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Sabres-Flyers: Good Rivals, Better Trade Partners

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Could the Flyers be a good trade partner for the Sabres at the deadline?

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Buffalo Sabres Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Could the Philadelphia Flyers be interested in Evander Kane? Could Robin Lehner interest them with veteran goaltender Brian Elliott now out for the next six weeks? Many fans across the boards have started to talk about Philadelphia as a potential trade partner, and I thought I would dive a little deeper into this subject.

When you think of the Flyers organization, no one player fits the mold of an ideal Flyer more than both Evander Kane with his gritty, physical game. The Flyers of today are not ever going to be confused for the Broad Street Bullies, and that style of play doesn’t really seem to fit into today’s NHL, but Kane still brings elements that do fit into today’s game quite well. Those elements are speed, puck possession, and goal scoring.
If Ron Hextall was looking to buy at the trade deadline, it would be no surprise to me if they picked up a player in the mold of Kane.

A lot can change in a month, and at the turn of the new year, the Flyers were just one game above .500 with a 16-15-8. A ten game winless streak back in November was the low point for the Flyers this year. Since December, the Flyers have been one of the stronger teams in the league, going 20-9-2. They have clawed their way into the third playoff spot in the Metropolitan Divison. The Flyers are right in the thick of things in a very strong division. They are two points back of second place Pittsburgh with a game in hand.

Unfortunately, New Jersey and Carolina hold the final two Wild Card spots in the Eastern Conference, and both are right on Philly’s tail for one of the three divisional seeds. Columbus is also still within reach of the playoffs as well as the New York Islanders. In such a competitive division, with one of the youngest teams in the league, and after such strong play since December, you’d have to think that Ron Hextall needs to explore the option of buying to get his team over the hump. As good as the Flyers have been of late, they still have some flaws that they need to address.

Their goaltending has been inconsistent and Elliott’s injury makes that situation much worse. Their penalty killing has been a major problem all year, they could use a right-handed shot from the blueline, as well as a veteran defenseman. They also could use another good top six scoring left winger.

Could Evander Kane be an Option?


Michael Grabner would be a great fit in Philly, but will anybody pay the first round pick asking price? Grabner has 23 goals and 5 assists with 14 minutes of ice time per game with the Rangers.

Evander Kane gives them a multi-situational forward capable of playing top line minutes unlike someone like a Grabner, or even a guy like Thomas Vanek. While Claude Giroux has seen the majority of time at the top line left wing spot for Philly, Kane would give Philly a great top six compliment at that spot. The Flyers would be able to roll out a very solid top-six forward group in Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Valtteri Filppula, Claude Giroux, and Evander Kane.

The Sabres also have the ability to both retain salary in the deal, as well as take back salary. When you look at the Flyers, they have the assets to give with two first rounders this year, and a plethora of solid defense prospects that may interest Buffalo. The Flyers also have the ability to reclaim some of the lost assets in an Evander Kane deal by trading a player like Wayne Simmonds away over the summer, or at next year’s deadline. Simmonds has one year left on his deal after this year.

A plan Philadelphia could also use is to try to get Buffalo to take on the final year of bad contract Jori Lethera to clear cap space, ship out Wayne Simmonds, and then re-sign Evander Kane who is three years younger than Simmonds.

Untimely Injuries: Flyers Suddenly Need a Goalie


It just so happens that with Brian Elliott’s untimely injury, a goaltender might make a lot of sense here. If you’re going to go for the goaltender, Robin Lehner could be a solid option for the Flyers going forward. The future of the Flyers goaltending is likely going to be Carter Hart. The only issue here is Hart is still two years away. Hart is getting the hype, but he’s also still just 19.

Brian Elliott is 32 years old with two years left on his deal, and Michal Neuvirth is turning 30 in March. They also have the young, 24-year-old Anthony Stolarz who has been hurt all year. Stolarz can also factor into the long-term plans.

Alex Lyon, a college UFA signing from Yale is the default backup for the Flyers right now and was unimpressive in his three-game stint. It would be risky for the Flyers to just go with Neuvirth as their starter. Neuvirth and Elliott have been very up and down this year, but adding Robin Lehner would give Philadelphia a potential upgrade at the goaltending position over Neuvirth. They can use Lehner as a bridge until Carter Hart proves he can take over the job down the road.

