Flyers Ready to Strike Before Trade Deadline

Already one of the best teams in the NHL, the Philadelphia Flyers are poised to become deeper and better between now and the trade deadline. A league source tells FanHouse that Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren will exhaust all means necessary to put last year’s Stanley Cup finalist in the best position possible for another championship run.

Of course, when it comes to Philadelphia’s hockey franchise, this should not come as a surprise. Although the Flyers have not won a Stanley Cup since 1975, the commitment of owner Ed Snider to provide his hockey operations staff with the resources to build a contender has never been questioned. Philadelphia has lost in the Stanley Cup Final five times in the last 35 years.

The waiving of goaltender Michael Leighton and his $1.55 million hit gives Holmgren all the salary cap flexibility he needs to add a significant player to the roster by the Feb. 28 trade deadline. Cap space and money will not be an issue. Under Snider, the Flyers have always spent money to make money and again their fans have responded, filling the more than 19,000 seats at the appropriately-named Wells Fargo Center to 100.5% capacity through 20 home games.

The general manager will also be operating from a position of power; the fact is, the 24-10-5 Flyers are strong enough at every position that Holmgren does not have to make a trade. Philadelphia has been well-stocked at forward for over a year. Last summer, Holmgren strengthened the defense with a trade for Andrej Meszaros and free agent signing of Sean O’Donnell. A mid-season injury to Chris Pronger — he will resume skating on Thursday — gave the 36-year-old defenseman the kind of break he would never ask for but could use at this juncture of his Hall of Fame career.

Still, Holmgren has never been the kind of manager to settle. He also has been a tough executive to read. When the rest of the league thought Holmgren would (and should) go after an established goaltender at last year’s trade deadline, he expressed confidence in Leighton and Brian Boucher and they backstopped the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final. Instead, seemingly out of nowhere, the GM took a low-risk chance on wing Ville Leino, giving up just a fifth round pick to acquire the talented Finn. After earning the trust of coach Peter Laviolette, Leino was a vital part of the run to the Final and this season is the Flyer’s fifth-leading scorer.

What will Holmgren do to improve his contending team over the next six weeks? The bet here is an upgrade at right wing. Despite scoring 13 goals (and two assists) in 35 games, Nikolai Zherdev clearly has not won Laviolette’s full-time faith. Zherdev is averaging just 12:18 of icetime per game, lowest among the Flyers’ top-nine forwards.