According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, the Philadelphia Flyers have acquired 34-year-old defenseman Pavel Kubina in exchange for minor-leaguer Jon Kalinski, Florida's conditional second-round pick and a Flyers fourth-roud pick.
The trade, coming two days after Philadelphia traded for Dallas’ similarly-built Nicklas Grossman, has completely turned the Flyers defense from an undersized, ineffective liability to a physically imposing force.
Whether or not these two new players solve any of the team’s issues with allowing goals and protecting the net remains to be seen, but the blue line’s lack of size is now a distant memory rather than a pressing concern.
The trouble is that the Flyers now have seven very legitimate starters in Kubina, Grossman, Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Andrej Meszaros, Marc-Andre Bourdon and Matt Carle. This abundance of defensemen may have put a ticking clock on Carle’s tenure in Philadelphia.
Carle is certainly a top-four defenseman, and teams are always reticent to trade an asset like that. But it seems unlikely that Flyers GM Paul Holmgren would trade for two defensemen in two days, just to have one of them ride the bench.
It’s possible that rookie Bourdon would be the team’s healthy scratch, but his play has been impressive enough that he has earned the right to be a top-six defenseman. Why would the Flyers acquire someone that would put Bourdon’s development on hold, unless the long-term plan made room for the rookie?
Carle is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. He and Coburn faced similar contract situations at the start of the season. The popular belief in the media was that, with Timonen, Meszaros and Chris Pronger taking up cap space, only one of the two would land a deal, which would likely be at least $4 million per year.
In November, Coburn signed a four-year, $18-million extension, effectively shutting the door on Carle unless Holmgren could pull off a miracle.
Because of his offensive and defensive success, as well as his age (27), Carle has a trade value higher than most Flyers fans might expect. He’s no Ryan Suter or Shea Weber, but many teams would find him to be a valuable second-pair defenseman or even a good complement to a big, powerful first defenseman.
With Rick Nash rumors taking off in Philadelphia, Carle may have suddenly become a bargaining chip in a deal to bring Nash to the Wells Fargo Center—or another big-name trade. Seventy-two hours ago, the Flyers wouldn’t dream of giving up a member of their already-fragile defensive corps. Now they have an opportunity to get a substantial return for a defenseman they will likely lose for nothing in the offseason.
For the Flyers, getting something for Carle that will address their current issues is extremely unlikely. Goaltending is the team’s Achilles' heel—for the umpteenth year in a row—and Ilya Bryzgalov and his nine-year deal aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
But trading Carle could bring in yet another long-term investment, similar to Holmgren’s moves to acquire Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Max Talbot, etc. this past summer.
Carle’s chances of being part of the team’s future are dwindling, and with no real recourse to address the goaltending atrocity, Holmgren has an opportunity to upgrade the team in the near future, whether that means acquiring a few draft picks, a young prospect or Nash himself.
That’s not to say that anyone should start stitching Nash’s No. 61 to an orange jersey, but the notion seems just a tad less ridiculous—and just a tad less unlikely—than it did when the rumors started.
Matt Carle just may be the fall guy for Paul Holmgren’s bigger plan.
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