(Kate Frese/Sports Talk Philly)
The Flyers bye week came at an interesting time. Philadelphia went from a 10-game win streak to having only three wins in their last 14 games. The bye week is followed by four games and then a break for All-Star Weekend.
There are then four weeks until the trade deadline for the NHL. That gives GM Ron Hextall just 10 games in the month of February to determine if he wants to be a seller, a buyer or to just stay put at the deadline.
Even if the Flyers snap out of their recent slump and get back to winning hockey, the likelihood of them being a deep playoff team is very minimal. The Flyers are still in the rebuilding mode and are not yet a contending team.
Hextall’s flexibility to make incremental improvements to his team has been limited due to cap constraints. He has been saddled with a couple leftover contracts that pay large sums to players whose contributions are not commensurate to their pay.
Andrew MacDonald is the most prominent example of this. He is earning $5 million annually thru the 2020-21 season and is currently being used as a top-pair defenseman while being paid top pairing money. But his performance has been subject to a lot of criticism as the Flyers struggles on defense are magnified.
Mark Streit is in the last year of his contract, making $5.25 million this season, and while still serviceable and possessing a hard shot, he is hardly earning his cap hit. The assumption is he will not be returning next season. Some have suggested he could be back in the role of mentor to young defensive prospects at a significant pay cut. However, that is not a likely scenario.
The other significant contract that is not paying dividends is that of Matt Read. He has one more year on his contract, after this season, at a cap hit of $3.63 million. Read remains a serviceable forward who is sound defensively. However, his days of being a top contributor offensively are well behind him.
Read has six goals this season, and five of them were scored in the first five games of the season. His production has declined every season from 2013-14, where he scored 40 points. He fell to 30points the following season and then dropped to 26 points last season.
This season, Read is on pace for 23 points, and that's only if he plays in every game for the rest of the season.
It is highly unlikely that Hextall would be able to move MacDonald this at the deadline this season. He has too many years left at too high a price tag. Moving Streit would appear to be possible given he is a UFA at season end and he could contribute to a playoff team in need of depth on the blue line.
It is also possible that Hextall could find a home for Read if there is a team hoping to make a run that needed to shore up their two-way play on their third or fourth line. The return would not likely be very much. Probably the most Hextall could hope for would be a fourth-round pick in the draft.
That type of move might be worth it to free up the cap space next season. It is hard to determine what Streit might return. It would all depend on the team and their need to shore up their defense for the playoffs.
If Hextall could move both Read and Streit he would have opened up Read’s $3.6 million and presumably picked up two mid range draft picks this summer. He might also, depending on the injury situation, call up Travis Sanheim or Robert Hagg from Lehigh Valley and give them some NHL experience in the second half of the season.
If Hextall were to move Streit and Read he would have $8.9 million in freed up cap space immediately. It would make a run for a scoring forward like Gabriel Landeskog or Matt Duchene a possibility to upgrade the top-six in the way the fan base has always wanted, but keep in mind how difficult it could be to move Streit and Read.
If I were Hextall, I would seriously listen to offers for any of the bottom-six forwards in some sort of package deal. Dale Weise has not lived up to expectations and has seen the fan base turn on him. Chris Vandevelde and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare are both UFAs at the end of the season and could be thrown in to sweeten any deal.
Hextall does not have a lot of flexibility to make any grand deals at the deadline. So, regardless of how the Flyers play when they return from their bye week and the All-Star Weekend he may not be able to pull the trigger on that much if anything.
Next season he will have more ability to make changes to upgrade left wing or add a true second line center. He may also want a productive defenseman who is in their prime to mentor the crop of young prospects.
Either way, he will have more room to make deals or sign free agents then, if he chooses.