The Philadelphia Flyers lost 4-2 to a struggling Tampa Bay Lightning team on Monday night and now enter a period of five straight off days in which management has plenty of time to consider moves that could improve this team.
The Flyers' latest loss dropped them to 13-16-1, in 12th place in the Eastern Conference. They are now five points from a playoff spot and only have 18 games left on the schedule to pick up points in the standings.
Let's look at three moves that general manager Paul Holmgren should consider over the next few days as he tries to make his roster stronger for the final stages of the playoff race.
The best-case scenario for the Philadelphia Flyers would be to acquire a No. 1 defenseman who will dominate defensively and shut down opposing team's top forwards. But those players are rarely available at the trade deadline, and if they are, the asking price is always substantial.
The most effective way for the Flyers to improve the depth and talent on their blue line is to trade for a defensive defenseman who will block shots, make smart decisions in his own zone, impact games physically and kill penalties.
There are several upcoming UFAs who could be available at the deadline for the right price. Here's a list of veteran defensemen who the Flyers should target in the two weeks leading up to the April 3 deadline.
- Ladislav Smid (EDM): The Oilers blueliner has a small $2.25 million cap hit and his 78 blocked shots is the third-highest total in the league. He would kill penalties and give the Flyers another physical presence on the blue line.
- Jordan Leopold (BUF): Jordan Leopold has just five points this season, but a change of scenery might benefit him. He has a $3 million salary cap hit and the Sabres may lose him in free agency for nothing if they don't trade him.
- Marc-Andre Bergeron (TBL): The Lightning defenseman has a solid two-way game and would make a contribution on special teams. His salary cap hit is only $1 million, he has a powerful shot from the point and is a big hitter.
- Rob Scuderi (LAK): The Flyers and Kings have made a few trades with each other over the last few years, but Scuderi is the perfect defensive defenseman for Philly to add at the deadline. He plays very well in his own end, he is capable of playing a lot of minutes against opposing team's top players and he kills penalties.
- Douglas Murray (SJS): The veteran defenseman has 61 blocked shots and 53 hits this season. If the Sharks become sellers at the deadline, Murray could be available as a UFA with good defensive skills and a high hockey IQ.
Daniel Briere has been a productive player for the Flyers since he joined the team as a free agent prior to the 2007-08 season, but he's no longer an elite player. If general manager Paul Holmgren is able to trade him for a defenseman, it would be in the team's best interests to make that deal.
The problem is that Briere's contract includes a no-movement clause, which gives him veto power over any trade.
He seems very comfortable in Philadelphia and has enjoyed a lot of success with the Flyers. But if the team wants to move on, maybe he would be willing to help the club and finish the season on a contending team with a chance to win the Stanley Cup.
His contract does not expire until the end of the 2014-15 season and has a salary cap hit of $6.5 million, which is a huge number for a player who is past his prime and no longer capable of scoring 60-plus points in a normal 82-game season.
Since Briere's eight-year, $52 million contract with the Flyers was front-loaded, his salary in the 2013-14 season is just $3 million, and his salary in 2014-15 is just $2 million. With that said, Briere's contract would be a great addition to a team that has plenty of salary cap space but doesn't want to have a high payroll.
One team in this situation is the St. Louis Blues, who need a veteran forward with playoff experience. The Blues have the most salary cap space in the NHL (about $19 million) and have depth on the blue line that they could use in the trade market to acquire a top-six forward such as Briere.
The Flyers have plenty of depth at forward, especially at center, so if Holmgren can find a few teams that are willing to offer a defenseman or a goaltender in exchange for Briere, he should ask the veteran forward to waive his NMC. If he refuses, the Flyers get to keep a fan favorite who is still a good offensive player.
The Flyers' goaltending situation is a mess, and until the team has some stability at this position it won't compete for a Stanley Cup.
Starting goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov has not been terrible season, but he has not performed at a high level on a consistent basis and is unable to make big saves, which does not instill confidence in his teammates.
Bryzgalov is 13-13-1 with a 2.79 GAA and a .898 save percentage thus far, and the Flyers' lack of a dependable backup gives them no choice but to play the 32-year-old veteran even when he struggles.
It's time for the Flyers to strongly consider making a move for Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo, who has a record of 7-4-3 with a 2.48 GAA and a .914 in 15 appearances this season despite being in a backup role for most of the season.
He would give the Flyers a reliable presence in net and someone who has plenty of experience playing under immense pressure from the media and fans.
Adding Luongo to the roster would instantly improve the team's ability to win games consistently (the Flyers have yet to win three straight games in 2013). He's an elite goaltender that is highly motivated to get back to the playoffs and finally win a Stanley Cup.
Vancouver needs to make a major move to turn their season around, because this team has gone 3-6-2 in its last 11 games, which has allowed the Minnesota Wild take over first place in the Northwest Division.
Cory Schneider should be the No. 1 goalie of the present and the future for the Canucks, but it's difficult to make this commitment when Luongo is still on the roster. Trading Luongo is one way for general manager Mike Gillis to add some depth to his roster for the playoffs and put Schneider in a situation where he doesn't have to worry about someone taking his starting job.
The Canucks have a massive need for a center who is capable of playing in a second or third line role with Ryan Kesler not able to play on a consistent basis because of injuries. Philadelphia has plenty of depth down the middle, and could offer Danny Briere, Maxime Talbot, Brayden Schenn or Sean Couturier in a potential deal for Luongo.
The problems in acquiring Luongo are obvious. His contract has nine years left on it and includes a $5.3 million salary cap hit. That's a huge contract for a 33-year-old, but the chances of Luongo not performing at an elite level over the next four to five seasons are slim. Not many goaltenders are as consistent as Luongo, and he also has a ton of playoff experience (61 games) and an Olympic gold medal.
If Luongo was acquired, then Bryzgalov would have to be bought out in the summer—but this Flyers team is not going to make the playoffs if its goaltending is not upgraded in the immediate future. Luongo is capable of winning games when the defensemen in front of him do not play well, and that isn't the case with Bryzgalov.
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. All salary information courtesy of Capgeek.