Flyers

Jason Zucker trade, Seth Jones injury have impact on Flyers' chances in NHL playoff race

Jason Zucker trade, Seth Jones injury have impact on Flyers' chances in NHL playoff race

The crazy Metropolitan Division became even crazier in a span of 24 hours.

As the Flyers took care of business Monday night and prepared for another big game Tuesday night, they saw two notable headlines that could impact their playoff push.

On Monday night, the Penguins made a splash by acquiring winger Jason Zucker in a trade with the Wild. On Tuesday afternoon, the Blue Jackets announced defenseman Seth Jones underwent surgery for a fractured ankle and is expected to miss eight to 10 weeks.

Both news items apply to the Flyers, who entered Tuesday holding the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot and a 65.2 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to Hockey-Reference.com. The Flyers came into their road game against the Islanders only one point behind the Blue Jackets in the divisional race and four points back of the second-place Penguins.

Zucker is a quality addition for experienced Pittsburgh, which plays the Flyers once more on March 29 at the Wells Fargo Center. The 28-year-old scored 33 goals in 2017-18 and will complement Sidney Crosby on the Penguins' top line. Zucker is projected to finish with 20-plus goals for the fifth time in his career and has the chance to boost Pittsburgh's middle-of-the-pack power play.

The Blue Jackets, who have been a surprise postseason contender, suffered a blow with Jones' injury. The three-time All-Star has 30 points (six goals, 24 assists) and leads Columbus in ice time per game (25:17). No Blue Jacket has played more shorthanded minutes than Jones and only Zach Werenski has more power play points on the team.

The Flyers, who are already 2-0-0 against Columbus after losing all four meetings last season (0-2-2), play a home-and-home set with the Blue Jackets next week. They won't see Jones, who has six career goals vs. the Flyers, his most against any NHL team.

Will Columbus be able to weather the loss of Jones and stay in the playoff hunt? That's a valid question. Coming into Tuesday, six of the NHL's top 10 teams were from the Metropolitan Division.

Some traffic could clear for the Flyers because of Jones' absence. Never count out John Tortorella's team, though.

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2020 NHL trade deadline: Everything Flyers fans need to know

2020 NHL trade deadline: Everything Flyers fans need to know

The NHL trade deadline will arrive Monday at 3 p.m. ET.

Deals can be processed after the cutoff point, but around the deadline time, we should know for certain what the Flyers will look like moving forward.

So, what are the key questions surrounding the Flyers' outlook?

Let's dive into everything you need to know ahead of the deadline:

Where do Flyers stand in playoff race?

With 20 games remaining, the Flyers sit in third place of a busy Metropolitan Division. They are five points behind the first-place Capitals and three points back of the second-place Penguins. The Islanders, Hurricanes and Blue Jackets are all within striking distance.

For some context on how deep the division is compared to the league's other three, the Rangers are in seventh place of the Metro but would secure the first wild-card spot if they were in the Western Conference.

At 35-20-7, a top-eight team in the league and projected to finish with around 100 points, the Flyers entered Sunday holding an 83.4 percent chance to make the postseason, according to Hockey-Reference.com.

How should Flyers approach deadline?

Last season, general manager Chuck Fletcher was selling parts. Prior to the deadline, he traded Wayne Simmonds, Jordan Weal, Christian Folin, Dale Weise, Taylor Leier and Anthony Stolarz.

This season, there is no For Sale sign. The Flyers are contenders and Fletcher, in his first full season as GM, will not be looking to subtract. If anything, the Flyers will buy to strengthen their playoff push.

However, adding won't be easy. The Flyers have a little over $2 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly.com. To make an expensive, splashier acquisition, the Flyers would have to lose a player or players in a deal, and that might not be Fletcher's objective with how well his team is playing.

“You have to maybe look at including players in the deal. It’s hard to trade a fourth-round pick for a $4 million player," Fletcher said in mid-January. "With our group right now, I don’t know that’s what we’re looking to do. If we can improve our team, we will.

"For our situation, I don't know if it makes sense to pay a massive price for a rental right now. I don't think that that is the right move for this group but if we can add a forward that can help our team, sure."

Which areas will Flyers target?

One of the Flyers' biggest areas of strength is on defense and the team is getting healthier at the position with Shayne Gostisbehere's return. After a disastrous 2018-19 in net, the Flyers have gotten excellent stability from Carter Hart and Brian Elliott.

