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25 Points on the State of the Flyers

11-29-2016_FlyersvsBruins_3rd_SO_credKateFrese-7(Kate Frese/Sports Talk Philly)

By Rob Riches, Sports Talk Philly contributor 

Two months ago, the Flyers were winning games, and looking overall like a team that could perhaps add an asset or two at the trade deadline for a playoff push. Times have since changed, though. The team is struggling mightily, and has made it clear in no uncertain terms that they will be selling, if anything, at this year's deadline.

That said, here are 25 points pertaining the state of the Flyers, with the deadline 24 hours away.

1. The trade deadline hasn't failed to be interesting so far. Between the surprise Ben Bishop-to-LA move, the ever-baffling Alexandre Burrows-to-Ottawa move and the big splash in Kevin Shattenkirk-to-Washington, plenty of big moves are all over the league. GM Ron Hextall has yet to get in on the action, but I don't see him sitting idle for too long.

2. We've all seen what Hextall is capable of when it comes to swapping players. So far, he's proven to be a wizard. It's been a little over a year since he swung for the fences in a deal (the trade sending Luke Schenn and Vinny Lecavalier to Los Angeles for Jordan Weal and a third-rounder), so it almost seems like he's due for another speciality -- especially with expiring contracts on the horizon.
 
3. Some of the returns teams have fetched for veteran defensemen: LA got a fifth-rounder from the Capitals for Tom Gilbert, while Carolina got a second-rounder and AHLer Danny Kristo from Pittsburgh for Ron Hainsey. Hextall can fetch decent draft choices for defensemen like Mark Streit, Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz. Considering he's spent a lot more time in the press box as a healthy scratch -- he's played in just 16 games this season, and five since the start of 2017 -- Schultz is quite harder to move.
 
 
4. While Del Zotto has shown flashes of decent blueline play as a Flyer, moving on from him is all for the best. He's struggled to stay healthy all year, and his play has dipped as a result. But at 26-years-old, the former first-rounder still has plenty left to offer, and makes sense for a team looking for a puck-mover. Perhaps a team like Boston, who can use someone to ease aging Zdeno Chara's workload.
 
5. If the Flyers do manage to part ways with 'MDZ,' perhaps his high-water mark with the team is this goal he scored against the NY Rangers in 2015. He jumps into the rush, snags a crisp feed from Sean Couturier and roofs it over Cam Talbot's glove. The goal stood as the game-winner in a spirited 4-2 win, and for Del Zotto to do it against the team that gave up on him a year earlier made it that much sweeter.

6. It really is hard to believe the Flyers could be the first team in the 100-year history of the NHL to miss the playoffs after embarking on a 10-game winning streak. Looks like a completely different team taking the ice now.
 
7. One stat that often goes overlooked is the amount of one-goal games the Flyers skated away with during that stretch. Six games were decided by a goal. Sure, a win's a win, and two points are all the same, but if a few bounces went against the Orange and Black, we'd be seeing a different kind of stretch.
 
8. The Flyers just don't seem as hungry at this juncture as they were at this point last year. They were a peskier team last year -- even if they couldn't win, they'd put up a steady fight. The talk among the dressing room was "we'll get in, we'll get in," but at this point, the team's still looking to find themselves.
 
9. It's looking more and more likely the Flyers will miss the playoffs, but as our own Kevin Durso eloquently stated, missing out isn't the worst-case scenario. Their current crop isn't going too far, even if they get a Wild Card spot.
 
10. Between a three-assist game last week against Vancouver and a sharp power-play one-timer against the Penguins in the Stadium Series, Shayne Gostisbehere appears to be finding his groove. There's no question how valuable his offense is, and there's more of a premium on that value for a team struggling to find the back of the net.
 
11. Growing pains are all a part of the NHL experience, especially after a season that saw Gostisbehere exceed all expectations. He's been battling hard all season, and always working to improve his game. Nobody wants to be scratched from the lineup, but Gostisbehere handled his benching like a true professional, and it's reflected in the strides he's made in his game.
 
