The NHL trade deadline is rapidly approaching on Monday,* and I'm only hoping for one thing: Homer, please, don't do anything stupid. I don't know if there's pressure from Ed Snider to make a major splash (you've already acquired two defensemen at what I'm sure was his stern request). If so, that's a myopic directive from a boss who, as we saw this past offseason, is prone to making emotional, panicky decisions. This is especially true as Snider perhaps starts to contemplate his own mortality and whether he'll see his beloved Flyers win another Cup before he passes. Unfortunately and torturously, the promise he made during that bluntly revealing interview with Neil Hartman after last year's playoff humiliation only evokes Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr's** famous epigram, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."
*The craziness is officially underway now that Jeff Carter has been reunited with Mike Richards, his hockey soulmate, in Los Angeles (thus completing the Kings' transformation into Flyers West, as GM Dean Lombardi attempts to save his job by acquiring an overrated former 40-goal scorer who's made of glass, fails to elevate his game when needed most, and disappears in the playoffs like it's part of the job description).
**I have no idea who this is.
If you've watched the Flyers the entire season, odds are you feel deep down in your heart that this team isn't going to be a serious threat in the playoffs. The defense simply hasn't been good enough, and that shit show on the back end is exacerbating a shaky goalie tandem of Ilya Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky. The Flyers have also been too soft, which is one of the reasons the Rangers and Bruins own them this season. Be relentlessly physical, finish your checks, keep the pressure on, and you'll grind them down over the course of the game. You even heard John Tortorella say that during 24/7. Without Chris Pronger, there's no one on the blue line who's a real intimidating force, no one to clear the porch in front of the net. The kinds of goals teams are scoring from within five feet of the net are embarrassing. Kimmo Timonen and Matt Carle aren't physical players. Braydon Coburn is Carter-like with his passiveness and maddening inconsistency -- dude, you're 6'5", for the sake of all things holy, hit something. Andrej Meszaros doesn't exactly lay the lumber, either -- at least not without foolishly taking himself out of the play. Will new additions Nicklas Grossman and Pavel Kubina do anything to remedy what ails the defense? At 6'3", 227 pounds and 6'4", 258 pounds, respectively, the Flyers are certainly hoping so. Though even if they do end up providing a significant boost, there's still the whole oh-no-our-goalie-is-going-to-let-up-multiple-back-breaking-goals fear that permeates every Flyers fan's thoughts and scares us to death whenever an opponent takes a shot. I really hate being negative about the Bryzgalov situation, but you can be sure it will only get uglier if he continues to perform like a (bad) minor league goalie.
There's a lot of reason for optimism about the future of this Flyers' core, but patience MUST be exercised right now. I know patience is not Mr. Snider's cup of tea, but there's a reason it's a virtue. There's a good thing going on here, it just needs to be properly nurtured so it can evolve organically. No matter how much Snider and the rest of the Flyers organization were hoping for a quick fix after the Carter and Richards trades, that's really not how it works -- especially when reconstituting a team with such a prevalent youth movement. A record of 13-13-4 in the last 30 games, including no consecutive wins in six weeks, seems to reflect that reality. The Flyers need to see this process through, and that begins by not overpaying or gutting the system to acquire bandaid players for what will likely be a brief appearance in the playoffs. You want to trade draft picks to acquire Grossman and Kubina (two impending free agents, by the way)? Fine, whatever, but it's not like either of those guys will be the difference-maker who puts this team over the top. There are fundamental deficiencies -- defensive play, overall disorganization, sloppiness with the puck, and, of course, goaltending -- that likely cannot be fixed at this juncture of the season and instead require addressing during the summer.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm about to do a 180 on the opening paragraph of this article -- just because the prospect of acquiring Rick Nash has gotten my mind racing. He's one of the most naturally skilled players in the league, and a franchise centerpiece still very much in his prime (turns 28 in June) to pair with Claude Giroux. I didn't know how I felt about trading for Nash (after all, I really only see him when the Blue Jackets play the Flyers), and then I did myself the favor of watching his highlight videos on YouTube. Don't act like you're not impressed. Nash, the #1 overall pick in the 2002 NHL draft, has been stuck without much help for nearly ten years in the hockey wasteland that is Columbus, rotting away on a moribund loser franchise that hasn't won a single playoff game in its 12-year existence. A disastrous season has precipitated the commitment to fully rebuilding the franchise once again. As such, the Blue Jackets are shopping Nash, the only franchise player they've known. A number of fans have finally soured on him, too, going so far as to openly question his commitment and leadership. Perhaps this season was Rick Nash's breaking point -- everybody has one. He wanted to make it work in Columbus. He really did... but it apparently is not working. At all. You have to wonder what would happen to Nash if he went from Columbus to Philadelphia. Couldn't that revive his career? Don't tell me you've watched him play and not thought he could be one of the league's top players in the right environment. Just give Nash guys to play with and I guarantee he morphs into the dominant force that helped Team Canada win the gold medal at the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Can you imagine him and Giroux on the same line? *Drool*