The goaltender they may be interested in the most might be Chad Johnson. It all will depend on where Philly thinks they need to upgrade. Do the Flyers feel they need to upgrade over a player like Neuvirth? Even when Elliott comes back, Lehner might be a much better option to split time between the pipes with Elliott than Neuvirth. Or do the Flyers feel they just need a veteran backup to relieve Neuvirth for a handful of games?

With the way Johnson has played this year in Buffalo, as well as the tightness of the Metropolitan Division, that’s quite a risky bet. Chad Johnson struggling in Philly as a backup combined with Michal Neuvirth entering a slump with no other option behind them except for Alex Lyon could cost the Flyers the playoffs if that scenario happens.

What Else Could Interest the Flyers, and What Can They Offer?

The Flyers have the assets to come after Evander Kane, Robin Lehner, or any other Sabre player. It has been reported that their Head Pro Scout Dave Brown has been in Buffalo often, and there could be a number of other players the Flyers could be after. They could use an extra veteran depth defenseman who can get the puck up the ice. That sounds like Nathan Beaulieu. Although he has had a disappointing run in Buffalo, a change of scenery could help. Dave Hakstol has shown a reluctance to play younger defenseman like Travis Sanheim and seems to value experience on the blueline.

The Flyers defensive depth heading into the playoffs is very dependent on call-ups from the AHL. The Flyers really could use a right shot from the blueline all throughout their organization including the farm. They could also be intrigued by forwards Zemgus Girgensons, Benoit Pouliot, and Johan Larsson, to try and bolster their 29th ranked penalty kill.

This year, defenseman Robert Hagg was the Flyer defenseman who took the step forward making an impact with the team. The Flyers still have Samuel Morin, Travis Sanheim, and the Flyers top right-handed defense prospect Phillippe Myers.

Travis Sanheim would be the ideal return if the Sabres are looking to get a top defense prospect in return for something big. Samuel Morin is big (6’6), physical, but looks more like he will be a classic defensive defenseman in the NHL. That is a slight deviation from the mobile, skilled, and dynamic offensive defenseman the league is trending toward for the big minutes.

Phillippe Myers is also big (6’5), but he can also skate, has a high hockey IQ, and is improving offensively. Sanheim is a mobile, smooth skating, offensive-minded defenseman who has seen time on the bottom pair this year in Philly. However as stated earlier, Dave Hakstol has been reluctant to use Sanheim in big minutes.

One thing Sanheim has been tasked with improving on since being drafted was defensive zone coverage. A strong, mobile, and athletic 6’4 defenseman, should be able to cover his own end effectively. Even if Sanheim develops into being just adequate defensively, he would still be a great fit for Phil Housley’s system and could benefit from a veteran pairing partner like a Marco Scandella or Zach Bogosian (If healthy). Sanheim has drawn comparisons to Dougie Hamilton of the Calgary Flames.

Mock Trade Ideas


In this section, I assembled some mock trade ideas:

Acquired Travis Sanheim, Anthony Stolarz, Jori Lethera, 2018 first, 2018 second for Evander Kane, Robin Lehner, 2018 second. Sabres pick up a first, prospects, swap seconds.

Acquired Travis Sanheim, Jori Lethera, 2018 first, conditional 2019 third for Evander Kane, and Chad Johnson.

Acquired Anthony Stolarz or Felix Sandstrom, second round pick for Robin Lehner. Buffalo will need as many prospects and options possible to replace Lehner.

Conclusion


If Philadelphia dealt with Buffalo for a big piece like Kane, Lehner, or both, it would likely be because they are trying to make the big move to lock up a playoff spot and get them over the hump. It may also be because the Flyers feel that Kane or Lehner could factor into their plans long term.

As said before, they could move Wayne Simmonds, and maybe Brian Elliott or Michal Neuvirth to reclaim some of their assets. One thing Buffalo can also do for Philadelphia is taking on bad money, as well as retain money in a deal. Taking on bad money like the final year of Jori Lethera’s four million cap hit could help Buffalo max its return and all of sudden, Philadelphia could be players in free agency. You could see John Carlson being a natural fit with the Flyers, as well as a player like James Van Riemsdyk.

It’s still very likely that Hextall does not deviate from his plan and retains his top prospects after the deadline. He may move a draft pick, but he also might choose to go for the more minor deals like a Chad Johnson, Benoit Pouliot, Johan Larsson, or Nathan Beaulieu.

Even if a player like Kane is not an option for Philadelphia, it has been reported by Craig Custance that at least eight teams could be interested in him. There will be plenty of suitors for many of the Sabres assets come deadline.