News Flyer: Ghost on Conditioning Stint, Friedman Re-Called; Flyers, Phantoms Make Minor Trades with
With the NHL trade deadline just three days away, every team is hard at work trying to find ways to make their organization better, either now or in the future. Though the Philadelphia Flyers themselves haven't made any major transactions, that hasn't stopped the club from appearing in headlines this week - and not just the positive ones from their two huge victories over Columbus.
The part of the Flyers roster that's influx the most right now is the backend. It's been no secret that this has been a trying year for Shayne Gostisbehere, who has struggled to adjust to Alain Vigneault's new systems. Ghost has just twelve points in 41 games this season, easily the lowest scoring pace of his career. To add injury to insult (not the other way around), Gostisbehere has been out since the middle of January after undergoing knee surgery.
Gostisbehere did return for one game on February 6th, but struggled in 18:23 of ice-time in a 5-0 loss to the Devils. Afterwards, Vigneault acknowledged that Gostisbehere may have been rushed back and that he was still dealing with some discomfort.
After taking a few more days off, Gostisbehere agreed to return to the Phantoms for the first time since 2015 on a conditioning assignment. Per the NHL CBA, a player recovering from injury can be loaned to the AHL for up to two weeks in order to work back up to NHL game-speed. The Flyers needed Gostisbehere to approve of the stint, which he did, showing maturity on the 26-year old's part. It's no secret that having Gostisbehere at his best would be a massive boost for the Flyers success. It's doubtful he can return to Norris-level play at any point this season, but there's a better version of the Ghost Bear that can and hopefully will be unleashed at the NHL level once his conditioning assignment concludes.
With Ghost in the AHL, the Flyers opted to re-call defenseman Mark Friedman. The Flyers needed to promote a d-man with Justin Braun missing Thursday's game with the flu (he was practicing Friday and should return to the lineup Saturday, per the Inquirer's Sam Carchidi). The promotion is well-deserved, as Friedman has put together a solid AHL campaign. The 24-year old right-handed shot has 15 points in 39 games for the Phantoms (Elite Prospects). Additionally, Friedman has put up a stellar 51.32 Corsi% (2.85% better than the Phantoms as a team), and has an impressive +15 penalty differential, a margin incredibly high for a defenseman (per Brad Keffer's work on Phancystats.com).
As for the trade deadline, the Flyers made their first move since the summer on Thursday. Goaltender J.F. Berube, who was signed by the Flyers over the summer, was traded to the New York Rangers for future considerations. Berube had a .906 save percentage and 2.56 goals against average in 29 games for the Phantoms. The move allows 2017 80th overall pick Kirll Ustimenko, who has been great at the AHL level (.919 SV%, 2.40 GAA in 31 games), and won his AHL debut with a .927 save percentage (per Elite Prospects). Ustimenko was re-called to the Phantoms following the trade.
The Phantoms also made a separate minor transaction themselves, dealing with the Hartford Wolfpack, the Rangers AHL affiliate. Lehigh Valley acquired goaltender Tom McCollum and forward Lewis Zerter-Gossage, also in exchange for future considerations. Both were assigned to the Flyers ECHL affiliate, the Reading Royals. Speaking of the Royals, they've won eight straight (their longest win streak since 2016-17), with prospect goalie Felix Sandström winning each of his last five starts.
Finally, let's end this news update with some fun stuff: trade rumors! Elliotte Friedman was the first to mention the Flyers in a concrete rumor, mentioning the latest article of in his critically-acclaimed 31 thoughts series that the Flyers were interested in bringing back former Flyer Jeff Carter. Carter was selected 11th overall in the legendary 2003 NHL Draft. He developed into an elite snipe, with 30+ goals in each of his final three seasons with the Flyers (2008-2011). He was traded to Columbus, then LA, where he was a huge part of the Kings' Stanley Cup wins in 2012 and 2014.
However, Carter has been severely on the decline the last few seasons, scoring 30 goals in 136 games over the last two seasons. Furthermore, he carries an expensive $5.272 million cap hit through 2022. If the Flyers were to acquire him, they would have to demote or trade a current roster player and convince the Kings to retain 50% of his cap hit (about $2.636 million). Carter would certainly give the Flyers third line the extra scoring depth and help at center would be a nice boost. But I don't think it's worth it to bring back Carter, especially because he could decline further and become an albatross over the final two seasons of his contract.
Another player the Flyers were mentioned to be in the market for is Ottawa's JG Pageau. The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun reported that he sees the Flyers "as a potential fit" should the Senators decide to deal the pending UFA center. Pageau is enjoying a breakout season, scoring a career-high 40 points (24 goals, 16 assists) in 59 games for Ottawa, who has scored the eighth fewest goals this season. Pageau is the Sens leading scorer this season, and he was a force in Ottawa's 2017 run to the Eastern Conference Finals, scoring 8 goals and 2 assists in 17 playoff games.
LeBrun also noted that the Flyers would likely not be willing to part with their 2020 first round pick, which is definitely a smart decision, considering how close to the bubble the Flyers are. The Flyers could give Ottawa a 2nd or 3rd round pick that could become a first if the Flyers advance deep into the playoffs (or perhaps if Pageau re-signs), in addition to other assets. If the Flyers are going to make a move, it will probably be for a bottom-six forward, preferably a center, to sure up their forward depth as the playoff push kicks into top gear.