The Rick Nash sweepstakes has created a split camp in Flyer Land. There are those who see Nash's recent numbers with the Blue Jackets and think he is a player who has underachieved and therefore isn't worth the $7.8 million he's owed through the 2017-2018 season. Yes, that's a spicy meatball contract, especially for a team like the Flyers that flirts with cap hell like it's going out of style. But those who have watched even a small sampling of Nash know the guy oozes talent and has the pure ability to justify such a hefty salary. You simply can't teach what he has, and with the right linemates, he could be a perennial 80-100 point scorer. I see Nash as someone who needs to get out of his current situation as quickly as possible. Get him on the phone with Jakub Voracek. Have him ask what it's like to play for the Flyers; what it's like to be reinvigorated by moving to a contending franchise in one of the league's most visibile and rabid markets; what it's like to have fun playing hockey again. Those who have watched Voracek this season will tell you he's a really effective hockey player -- the sky's the limit if he can ever become a goal scorer -- and I'll tell you that he's been one of my favorite Flyers thus far. Now imagine the same rejuvenation happening, except with a dynamic offensive threat.
Nash sports the rare combination of imposing size and elite level skill -- he has hands like butter, a wicked shot, and the ability to consistently score 40+ goals. He's also not afraid to use that 6-4, 220-pound body to his advantage, is tenacious forechecker with some nastiness to his game, and can be a nightmare to play against when he's engaged physically and finishing his checks. There's not a single doubt in my mind that Nash would thrive in Peter Laviolette's "fucking giddy up and go" system and enjoy a career renaissance in Philadelphia. Additionally, from a purely sentimental standpoint, he wears the inverted number of the Flyers' best, most iconic player. You can't make this stuff up. Seriously, who the hell wears #61? No one. Nash has been wearing that number since juniors. If you're a fan of fate, this guy is a pretty solid bet.
The rumors started swirling earlier in the week: Scott Howson, undoubtedly still smarting from the (original) Jeff Carter trade, was trying to force Nash on the Flyers. He and Senior Advisor Craig Patrick attended the most recent embarrassing loss to the Rangers, which featured a highly discouraging third period collapse. They were also at this past Saturday's ugly loss to the cross-state rival Penguins, which, following a putrid effort by woe-is-me "scapegoat" Ilya Bryzgalov, featured another highly discouraging third period collapse (even though this time it occurred with Sergei Bobrovsky in net). Howson's perceived desperation seems believable when you consider that the man probably should've already been fired and likely feels his tenure as Blue Jackets GM could be rapidly drawing to a close. Perhaps he is trying to stage one last monumental salvo to save his job. Makes sense to me.
Word has it Howson wants James van Riemsdyk, Sergei Bobrovsky, and one of Sean Couturier or Brayden Schenn, at the very least, in return for Nash. That was too rich for Paul Holmgren's blood -- as it should be -- and he declined. Without checking the cap numbers, I'd be willing to offer something like James van Riemsdyk, Sergei Bobrovsky, Andrej Meszaros/Braydon Coburn, and perhaps the Flyers' 2012 first round pick as well for Rick Nash (and Allen York, I suppose; don't have the cap room for Steve Mason without adding more to the trade). I'm just not willing to part with either Couturier or Schenn. Hell, I'd even throw in the Flyers' second round picks from 2013-2018 (2012 second round pick belongs to Tampa Bay on account of the Meszaros trade). Holmgren isn't exactly a big fan of second round picks, so I might as well hyperbolically milk that trend for all its worth. There's the offer, Howson. Take it or leave it. Oh, and sorry about Carter. Sort of. Not really. (Note: This sentence was written before last night's Carter trade. Howson actually got a good haul from LA in Jack Johnson and a conditional first round pick, considering the circumstances).
So... yeah. With the belief that the Flyers' future is bright even without Rick Nash, what you read above is my final offer for the league's most recognizable sleeper superstar. Now, under no circumstances was I originally willing to offer Couturier or Schenn as part of the package. Then a close friend came to me with an interesting idea. If Columbus wants to get one of Couturier or Schenn back for Nash, they're going to have to make this trade an even bigger blockbuster. After all, if the Flyers have to take on that cap hit, the Blue Jackets will need to take back enough salary to balance the money and render the deal cap-compliant. And this is where it really gets interesting. Let's jump into the deep end of the fantasy land pool, shall we?
