Darren Dreger kick started a little controversy in Philadelphia today by reporting that Paul Holmgren and the Flyers are quietly shopping young center Brayden Schenn. The 22 year old, former 1st round pick of the Los Angeles Kings, was acquired only 2 years ago in the infamous Mike Richards trade. The prospect of trading a young player like Schenn tends to make die hard Flyers fans squirm. We’ve seen this before with guys like Justin Williams and Patrick Sharp, who went on to became star players in a different jerseys. But shopping Schenn is potentially the smartest thing the Flyers could do right now.
Its no secret the Flyers are hurting on defense. With Chris Pronger’s playing career effectively over, Kimmo Timonen is the only reliable puck moving d-man on the back end. At 38, he is holding down the Flyers top pairing and actually outplaying tough competition. In the last 3 seasons, there are no Flyers defensemen with better CorsiFor% and only a handful of forwards with better puck possession numbers. His career as a Flyer is nearing its end, and without Kimmo the defense simply doesn’t have any elite talent to anchor it. He’s absolutely going to be a tough player to replace.
Morin, Alt, Gostisbehere, and Haag are the Flyers best defensive prospects in the farm system. All of them are several years away from making an impact on the NHL rosters. While there is some solid potential here, they remain unproven at the NHL level. There isn’t the Seth Jones type, sure fire elite prospect waiting in the wings to take over for Kimmo. NHL free agency is a crapshoot, and the Flyers could end up overpaying for mid-range talent. So its incumbent upon Flyers brass to shop around for young, cost controlled talent on the blue line. And their biggest trade asset just so happens to be the young forward group.
Brayden Schenn is easily most expendable piece in the Flyers forward core and he should have substantial value around the league because he’s cheap, young, and producing points. Others may point to Sean Couturier as a potential trade piece, because his offensive production seems to be lagging behind Schenn’s. On the surface that may be true, but Couturier has played himself into an essential role on this roster. At 20 year’s old he’s getting assigned elite competition and he’s performing exceptionally well despite the tough defensive usage. Besides Giroux, he’s one of the few players that can be trusted to not only neutralize the other teams 1st line, but to outplay them on most nights. This kid can hang with the Sidney Crosby’s of the world and is the defensive backbone of hockey club. You just don’t trade a player like Sean unless the return is out of this world good. Schenn on the other hand is producing points in a sheltered scoring role, playing against 3rd line competition. And that’s fine for a player his age but it makes him replaceable particularly when the Flyers have so many other players in the organization who can fulfill that need. This isn’t a knock against Schenn, as he’s still a good, potentially great young player. But if he can net the Flyers a defender with similar upside, it would be foolish to not consider moving him.
To be clear, I’m not advocating the Flyers push Brayden out the door. Its still early in the season, but it should be obvious that the Flyers aren’t amongst the elite teams in contention for a cup this year or possible even the next. They are potentially a playoff bubble team but I’d argue their real cup window is a few years away. As such, the Flyers can afford to be patient with a young player like Schenn. Holmgren can wait for the right deal, at the right price for the defender the Flyers so desperately need. It is possible the Flyers move Schenn now, but I think its far more likely for him to be traded at the deadline or the draft.