For the first time in a long time, the Flyers were in a position to be able to add at the trade deadline. They had added players in years past with deadline deals, but never with the intention of making their playoff push more significant. The moves were based in selling and restocking while picking up another player as part of a package.
In fact, the only true buying move Ron Hextall ever made as GM came out of necessity. The Flyers were in a playoff race with both starting goalies injured and traded two draft picks for Petr Mrazek.
This was not Chuck Fletcher’s first deadline day as Flyers GM. That happened last year when he made the difficult but necessary decision to trade fan favorite Wayne Simmonds to Nashville. This year was Fletcher’s first deadline day with the Flyers, though, where he also had overseen the offseason and the moves made to build the foundation of this team. It’s not a team he built completely on his own, but it’s a team he has been fine-tuning since the end of the 2018-19 season.
The Flyers did not have to make any move on deadline day, but they got active in trying to improve one area: experience.
Joel Farabee and Connor Bunnaman have been great pieces with the Flyers this season and have already played in their share of games during this run that have heavy playoff implications. But when the playoffs actually arrive, past experience becomes more valuable. Having players with size and physicality in their game becomes more valuable. Having players who can be key components to a penalty kill, especially when each one is magnified, can be valuable.
That’s what the Flyers got with their two deadline-day acquisitions of Nate Thompson and Derek Grant. The Flyers didn’t make these moves to push away youth. They made them to add more depth so there is still a talented lifeline just a call away. They made them to bring in more experience as part of their playoff push, which has turned from just a push to get in to a push to potentially win home ice for a series. They made them because Fletcher owed it to this team to make moves that didn’t disrupt the future, didn’t dismantle the team at present and showed that there is a belief in them.
"We were looking to upgrade our depth at forward. We like our depth on defense and we’ve been carrying 12 forwards for a while," Fletcher said. "We like our team. We liked our team before today. Our players have earned the right, not only to have some additions at the trade deadline, but to also keep their roles. We weren’t looking to overhaul our team. This was more about depth, character, experience, specific roles."
"We're pretty comfortable with the group we have, but bringing in some experience always helps. You can't have enough experience down the road," Sean Couturier said. "It's nice to see the confidence from the management. It's just up to us now to go out there and keep doing our job, keep winning games."
The Flyers cap situation really prevented them from being big players for any big-name rentals. In Fletcher’s eyes, it wasn’t a great rental market, certainly one where he wasn’t willing to part with a big part of the future like a top prospect or draft pick. Fletcher also didn’t focus on a lot of noise happening around him. The Flyers rank third in the Metropolitan Division entering Tuesday, but have two teams within a point of them and have another three points behind. Washington, Pittsburgh, Carolina and the New York Islanders were all active players on deadline day.
It doesn’t make the division any easier when teams like that are adding some big names. But one player also doesn’t make the team. There has to be a fit and adding one player that can change the roles of several doesn’t always work out. The Flyers looked to change as little as possible to the group currently here. That can be a big confidence booster to a team that has their playoff destiny certainly in their control with 20 games remaining in the season.
If there’s anything the Flyers got out of two trades for players who were not overly high on the trade target boards, it’s the necessary depth that good playoff teams have. The Flyers added two experienced forwards who can bring a lot of the same qualities to the game, while having Farabee, Bunnaman and Morgan Frost all waiting in the wings if needed. The Flyers will get Shayne Gostisbehere back and the team will move forward with seven NHL-level defensemen at the ready. With Carter Hart and Brian Elliott in goal, they have two netminders that can be trusted in big spots.
The Flyers recent run of success from late January and throughout the month of February allowed for this day to happen. It allowed the Flyers to explore moves that didn’t drastically change the roster and can still keep the chemistry strong and the team trending upward. It remains to be seen how it translates to the ice, but the Flyers can certainly start off strong with another game on home ice on Tuesday, the first chance newcomers Thompson and Grant will have to make an impression.