To answer the question straight out: No, the Flyers cannot make a serious run at the Stanley Cup without a substantial trade.
Sure, the Flyguys are going to make the playoffs, but the measuring stick for the Flyers is a Stanley Cup Championship, and the current roster, while very good, cannot compete with the elites of the Eastern Conference.
Prior to the weekend I would have answered "yes" to the question posed in the headline, but the combined 11-6 drubbing at the hands of Newark and New York has me pondering the identity of this Flyers squad.
Before the season began, it seemed this was a defensive-minded team.
Anchored by Kimmo Timonen and Chris Pronger, the Ilya Bryzgalov, Max Talbot, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier acquisitions appeared to signal a change to a 1-0, 2-1 mentality.
But the season has unraveled quite differently than expected.
Losing Chris Pronger's 22-plus minutes per game has exposed glaring holes in the Flyers' defensive depth.
Former All-Star Ilya Bryzgalov has more than a few of the Philadelphia faithful questioning his nine-year, $51 million contract as they watch weak goal after weak goal add up to some fairly underwhelming numbers: 2.86 GAA, .899 save-percentage.
But the re-vamped offense has, for the most part, delivered.
The Flyers are ranked second in the NHL with 173 goals scored (Boston-180).
Fifty-two games into the season the Flyers have a league-best nine players with 10-plus goals, as well as 12 players with 20-plus points. The Power Play is ranked fourth in the league, operating at 20.6 percent.
But recent offensive efforts against the divisional rival New York Rangers have me questioning the Flyers' chances against such a solid goaltender and strong, physical defense.
Philly has been outscored 14-6 in four games against the Rangers, all losses, and have failed to get more than two goals past Henrik Lundqvist is any of the four contests.
So what is this team's identity?
Before the weekend, the improved play of both Ilya Bryzgalov and the team defense as a whole created the perception that if the defense can continue to play to its potential, then Bryzgalov can find his game and eliminate the weak goals, and Danny Briere and James van Riemsdyk will eventually return healthy with fresh legs, proving a trade unnecessary. Ilya, Danny B and JvR would be better than a trade because their returns would not jeopardize on-and-off-ice chemistry.
But, alas, it appears Bryzgalov is still Mr. Inconsistent, and the defense is not not good enough without Captain Pronger, bringing forth the conclusion the Flyers cannot make a serious Cup run (Conference Finals and beyond) without an upgrade on the blueline.
Now, however, is where Flyers history begs for me to question the wisdom behind making a trade.
Don't get me wrong, if cap/roster space must be cleared to land Shea Weber, then the front office needs to make it happen, he's an elite player, a difference-maker and, at 26 years old, a safe bet to be an anchor on the blueline for the next decade—that is, if the Flyers can sign the Nashville Predators' captain long-term in this hypothetical world.
But Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn need to be marked as untouchable, with Matt Read as close to that distinction as possible.
There is a young foundation in the Flyers locker room that needs to be played out and allowed to reach its potential without an impulsive trade breaking up a good thing in the hopes of winning in this or that particular year alone.
That said, the most expendable players on the current roster, as I see them, are JvR, Jake Voracek and Matt Carle. Sergei Bobrovsky could have value as well, but many teams don't need a goalie (read: the Nashville Predators).
Would you trade one of those four, or any combination, for a standout defender?
The Flyers need a plus-player (+/-) who can set a physical tone and intimidate while playing solid defensive hockey for 20-plus minutes every night.
Without acquiring such a player, I do not see how the Flyers, as they are currently constructed, can win a physical seven-game series against New York or the Boston Bruins—teams they will no doubt see in a long playoff run.
Bryzgalov needs a defender to clear his porch, especially during this time of strained confidence. While Ilya has been anything but great so far, he cannot be held solely responsible as defensive-zone turnovers and blown coverages, by both D-men and forwards, have plagued the orange and black all season.
But again, letting this young team experience the playoffs, realize what it takes to win in the championship tournament and grow as a team no matter what round they're eventually eliminated in may be the smartest move for the franchise, although I understand wanting to win now while Timonen, Briere and Hartnell are still around.
So tell me, loyal readers, what would you like to see the Flyers do? Personally, unless it involves trading JvR, I'd like to see them stand pat and see what the group from training camp can do.
Then, of course, pursue Shea Weber in free agency this summer.