Flyers have decisions to make as trade deadline looms

Kevin Hayes
      Should they stay or should they go?
      We’re referring to the upcoming NHL trade deadline, scheduled for Friday, March 3, and the possibility of the Flyers making any significant moves.
      Given the team’s recent standing, which has hovered between five and 10 points out of a playoff spot for the past few weeks, chances are general manager Chuck Fletcher will be looking to unload some veterans with salary cap implications.
      As the week-long NHL winter break and All-Star Game hiatus gets underway, it’s time for the Flyers to take stock after 50 games. The odds of missing the postseason for a third straight season appear likely, so no doubt this semi-rebuild process under Fletcher and coach John Tortorella will continue.
      It’s pretty much a given 33-year-old James van Riemsdyk, who is in the final year of a five-year, $35-million deal he signed on July 1, 2018, will be dealt as a “rental’’ to a contending team for a few months of play at left wing before reaching unrestricted free agent status in July.
      Another prime candidate to be on the move is center/left wing Kevin Hayes, who is enjoying a career year and will play in the All-Star Game despite losing his top-six forward status as well as his natural spot at center.
      And finally, there have been a lot of rumors the Flyers might choose to part ways with defenseman Ivan Provorov. The Russian backliner’s performance has been a bumpy road the past couple seasons and he did himself no favors by choosing to sit out the team’s involvement in recent Pride Night activities.
      As was the case with former Flyer captain Claude Giroux last season, the Flyers will be looking to secure some noteworthy prospects and/or draft picks should any of these proven veterans change addresses.
      Hayes, it should be noted, was signed to seven-year, $50-million free-agent contract back on June 19, 2019 and was Fletcher’s first big acquisition through that market.
      So one would think there would be some allegiance there.
      However, new coach Tortorella seemed down on Hayes from the get-go. The 30-year-old Dorchester, Massachusetts native has been benched at times, has been openly criticized for his inconsistent play on defense and, after starting the season on the first line due to Sean Couturier’s back injury, now finds himself on the third line banging bodies along the boards.
      The two possible blockades to a Hayes trade would be his $7.142-million cap hit, plus he reportedly has a 12-team no-trade list. Presumably, a number of those teams would be perennial non-contenders but they do constitute more than one-third of the NHL.
      There is a chance the Flyers could retain the burden of some of Hayes’ salary and turn him into a $5-million AAV player for a prospective trade partner. Hayes looks like he still has enough left in the tank to be an effective second-line center for the final three years of his contract.
      What contenders would be interested in Hayes?
      Barring any exclusions on his no-trade list, Hayes conceivably could wind up with teams such as Dallas, Minnesota (where Fletcher, a former Wild GM, still has connections), Colorado or even his hometown Boston Bruins. Imagine how popular that move would be in Beantown.
      Van Riemsdyk is one of those rare players who was drafted high by one team, got traded and excelled with another (Toronto) and then returned for a successful stint with his original club.
      He’s always played in the “what-if’’ shadow of being chosen second in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by the Flyers, who lost the lottery to the Chicago Blackhawks despite Philadelphia having the worst record in the league the previous season.
      The No. 1 pick that year? Future Hall of Famer Patrick Kane, who led the Hawks to three Stanley Cups and shows no sign of slowing down in 2023.
      Like Hayes, JVR could provide some serious help to a team in the Stanley Cup hunt, particularly on the power play.
      Provorov’s situation might provide the most drama.
      Once considered the team’s hands-down No. 1 defenseman when he was paired with Matt Niskanen in 2019-20, Provorov has struggled at times and also doesn’t seem to have Tortorella’s full support.
      The trade rumors have gained momentum but they might be just that, rumors.
      After all, it’s not easy finding a player of Provorov’s caliber to lead your defense corps, especially when it comes to critical duties such as the penalty kill.
      Provorov just turned 26 and has six-plus seasons under his belt. He’s reliable – a 403-consecutive game streak from the start of his career was only halted by COVID – and puts it all on the line, as his eight blocked shots the other night demonstrate.
      The debate centers around whether the Flyers haven’t been able to come up with another Niskanen to complement Provorov’s play. They sure as heck tried when they brought Ryan Ellis on board but after just four games with the Flyers, it looks for all intents and purposes like Ellis’ career is over due to lingering pelvic area injuries.
      Also, Provorov has been so valuable to the Flyers that he continues to be among the league leaders in ice time. Some wonder if this has a wear-down effect at times and impacts on his overall play.
      As opposed to van Riemsdyk and Hayes, Provorov might be just entering his prime years and could offer a lot to a contending team. He has a reasonable contract (two more years at $6.75 million AAV), so that would make him quite attractive.
      Would Fletcher move Provorov to a contending team the way he did with Giroux to the 2021-22 Atlantic Division-leading Florida Panthers in exchange for highly regarded prospect Owen Tippett?
      A lot could depend on how this Flyers team – and Provorov – perform over the next month or so.
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About Wayne Fish 2444 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.