Why the Philadelphia Flyers Must Be Active at the 2014 NHL Trade Deadline

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Why the Philadelphia Flyers Must Be Active at the 2014 NHL Trade Deadline
Tom Mihalek/Associated Press
Kimmo Timonen remains the Flyers' top offensive defenseman.

The Philadelphia Flyers find themselves in the thick of a closely contested race to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs as the NHL season resumes following the Olympic break. 

With the trade deadline fast approaching, it should be expected that general manager Paul Holmgren is busy trying to make a major deal to ensure his team not only reaches the playoffs, but has the potential to make a long run once they get there.

As of right now, however, Holmgren seems content to more or less stick with the players he has right now.

Recently, Holmgren told Sam Carchidi of The Philadelphia Inquirer that major changes are not forthcoming:

"I like our team. I like the way we were playing when the Olympic break started," Holmgen explained. "Right now, if there’s something we can do that can help our team a little bit down the stretch, we would probably look at doing it --as long as it doesn’t disrupt what we have stockpiled."

When asked if he expected to make a major deal at the trade deadline, the Flyers' GM was direct and to the point. "I don’t," he said.

Matt Slocum/Associated Press
It's decision time for GM Paul Holmgren.

Hockey fans in Philadelphia have to hope Holmgren is just being coy with the media. The fact is, the Flyers are not good enough right now to win more than one or two playoff rounds and that's assuming they qualify for the postseason.

Some people have compared this year's Flyers team with the 2010 club that made a Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Final before losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games. The Flyers are in third place now in the Metropolitan Division, while they finished third in 2010. The team fired a coach during the regular season in 2010 and they did the same thing early in the current campaign. In 2010, the Flyers made the playoffs in the season's final game. It could be another photo finish this April.

There are some other potential similarities as well, especially at forward. The Flyers had experienced leaders like Simon Gagne and Daniel Briere at forward in 2010. This year's club also has some experienced leaders up front if players like Scott Hartnell and Vincent Lecavalier start producing consistently in the playoffs like Gagne and Briere did four years ago.

In goal, the Flyers are probably stronger this year than they were in 2010. Steve Mason doesn't have a proven playoff track record, but the duo of Mason and Ray Emery has to grade out higher than Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton, the duo that played goal during the long playoff run in 2010.

But that's where the similarities end. The biggest difference is on defense. Philadelphia lacks a championship-caliber defensive corps this year. The defense has been too slow and has turned the puck over in their own zone too often to win big in the playoffs when you are constantly facing top competition.

Holmgren tried to support his defensemen. He told Carchidi, "I think our defense has played pretty well as a group. Could we improve it? I don’t know."

There is little doubt the defense can be upgraded, the question become whether or not Holmgren feels it's in the team's best interests to go for it this year or to wait and try to develop younger players for the long term.

TOM MIHALEK/Associated Press
Chris Pronger was captain of the 2010 Flyers.

The biggest difference the 2010 team had on defense was Chris Pronger. He was the Flyers' ultimate leader and minute muncher on defense that season. There is nobody on the current roster who comes close to Pronger's leadership, experience and standout play in his own zone. Pronger also played roughly 30 minutes a game in 2010. The Flyers just don't have a defenseman or even a group of defensemen who can match Pronger's productivity.

There are no Chris Prongers available at the trade deadline, but there are defenemen who could help Philadelphia improve its current roster. Players like Dustin Byfuglien, Dan Girardi, Andrew MacDonald and Tom Gilbert would all be upgrades for the Flyers even if division rivals are unlikely to deal Girardi or MacDonald to Philadelphia.

Of this group, Byfuglien is probably the one who can be the biggest potential short-term difference maker. When motivated, Byfuglien is capable of taking over a game as he showed during the run to the 2010 Stanley Cup. The key is to keep the big man's intensity up as it has been inconsistent throughout his NHL career.

Should the Flyers upgrade their defense corps before the trade deadline?

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The bottom line is that if the Flyers want a realistic chance to win the Stanley Cup this year, they need to upgrade their defense. If they prefer to build for the long term and wait for some of their defensive prospects to develop, they can stand pat. That's a legitimate choice for management to make and may even be wise in the long run. It is not typically what the Flyers have done in recent years.

Rest assured if the Flyers don't upgrade their defense, they will be fortunate to win more than one playoff round this spring.

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