than that.
“Maybe the last couple weeks, if we had been able to gain a little more ground,’’ he said. “We certainly would have been more aggressive in terms of buying. I guess I’m looking at this more longer term.
“We may need some assets here over the next few months to address some of the needs we have going forward. Frankly, that may be a better use of those assets.’’
Laughton said he’s pleased to be part of the Flyers’ long-term future.
“I’m really excited to be in the city of Philly for the next five years,” he said. “To grow around these guys and continue to build on some things. I’m excited for my family.”
Clearly, Laughton wanted to stay here.
“It means a lot,” he said. “I’ve grown a lot of great friendships, bonds throughout the years here. I’m just grateful it got done. I think I can continue to get better.”