The Carolina Hurricanes claimed winger Andreas Nodl off waivers today. This is largely a minor move for the Flyers as Nodl has been struggling to stay in the lineup, both due to injuries and his play. But it once again rehashes the debates over Nodl, defense, and long-term planning in the Flyers front office.
I've already been over how good Nodl was last year and why he should have started the season on a shutdown line with Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds, so we don't need to go over that in detail again. But Nodl's point production was above the average third-line NHL winger while also facing first line opposition in tough situations, playing them to a draw.
Simply put, he is a valuable NHL player. The Flyers may have replaced him with Kris Versteeg, but they recognized his value by signing him to a two-year deal worth $1.69 million total.
But then this season started and Nodl was put on the fourth line in favor of Maxime Talbot and Matt Read. Both players got off to fast starts, cementing their role in the top-9. Nodl was on the fourth line, fighting for ice time with Jody Shelley, Zac Rinaldo, and Harry Zolnierczyk.
There is no doubt that Nodl has been disappointing this season - he was facing second and third line opposition in the offensive zone and getting pushed back, both in zone finish and CorsiRel - but that alone isn't enough to justify waiving a guy who performed so well the year before.
So why was he waived? On top of his struggles on the ice, he was being pushed by Harry Zolnierczyk, who has the highest CorsiRel among forwards and a goal. The difference, of course, is that Zolnierczyk hasn't been playing on the PK, he has ended his shifts in the defensive zone more often than anybody not named Zac Rinaldo, and is facing third and fourth line opposition.
Zolnierczyk is also waiver exempt.
No, it doesn't appear that on-ice performance was driving the waiving of Nodl, despite some taking this opportunity to criticize Nodl's ability.
Instead, the Flyers have been at the 50-contract limit ever since Sean Couturier played in his eleventh NHL game at the end of October. With the injuries to Chris Pronger, Erik Gustafsson, and Andreas Lilja, the Flyers have been forced to use Kevin Marshall and Marc-Andre Bourdon on defense, and appear likely to rely on them in the future.
The Flyers don't seem comfortable with that, so they are probably looking to make a move for a defenseman. But they can not acquire someone without losing a contract too. Having Nodl claimed by the Hurricanes allows them to trade a draft pick for a player.
But why is it even necessary? Because the Flyers kept Matt Walker in the NHL instead of Oskars Bartulis until they learned that they couldn't afford Walker. Now, both are in the AHL and unable to fill in for an injured Chris Pronger without being exposed to re-entry waivers.
The problem, then, isn't that the Flyers lost a valuable third-line NHL forward who is nothing more than a fourth-line forward in Philadelphia.
The problem is that the Flyers lost a valuable third-line NHL forward for nothing more than a contract spot, necessary to fill a third-pairing defenseman, of which the team has two trapped in the AHL due to poor management.
Further, this is a temporary problem. Pronger is estimated to be out one month - but do we really believe that? - at which point the team will only need a number 6 defenseman for another two-three weeks, until Andreas Lilja and/or Erik Gustafsson return.
At the moment, the team has Kevin Marshall and Marc-Andre Bourdon - second and third round picks, respectively - as their third pairing. This is not great by any stretch, but these guys were thought to be the future of the blueline as recently as 14 months ago. They are restricted free agents after the season. What better time to see if they are going to have a future in the NHL?
Instead, the Flyers have jettisoned a top-9 forward in order to trade for a two-month rental of a third-pairing NHL defenseman, of which the team already has two of in the AHL, because they don't trust their 22-year old former 2nd and third round draft picks to play twelve minutes a night for a quarter of the season.
No, it's not about Andreas Nodl. It's about the the persistence of being at the 50-contract limit, the trapping of NHL defensemen in the AHL, and the inability to rely on high draft picks in a time of need.
On top of losing a top-9 forward on a bargain deal and getting nothing in return.