12. He's previously denied it, but I really wouldn't be surprised if Claude Giroux's been battling through injury throughout this slump of his -- a slump that has seen him score just five points in his last 16 games. Giroux's a fierce competitor, and has battled through injury before. He wants to be The Guy for the Flyers, he's shown before that he's more than capable of blowing a game wide open, but it's all tough to do when fighting pain.
 
13. If Giroux does finish with a full 82-game campaign, he's on pace for roughly 16 goals, 42 assists and 58 points. He's finished with fewer than 20 goals three times in his career -- his first two seasons in the league when he was a secondary threat, and the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign. He's finished with fewer than 44 helpers in those seasons as well.
 
14. Some fans have gone as far as to suggest Dave Hakstol be fired -- and Las Vegas has pegged him on the firing line, at 22/1 odds, for some reason. Firing Hakstol, though, would only further the Flyers' woes, and provide no solution in the long-haul. A reckless suggestion at best, and a ridiculous suggestion at worst.
 
15. After the Bruins' sudden firing of Claude Julien a few weeks ago, though, I did consider the idea of firing Hakstol for him. Ultimately, I'm glad the Flyers didn't pull the trigger. As good a fit as Julien would be behind their bench, sticking with Hakstol is ultimately the better call. Luckily, Montreal canned Michel Therrien for him, so if it backfires, it's on them. (And no, I don't want to see Hakstol canned for Therrien.)
 
16. Arizona's management has visibly shown their frustrations with sophomore forward Anthony Duclair, and have made him available. That's a player that I wouldn't mind seeing Hextall go for. He did show the Coyotes how bright their future can be, especially after playing alongside Max Domi, but has since been relegated to the Tuscon Roadrunners (an excellent hockey team name, by the way) after a frustrating season.
 
17. As a 21-year-old forward, though, the 'Yotes could be asking a lot for him. Hextall may be reticent to part ways with his stockpile of assets, so while 'the Duke' could be a good fit, he may not be worth the asking price.
 
18. At some point, I'd like to rank the trades that Hextall has made so far. He really has helped the club tremendously, in a little under three years on the job. That piece will come sometime after the deadline, or at a point in the offseason.
 
19. It appears all but inevitable at this point that the Flyers will move on from Steve Mason or Michal Neuvirth. Both goalies came to Philly under different circumstances -- Mason arrived as a punchline with Columbus, while Neuvirth arrived as somewhat of a traveled journeyman. While both netminders won't exactly be mistaken for Vezina candidates, they were still more than serviceable, and I'm still curious as to how they'd have fared with better defensive support.
 
20. Moving on does make sense, just so the team can protect Anthony Stolarz in the upcoming Expansion Draft. He's still the team's long-term solution between the pipes, and with goalies like Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom in the pipeline, the bigger picture's looking brighter.
 
21. Speaking of Flyer goalies, Swedish author Thomas Tynander is re-releasing his biography on the late, great Pelle Lindbergh, with updated chapters. He previously released "Pelle Lindbergh: Behind the White Mask" in 2006, 21 years after the car crash that claimed Lindbergh's life. The update will only be available in Swedish, though.
 
22. In 2009, one of the greatest Flyers writers out there, Bill Meltzer, translated "Behind the White Mask" in English, after teaching himself written Swedish.To this day, remains one of the greatest hockey books I've ever read, and if you haven't checked it out before, go ahead and do so at your earliest convenience. It's well worth the read.
 
23. Is it me, or was there not a lot of hype for the Flyers-Pens Stadium Series matchup? Obviously, a floundering Flyers team didn't help matters, but a rivalry as fierce as this seems like it'd be more hyped. An 8 p.m. timeslot on a Saturday night at the tail end of February didn't do too much favors, either. Ultimately, the game netted a 1.2 rating -- lower than the Chicago-St. Louis Winter Classic, yet higher than the Detroit-Toronto Centennial Classic.
 
24. It goes without saying, but keep an eye on what you see on social media regarding the deadline. Lot of fake accounts out there, all run by idiots with nothing better to do. Follower counts and verified checkmarks go a long way, and as always, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
 
25. Twenty-one games remain for the Orange and Black this season. While I just don't see their 50th Anniversary campaign extending past April 9, you never know what can happen. If there's anything the Flyers have proven they're capable of, it's surprising people. We'll see if it can continue over the next 40 days.

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