Future Is Bleak for NHL's Pennsylvania Teams as Penguins, Flyers Botch Trade Deadline

Adam GretzMarch 5, 2023

MONTREAL, QUEBEC - JULY 08: Ron Hextall of the Pittsburgh Penguins attends the 2022 NHL Draft at the Bell Centre on July 08, 2022 in Montreal, Quebec. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers might be in very different positions in the standings this season, but they do have one thing in common: management teams that do not seem to have any sort of coherent plan for what they are doing.

They both demonstrated that through the 2023 NHL trade deadline this past week.

In both instances, it all seemed like a big missed opportunity for what needed to be done.

Or what could have been done.

Or perhaps even what should have been done.

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby skates with the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Friday, Nov. 25, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
AP Photo/Matt Slocum

It should be especially concerning for each team given the aggressiveness and moves made by their counterparts in the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference.

Let's start in Pittsburgh, where the best moves made by general manager Ron Hextall seemed to be him erasing some of his own mistakes from the past two years.

All season the common refrain coming out of Pittsburgh was that the Penguins didn't have the resources in terms of prospects or young assets to entice a team to trade with them. Their salary-cap situation would not give them the flexibility to add somebody who could make an impact.

When it comes to the former (the assets to trade), the cost for some of the top targets ended up being minimal and the sort of packages the Penguins could have easily matched.

TAMPA, FLORIDA - MARCH 02: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks to pass in the first period during a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on March 02, 2023 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Ottawa got defenseman Jakob Chychrun without giving up a single player or prospect. The New Jersey Devils landed Timo Meier without giving up any of their best young players off the NHL roster and none of their top prospects. Outside of the price that Tampa Bay paid to Nashville for forward Tanner Jeannot, there were not really any overwhelmingly high prices paid for teams to upgrade.

As far as salary-cap space was concerned, the Penguins actually managed to clear a significant chunk of salary-cap space both this season and in future seasons by waiving forward Kasperi Kapanen (and having him luckily get claimed), trading Brock McGinn, trading Teddy Blueger and sending defenseman Mark Friedman to the American Hockey League.

All of those moves gave the Penguins $6 million in salary-cap flexibility for the trade deadline and cleared more than $5 million off the books for next season. Combined with all of the other salaries they have coming off the books after this season, that would have given the Penguins a significant amount of salary-cap space to work with to build around their core.

Instead of taking advantage of that opportunity both now and in the future, Hextall traded a second-round pick for Mikael Granlund and his $5 million per year salary for the next two full seasons with no salary retained. He basically just lit that salary-cap space on fire and completely undid the work he put in to create it.

There is nothing wrong with Granlund as a player in a vacuum, and he might even have some positive value to the right team in the right situation. But is that team Pittsburgh? On paper, he solves none of the Penguins' issues.

TAMPA, FL - MARCH 2: Tanner Jeannot #84 of the Tampa Bay Lightning against Mikael Granlund #64 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the third period at Amalie Arena on March 2, 2023 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images)
Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images

He doesn't fit the third-line center spot, he isn't a strong goal scorer, he doesn't skate as well as he used to, he is not very effective on the forecheck, he is another player over the age of 31, he makes more than $5 million per year and he isn't good defensively. He has good vision, he can pass the puck and he is a smart player, but he does not really move the needle for them now or in the future. It was just a wasted opportunity.

Especially when just a few days earlier Nashville traded a better winger with a better contract in Nino Niederreiter for the exact same price (a second-round draft pick).

After that, Hextall added two more rentals in Nick Bonino and Dmitry Kulikov, giving them two more players over the age of 30. After the additions of those two, the Penguins now have 15 of their 23 roster spots going to players over the age of 30, with Rickard Rakell set to join them.

Nothing about their moves makes any sense, from ignoring their needs to wasting any new salary-cap space they find to bringing back their core of veterans with an aging team but not being willing to trade their first-round pick to help them out.