So if the Flyers make moves, they'll likely be eyeing bottom-six forward depth, particularly at center. For a while, it appeared the team was lacking consistent and secondary scoring.

But the Flyers have improved in those facets and have seen significant strides from their younger forwards Connor Bunnaman, Joel Farabee and Nicolas Aube-Kubel. With Morgan Frost (three goals, two assists in last five games at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley) available for another call-up and Nolan Patrick (migraine disorder) in the fold, the Flyers may stand pat Monday at center.

The Flyers are a top-10 goal-scoring club (3.24 per game) and 13-5-1 with an NHL-high 68 markers since Jan. 8. Meanwhile, their goal prevention has been vastly better all year (2.87 goals allowed per game) after it was a real problem last season (3.41 goals allowed per game).

"I like my team," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said Saturday. "I know that Chuck looks at any option that can improve our team, he’s been doing that since the first day that I was hired. Now we’re into the final stretch. If there’s something that he feels can improve our team, he’ll definitely look at it. But I’m very happy moving forward with the players that we have here.”

Could any Flyers be moved?

It feels unlikely unless Fletcher pulls off something big.

Gostisbehere has seen his name pop up in trade rumors going back to last season. The defenseman is an attractive chip because he's not far removed from a career 65-point year in 2017-18, is only 26 years old and under contract for the next three seasons at a reasonable $4.5 million cap hit.

Robert Hagg, who just turned 25 years old, has played well this season and will be a restricted free agent in the offseason.

The Flyers have depth on the blue line and quality defensive prospects in the system — Egor Zamula, Cam York, Wyatt Kalynuk, Mark Friedman and Wyatte Wylie, to name some.

If they have a position from which to shed in order to improve another, it's defenseman.

Three players on the Flyers' current roster have expiring contracts this offseason — Elliott, Justin Braun and Tyler Pitlick. Those three aren't going anywhere at the deadline.

What are Flyers' assets?

The Flyers have a first- and second-round pick this summer. Overall, they have eight selections in the 2020 NHL draft — a first, second, two fourth-rounders, a fifth, sixth and two seventh-rounders.

The organization, of course, has an appealing prospect pool, as well, highlighted by Frost, York, Zamula, Isaac Ratcliffe, Jay O'Brien, Bobby Brink, Tanner Laczynski and Noah Cates, among others.

“I don’t think we need to mortgage the future to try to get into the playoffs this year," Fletcher said earlier this month in an interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia's Taryn Hatcher. "I think our team is more than capable of getting into the playoffs with what we have, but if we can find a way to improve our team for this season and going forward, we’ll definitely not be hesitant to make a move right now.”

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Flyers NHL trade deadline option: A boost from Ducks' Derek Grant?

Flyers NHL trade deadline option: A boost from Ducks' Derek Grant?

Leading up to the Feb. 24 NHL trade deadline, we'll look at potential targets on the market and why they may or may not fit the Flyers' plans.

Derek Grant

Age: 29
Height: 6-3
Weight: 206
Team: Anaheim Ducks
2019-20 cap hit: $700,000

Scouting report

The well-traveled center has picked an opportune time for a career year. Grant, who is playing for his sixth NHL team, already owns a personal-best 14 goals and is five points away from breaking his career high of 24 set in 2017-18.

Grant, who has some positional versatility, possesses the characteristics the Flyers targeted last offseason — quality size, good physicality and strength in puck battles.

He's not highly skilled or an active playmaker, but the fourth-line center leads Anaheim's forwards in shorthanded minutes per game and is solid in the faceoff circle.

Projection

This one checks a lot of boxes.

It would make sense for the Ducks, who are in second-to-last place of the Western Conference, to sell high on Grant's stock. He's an older role player putting up career numbers and can become an unrestricted free agent in the offseason.

Grant's cap hit fits the Flyers' plans and he wouldn't block the team's future down the middle given his expiring contract.

The Flyers very well may be happy enough with 21-year-old Connor Bunnaman's play. And if they want more offense, Morgan Frost is heating up at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley (three goals, two assists in last five games). The 2017 first-round pick could take over third-line center duties, while Scott Laughton would give the Flyers tons of depth at fourth-line center.

But if they want more experience and a player enjoying his best offensive season yet, Grant is a nice option. Adding him would likely only require trading a lower-round draft pick.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

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