Chuck Fletcher said the Flyers "certainly were not looking to move" Philippe Myers or Nolan Patrick.
But to negotiate and land a deal for a top-pair, righty-shot defenseman, a team must utilize its depth and make a calculated decision.
"You have to give to get," the Flyers' general manager said Saturday night.
The Flyers addressed their biggest hole — one that was as gaping as it was costly last season — by trading for Ryan Ellis, a 30-year-old, all-situation blueliner. To pull off the deal, Fletcher sent the 24-year-old Myers and 22-year-old Patrick to the Predators. Nashville general manager David Poile then moved Patrick to the Golden Knights for Cody Glass.
The Flyers' crucial offseason was in the starting blocks and just took off.
"It was very difficult," Fletcher said of the decision to part ways with Myers and Patrick. "David Poile, give him credit, he wanted to add some younger, quality pieces to his roster. We went back and forth for a while, various scenarios and this is what we settled on. Phil Myers is a young man who is going to be a real good defenseman in this league for a long time. And I still believe in Patty. Last year I thought was a step forward for him in terms of his health and getting back on the ice. I think the production will come and the confidence will come as he continues in his career."
The trade came just a couple of hours before Fletcher and company had to submit the club's protection list for the expansion draft Wednesday night, when the Kraken will build their first-ever roster. Both Myers and Patrick were expected to be protected by the Flyers. Now, the Flyers have the opportunity to protect James van Riemsdyk if they so choose to. The Flyers' protection list will be released Sunday.
With the acquisition of Ellis, the Flyers filled their Matt Niskanen void, which was created when the Stanley Cup-winning defenseman retired in October following the Flyers' 2020 second-round playoff exit in September.
With the flat cap and the hope of their youngsters seizing more responsibility, the Flyers tried replacing the invaluable Niskanen by committee and it backfired badly. The Flyers missed the playoffs in the shortened, coronavirus-impacted 2020-21 campaign, yielded the NHL's most goals per game at 3.52 and owned the 30th-ranked penalty kill. Those marks did not fall squarely on the Niskanen absence, but the failure to fill the veteran's void had a lot to do with them.
"I think there was a lot of focus on the fact we didn't defend as well, but to me, we just defended too much," Fletcher said. "If we move the puck cleaner and more quickly out of our defensive zone, then we won't have to defend as much. I think Ryan's a good defender, but I think we'll have the ability to transition the puck better and get up the ice and he's a pretty elite defenseman in terms of the transition game."
Ellis and Provorov have the potential to be a bona-fide top pair. Ellis, who is under contract for the next six seasons with an annual cap hit of $6.250 million, has 199 points (55 goals, 144 assists) in 360 games over the past six seasons. In that span, his plus-94 rating is fourth best among all NHL defensemen, behind only Ryan McDonagh (plus-112), Victor Hedman (plus-112) and Zdeno Chara (plus-105).
The 24-year-old Provorov has played five NHL seasons. He has not missed a game, playing all 371 and putting up the following numbers: 50 goals, 109 assists and 24:08 minutes per game.
You'll notice how Provorov has played more games than Ellis since 2015-16 despite playing one fewer season. Ellis has an injury history. He missed a month last season because of an upper-body injury that required surgery. He was limited to 44 games in 2017-18 because of knee surgery the offseason prior. In 2018-19, he played all 82 games.
Fletcher was asked what gave him confidence that Ellis will age well going into his 30s.
"It's a fair question," Fletcher said. "That's a concern with [every player]. He's 30 years old and we believe he has good hockey ahead of him. It's tough to predict injuries. Certainly he's a man that plays hard but there's no reason to think that he can't [age well]. We like him a lot as a player, we like the cap hit — we think it's a fair number and we also like the fact that he's already signed, he's not a player that we traded for and now have to turn around and find a way to sign a contract in the next year or so. You bring some cost certainty, we can plug that number in over the next few years and I think it's a very fair cap number for the quality of hockey player that we acquired."
Patrick's time in Philadelphia did not pan out the way many had hoped and anticipated when the center was taken second overall in the 2017 draft. Following a 30-point rookie season and a 31-point Year 2, Patrick missed all of 2019-20 as he battled a migraine disorder. After going 650-plus days without playing an NHL game, Patrick returned to the Flyers' lineup last season and played in 52 of the club's 56 games. However, with the missed time and the crammed schedule, Patrick stomached a season-long struggle from a production and effectiveness standpoint. He finished with nine points (four goals, five assists) and a minus-30 mark.
"It was really hard, I feel like I came in behind the 8-ball," Patrick said in May. "I was struggling to find my game and clearly didn't adjust great and get back to the top of my game quick. And it showed."
Patrick was not drafted by the Flyers' current regime of Fletcher and assistant general manager Brent Flahr, both of whom took over the club's reins in December 2018.
"Nolan's been through a lot of adversity," Fletcher said. "Certainly a lot of things have been out of his control, he's dealt with some things that you don't wish on anybody. I still think he has his career ahead of them. In this case, we moved him today to acquire one of the better defensemen in the NHL. We feel we made a hockey trade and Nolan was a big piece of this trade and of our ability to acquire Ryan Ellis. I think there's still a story to be written by Nolan for his career. I'm certainly pulling for him and I think the world of him. He's battled through a lot of adversity.
"In moving Nolan, I know everybody will interpret it the way they want to interpret it, but for us, we moved two good young players today — that was the price to doing business to acquire a quality two-way defenseman that we feel we really needed to take a step forward as an organization. And frankly, we feel a guy like Ryan will also aid in the development of some of our young players that we have here, too. We want to win more games and we want our young players to be put in the best position to succeed."
Two years ago, Fletcher was noting how the Flyers were "bullish" on the upside of Myers, an undrafted defenseman who had worked his way into becoming one of the club's top prospects. The big, mobile blueliner had a promising rookie season in 2019-20 but then endured a challenging 2020-21 with injuries and inconsistency.
There is still plenty of upside with Myers, who has only 115 games under his belt. For the Flyers, having prospects Cam York and Egor Zamula not far away likely alleviated the sting of moving Myers. The appealing upside of Myers made him wanted in order for the Flyers to land a defenseman the caliber of Ellis.
"We feel we have a lot of quality young players still in our system, a lot of quality prospects still in our system and we still have all of our draft picks," Fletcher said. "We're going to need a lot of young assets to fill in, it is a flat-cap era and I think we feel comfortable with the quality and quantity of the young players that we still have in our organization. The opportunity to add a player like Ryan was too good to pass up — he's what we need at this time."
He's a loud kick-starter to the Flyers' offseason that has just begun.
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