(But first, back to Columbus for a second. As a hockey fan, I do truly regret what's taking place in that market, especially because there's such latent opportunity to capitalize on being the only pro sports team -- yes, I know the Buckeyes will always reign supreme -- in a city with a metropolitan area nearing two million people. It's obvious what has happened with the professional hockey team in Ohio's capital is an organizational failure. There needs to be a clean sweep, from the players to front office personnel... the entire franchise needs to be rebooted. Get as many draft picks and prospects as you can. Draft Nail Yakupov -- or Mikhail Grigorenko? -- first overall if the lottery balls bounce the right way and start all over again by building the nucleus around him. Hopefully it'll work out better this time around than it did ten years ago.)
It seems the Ilya Bryzgalov powder keg is reaching a critical point -- perhaps one of no return as he starts to dump on the fans for (rightfully) loudly voicing their displeasure with his performance. Furthermore, there is an underlying feeling throughout the entire organization that signing him to the ridiculous nine-year, $51 million contract was a humongous big mistake of potentially cataclysmic proportions. Alright, I'll cool it with the sensationalism. Still, considering how ugly things could conceivably be given Bryz's suboptimal level of play, I think the fans have been relatively tame, tolerant, and patient with him. Maybe the strain of playing in one of the league's most demanding markets is too much for Bryzgalov to handle mentally. When you hear him give interviews, does he sound like a guy with the mental toughness and requisite confidence to backstop a team to the Stanley Cup? Not to me, he doesn't. Not now. The disturbing story reported on Crossing Broad about Bryzgalov telling a fan during the Flyers Wives Fight for Lives Carnival that "you guys care too much" lends further credence to the growing notion that he really just doesn't get it. The fans here care too much? Listen, asshole, while definitely a true statement, you might want to consider that such unbridled passion is the reason you were able to cash in this summer. Remember, in Phoenix, despite all his accolades, Bryz was labelled an aloof headcase with a superiority complex who crumbled when the pressure ramped up a notch, had a penchant for letting in soft goals at the worst times, and saying the wrong things at the wrong time. That was all before he was unceremoniously ripped by former teammates Adrian Aucoin and Derek Morris back in November. I still wonder if the Flyers did enough homework on Bryzgalov before acquiring him. It's not like I really have any idea what I'm talking about, but it seems the team's head honchos might not have fully grasped what kind of person they were signing to be the franchise's savior between the pipes. To me, the fact that they effectively put a muzzle on Bryz earlier in the season and tried to restrict media access is evidence of that.
Anyway, perhaps a Rick Nash trade could be used as a vehicle for fixing the Bryzgalov issue, as well. Kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. Unfortunately, the stipulation for shipping him out of town will probably be that Sean Couturier or Brayden Schenn is part of the trade. In the unlikely event that Bryzgalov would waive his No Movement Clause (NMC) to go to Columbus -- I see no scenario where this would ever happen for multiple reasons, but bear with me, we're almost done -- I'd have to think long and hard about including one of Couturier or Schenn to get the deal done (gun to my head: I keep Couturier and trade Schenn). Then I'd think about how Nash's monstrous cap hit might impact this team going forward and reconsider the practicality of acquiring him. Would getting him while simultaneously shedding Bryz's albatross of a contract be worth giving up one of two promising young players with manageable cap hits for the foreseeable future? I have little doubt Nash would make for an exciting addition and be a 40-goal, 40-assist player on Giroux's wing (while forming one of the league's most formidable duos), but generating offense hasn't been the Flyers' problem. After all, this is a team that's impressively first in the league in scoring but an unacceptable 27th in goals against. Nash is essentially a one-way player and wouldn't do much of anything to prevent this team from giving up goals. At the end of the day, sexy as it might be, he's really not what the Flyers need.
Throughout the process of writing this article, I vacillated numerous times on the to trade or not to trade for Rick Nash question. As I conclude, I'm going to do another 180 to get back to my original stance on the topic. With the additions of Grossman and Kubina meant to hopefully solidify and steady the defensive corps, the Flyers should just stand pat with the current roster. If Holmgren wants to acquire someone like Paul Gaustad as a another big-bodied grinder -- who's also one of the league's best face off men -- for the bottom six, I'd be all for it. I'd even deal Matt Carle, who's a free agent in line to be grossly overpaid this summer, to a Western Conference contender for a first round pick if it's on the table. But overall, this Flyers team doesn't need to make any drastic moves for the playoffs. Rather, it needs its beleaguered goaltenders, particularly Ilya Bryzgalov, to make some saves.