Yesterday's acquisition of Kris Versteeg from the Maple Leafs should not have been a surprise to anybody following the Flyers recently. The Flyers were in the market for a winger for a little while now, and while they were tenuously linked to Erik Cole, once Versteeg's name came up in the Toronto media, a few overzealous individuals took it upon themselves to speculate about him joining the Flyers.
It made sense to speculate, and it turned out that the Flyers liked him as well. He's a good two-way forward who routinely faces tough opponents while scoring a good chunk of points. He can also grow a wicked playoff beard, which will fit in nicely with Ville Leino. He should have no problem fitting into the lineup either, as he could easily play with either Mike Richards or Jeff Carter.
While the cost of a 1st- and a 3rd-round draft pick stings, especially for someone who has constantly been annoyed at the lack of young, cheap talent in the organization as a result of a lack of draft picks, there are two rationales able to comfort those worried about that.
First, it has been clear for months now that the Flyers are going all-in this year in hopes to win the Stanley Cup. This may have been evident before, but the move which cemented this philosophy was the placement of Matt Walker on LTIR in December. Rather than waive him right there, the Flyers put off making a decision and incurred cap headaches for a few weeks, which confirmed that they wanted to keep as many players as possible until able to make a move.
When you know that the Flyers are stock-piling players and depth this year for a run, the move is not only unsurprising, but comfortable. The organization has targeted this year as their best chance, and they're reinforcing the lineup to have as many weapons and as much insurance as possible.
The second rationale for this trade is the expectations surrounding this draft. Initially, it was expected to be a weak draft, and while that prediction appears to have improved, this year's draft doesn't appear to be anything more than average. This isn't 2003, where 28 NHL stalwarts go in the first 30 picks. And while the Flyers have had success this past decade in drafting players in the first round - when they have those picks - it's nothing new for the Flyers to jettison their first selections.
Yes, it's frustrating that the Flyers don't keep their draft picks. But they also don't keep their prospects. It would be really nice if the Flyers didn't have to rely on the cap going up every year in order to stay competitive, but rather had young talent on Entry Level Contracts capable of stepping up and playing in the NHL like Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk. Unfortunately, they don't, and even if they kept this first round pick, they already will be relying on the cap going up next year.
If you're already relying on the cap going up, and you've already identified this year as the best chance to win the Stanley Cup, why not trade a first round pick? Yes, they're very valuable to a team. But right now, that pick is more valuable to Toronto and Versteeg is more valuable to Philadelphia. Maybe one day the Flyers will start developing their system to the point where it's a pipeline, but that's a little ways off. Which is both good and bad.
Maybe it's too much to expect the NHL team to act like the Phillies: Keep draft picks, develop the prospects, trade those who can't fit on your roster for big name contributors while having a constant stream moving up the ranks. NHL teams don't work like that, even if the Flyers are starting to draft projects (Maroon, Wellwood, Ranford, etc.) instead of goons (Klotz, Clackson, Pisselini, etc.). If only they kept a few more 1st rounders.
Either way, Versteeg immediately comes in and gives the Flyers the ability to sit their two pugilists, running with a fantastic top-9 and a terrifically defensive 4th line. Whether that happens or not (who wants to predict Zherdev plays all 27 remaining games? I don't.) doesn't really matter. The Flyers now have a ton of two-way players capable of moving up or down the lineup, playing in any situation, and succeeding in any environment.
There's even talk that the Flyers window is two years, meaning they can keep these 20 players next year as well. That largely depends on the salary cap going up roughly 10%, but the Flyers may have just put themselves at the pinnacle of the NHL with this trade. Kris Versteeg is not that good, but he fits in so well on an already deep team that he's the tipping point.