The mismanagement has not been limited to the western side of the state of Pennsylvania, because things are looking even worse in Philadelphia, where the team is not only bad right now, but it also lacks any sort of coherent plan.

Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher is under fire for a disappointing NHL Trade Deadline.
Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher is under fire for a disappointing NHL Trade Deadline.AP Photo/Matt Rourke

The Flyers talked a big game before the season about being aggressive this offseason but, outside of hiring John Tortorella and bringing in Tony DeAngelo, didn't really do anything to meaningfully alter the direction of the team. They didn't even make an offer for top free agent Johnny Gaudreau, were seemingly not involved in any other major players who changed teams and have just been rearranging deck chairs for the past two or three years.

Management refuses to use the word rebuild, even though it is exactly what the franchise needs.

Tortorella seems to be the only person involved with the team who has been willing to speak about how far away the Flyers are from competing, which is odd because that sort of messaging usually comes from the general manager.

Russ Joy @JoyOnBroad

Chuck Fletcher admits calling the Flyers plan in early 2022 a "retool" was "probably a stupid comment." Goes on to explain how calling this a "rebuild" scares him. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Flyers?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Flyers</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/FueledByPhilly?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#FueledByPhilly</a> <a href="https://t.co/SMDds2N3zT">pic.twitter.com/SMDds2N3zT</a>

Instead of leaning into a rebuild at the deadline, and after general manager Chuck Fletcher said they would be sellers, the only move the Flyers made was to trade Zack MacEwen for Brendan Lemieux and a fifth-round draft pick.

They did not trade pending unrestricted free agents James van Riemsdyk or Justin Braun. They did not shed any of their big salaries on defense that are problematic going forward. They did not move anybody who could bring back a meaningful return.

VANCOUVER, CANADA - FEBRUARY 18: James van Riemsdyk #25 of the Philadelphia Flyers waits for a face-off during the second period of their NHL game against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena on February 18, 2023 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Derek Cain/Getty Images)
Derek Cain/Getty Images

Not trading van Riemsdyk was the non-move that seemed to draw the most criticism because it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that he would go and was the most logical trade chip the team had. For him to still remain in Philadelphia after the deadline just seems like awful work by Fletcher and Co.

Like Pittsburgh, there seems to be no semblance of a plan. Only in this case, it might be worse. At least the Penguins for now can fall back on the idea of being a playoff team, even if it's a flawed playoff team that might not be Stanley Cup-caliber. The Flyers are just toiling along in mediocrity. Not good enough to be a playoff team, not outright bad enough to be a top lottery team. They also do not seem to realize what they are with bizarre asset management.

In 2021, they traded a first-round pick for Rasmus Ristolainen and re-signed him to a long-term deal despite poor defensive metrics across the board.

JFresh @JFreshHockey

Rasmus Ristolainen, reportedly signed to a 5x$5M extension by PHI, is a defenceman who has continually performed at a very poor level throughout his nine-year NHL career, particularly defensively. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BringittoBroad?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BringittoBroad</a> <a href="https://t.co/RK3PD7eU1K">pic.twitter.com/RK3PD7eU1K</a>

They traded two draft picks to get Arizona to take on the remainder of Shayne Gostisbehere's contract, and then a year later gave up three more draft picks to acquire DeAngelo, who is arguably a worse version of Gostisbehere, and then paid him more money. It is all baffling stuff.

JFresh @JFreshHockey

Tony DeAngelo will be a healthy scratch. That might help the Flyers' team defence a tad. <a href="https://t.co/fjhR1qE1hd">pic.twitter.com/fjhR1qE1hd</a>

The Hurricanes are still the class of the division, while the Devils have improved by leaps and bounds and might have the best young talent in the division. The Rangers were in the Eastern Conference Final a year ago and loaded up at the trade deadline. For all of the Capitals' flaws this season, they at least seem to have a plan on how to transition into their next phase.

The Penguins and Flyers, meanwhile, just spun their wheels over the past two weeks.