With the loss to Florida, the Flyers are now in the 9th spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs; 1 point out of the 8th spot and 3 points out of the 7th spot. A couple of good weeks (which they are due just based on luck alone) and they could be right back in the playoff hunt. The one thing that will hold this team back, however, is injury: Gagne is done for the year, Lupul has a high ankle sprain, Richards has a torn hamstring, Hatcher has a bum knee.
Now, what should GM Paul Holmgren do at the deadline? Is he a buyer or a seller? Tough to say, but here is what I would do:
1.) I would stand firm in not trading young assets such as VanRiemsdyk, Claude Giroux, Ryan Parent, and Steve Downie. The only way I would consider trading one of our really young players at this point is if you can a lead-pipe cinch of an all-star player in return. The only player out there like that that is still reasonably young is Marian Hossa, and the Flyers wouldn't be able to fit his next contract under the cap. Notice I did not list Carter or Umberger in the untouchable list.
2.) Find out what it would take to get Alex Tanguay. They need a wing to play with Danny Briere; Tanguay wants out of Calgary. The only catch is figuring out what it would take. I would consider trading a player like Carter or Umberger to get Tanguay only if Calgary threw something else in the mix trade-wise, like a high draft pick or a young player off of their roster. Tanguay doesn't like the pressure he's under to score with Calgary and hates Mike Keenan.
3.) Find out what Jason Smith's intentions are for next year. Press him for a decision. If he can't or won't decide, move him now. He has value as a rental during the playoffs because of his grit and determination. I have read in various places that Smith wants to sign with Calgary in the offseason because he has a home out there.
Nothing personal with Jason Smith; I like him as a player, but you hate like hell to see your captain walk away as a free agent after one year. Start over now if you have to at captain with Mike Richards.
4.) This is a good opportunity to figure out the goaltending situation. My preference would be to trade Niittymaki and get what you can for him. He's a free agent in the offseason, and you are not going to spend a ton of dough to keep both Niitty and Biron on the roster. I would trade Niittymaki to a team looking for a goaltender (Tampa?) and make Brian Boucher, playing well with the Phantoms, the back-up goaltender for the rest of this year and next.
5.) If you do not include Carter or Umberger in a deal for an Alex Tanguay, it is imperative to play these two guys a ton for the rest of the year to figure out what you are going to do with them long term. Carter, especially, because it is thought that he has more upside than Umberger.
Carter should take over Mike Richards' line during the time he is out and let's see what he could do over a 3-week period. Maybe even play Carter with Briere, since Carter supposedly has this great shot and Briere seems to only want to dish at this point. The Flyers need to know if Carter is a legitimate top-6 forward or not.
Other players from Carter's draft class are heavily counted on already in the NHL by their teams, so it is now time for Jeff Carter to stand up and be a player or just another guy on the team (Mike Richards, Eric Staal, Thomas Vanek, Dion Phaneuf, Brent Seabrook, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Patrice Bergeron, Shea Weber are some of the players part of the 2003 NHL draft class. All of these players are ahead of Carter, in terms of success and development, and half of them were drafted after Carter).
As for Umberger, I've always been ambivalent about him as a player, but others seem to think he's got some value (the Flyers' announcers seem to really like him). He's older than Carter; Umberger will be 26 in May and we should have seen more from him by now. Same deal with Umberger as with Carter as far as I'm concerned; put him in an expanded role and see how he handles it.
Both Umberger and Carter are going to look to get paid this off-season (as restricted free agents), but in my opinion, neither has done enough to deserve to be paid much more than they are getting now.
So what would all of these moves mean? It really means standing pat; I don't know if the Flames are even willing to deal Tanguay, but his name has been out there in rumors and the Flyers definitely have a need for another 1st or 2nd line forward.
Otherwise, I don't believe there is really anything out there, trade-wise, to push the Flyers into the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference. In light of that, it's better to see if the Flyers can sink or swim with what they have in house and to jettison some components that may or may not be part of the future.
(Photo courtesy of Yahoo.com; Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)