The Philadelphia Flyers are currently tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and the only way for the team to fix its defensive problems is to acquire some blue-line depth from outside the organization.
Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren has been working the phones looking for a blueliner. There aren't many available, but it should be noted the Flyers could find a fit in San Jose, where the Sharks have depth on defence and GM Doug Wilson is listening to all offers.
Holmgren has very few options in the AHL, so making a trade is his best option. The only problem is that most playoff contenders will probably be looking for blue-line help too, which could result in teams having to pay steep prices for mid-level talent.
The Flyers rank 23rd in goals-against and they have allowed 17 goals in their last four games. With veteran defenseman Andrej Meszaros playing in just four games this season and still out of the lineup due to injury, the Flyers have not received a lot of scoring from the blue line.
Kimmo Timonen leads all Flyers defensemen with 13 points, but the eight other blueliners who have played for the team this season have combined for just 22 points.
Who can Holmgren pursue that will give his team some much-needed scoring and a reliable presence in the defensive zone? Let's take a look at five defensemen who would be a good fit in Philadelphia.
Ron Hainsey, Winnipeg Jets
One veteran player for the Flyers could target is Ron Hainsey, who Garrioch also talked about in his Sunday column:
You heard it here first: A name to watch at the trade deadline is defenceman Ron Hainsey. He is averaging more than 24 minutes per-game with the Winnipeg Jets and he leads the NHL in blocked shots. He is a UFA and there will be a lot of interest in him. GM Kevin Chevaldayoff is going to want to get a second-round pick for Hainsey in a decent draft.
Hainsey is capable of playing against opposing teams' top forwards and excelling on the penalty kill, which makes him an ideal target for the Flyers.
The 31-year-old veteran won't contribute much offensively (he has four points in 18 games this season), but his physical play, defense and dependability (he has played in 78 games in five of the last six seasons) would be valuable additions to the Flyers blue line.
Winnipeg ranks 17th in goals scored and 20th on the power play, and the Flyers have several forwards at the NHL level that could help the Jets in both of those areas.
If the Jets fall out of the playoff race (currently in 11th place), expect them to be sellers at the trade deadline. They have 15 players who are eligible for free agency this summer, so there are a lot of players for Winnipeg to dangle at the deadline.
Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk, Boston Bruins
If there is one team to call and ask about a trade for a defenseman, it's the Boston Bruins. They have tremendous blue-line depth at every level of their organization, and luckily for the Flyers, they need some scoring depth for the playoffs.
If Holmgren offered Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli a third line forward such as Ruslan Fedotenko or a draft pick, the Flyers might be able to acquire a veteran defenseman such as Andrew Ference.
Ference is in the final year of his contract with a salary cap hit of $2.25 million. The 33-year-old veteran has lots of playoff experience and has played in two Stanley Cup Final series, including the Bruins' seven-game triumph over the Vancouver Canucks in 2011. Ference would provide the Flyers with a reliable veteran presence, a player that doesn't make a lot of mistakes in his own zone and someone who can contribute on the power play.
If the Flyers want to make a major move, they could offer veteran forward Daniel Briere and ask for a player such as Johnny Boychuk in return. Philadelphia needs to create some cap room to re-sign important players, such as captain Claude Giroux over the next few seasons, and Briere's $6.5 million cap hit for 2013-14 doesn't give the Flyers a lot of flexibility.
Boychuk signed a three-year contract extension with the Bruins last season, which also includes a modified no-trade clause (per Capgeek). His cap hit is only $3.66 million, which is great value for a talented top-four defenseman who plays well at both ends of the ice.
The 29-year-old defenseman has a powerful shot from the point and is a hard hitter in open ice. He would have no problems transitioning to the Flyers from a physical Bruins team.
My moles tell me Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli & Flyers Paul Holmgren have been chatting thru entire intermission between 2nd & 3rd period. Hmmm— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) February 21, 2013
The Bruins have the most blue-line depth of any team in the league, so they are the best trade partner for any team looking to add a defenseman before the April 3 deadline.
Dan Boyle, San Jose Sharks
Dan Boyle is the perfect offensive defenseman for the Flyers to target. The San Jose Sharks star is one of the most reliable scoring defenseman in the league, evidenced by the fact that he has tallied 48 points or more in each of the last four seasons. He has nine points (two goals, seven assists) through 15 games this year.
One area that Boyle would definitely improve is the Flyers' special teams. He has six power play points (two goals, four assists) this season and leads the Sharks with 4:40 of power play ice time per game. San Jose also has the fifth-best penalty kill, and Boyle has been a huge part of that success.
In addition to his offensive skills, Boyle would also bring Stanley Cup winning experience to the Flyers roster. He won the 2004 Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and one of his teammate on that squad was current Flyers forward Fedotenko.
Which player would be the best fit in Philadelphia?
The only problem with Boyle is that his contract still has another year left on it with a cap hit of $6.67 million. That's not the kind of contract the Flyers should be acquiring with the salary cap going down to $64.3 million next season, especially since Boyle will be 37 in July. Although, the Flyers could trade for Boyle and buy him out in the summer to get rid of his cap hit. That's certainly an option to consider.
Boyle would probably cost the Flyers a talented young forward such as Matt Read or Brayden Schenn, but he would give Philadelphia the No. 1 defenseman it needs to contend for the Eastern Conference title in 2013.
Mark Streit, New York Islanders
Division rivals rarely trade with each other, but the New York Islanders would be wise to see what kind of interest there is in captain Mark Streit because he has the option of leaving the team in the summer as an unrestricted free agent.
He is still a quality offensive defenseman, and his ability to move the puck quickly out of the defensive zone would definitely help the Flyers' transition game. The Islanders captain has also averaged 53.5 points per season over the last five years (he missed the entire 2010-11 season due to injury).
If the Islanders continue to fall down the Eastern Conference standings (currently in 12th place), it wouldn't be surprising if they traded their captain to a contender, which would give him an opportunity to win the first Stanley Cup ring of his career.
Streit is 35 years old with a $4.1 million cap hit for this season.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs.