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Flyers will be aggressive in trying to add ahead of NHL Trade Deadline

Acquiring defenseman could be focus, GM Fletcher not pleased with mix of players at position

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

The Philadelphia Flyers are initiating conversations with other teams ahead of the NHL Trade Deadline on April 12.

"We're certainly not looking at selling right now," general manager Chuck Fletcher said Wednesday. "I would say to you in my calls with managers around the League, first of all, I've received very few calls. It's been really quiet in terms of receiving calls.

"I've made many. I've been much more aggressive, I think, than a lot of people, just looking at different options. But there doesn't seem to be a lot of teams out there willing to take on dollars and term at this point in time. There seem to be more teams looking to move some pieces than take on pieces for various reasons."

The Flyers are 4-8-1 in their past 13 games. They have allowed at least three goals in 12 of those 13 games, and at least four goals in nine of them. Their .346 points percentage in March is 28th in the NHL and their average of 4.38 goals against per game is 31st.

But the Flyers (15-12-4) are fifth in the MassMutual East Division, two points behind the Boston Bruins (16-8-4) and two ahead of the New York Rangers (14-13-4), whom they play at Wells Fargo Center on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; ESPN+, TVAS, NBCSP, MSG 2, NHL.TV). The top four teams in the eight-team division qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I do think we can rebound from this," Fletcher said. "I think we'll get a chance to catch our breath a little bit here. We don't have as many back-to-backs in the next little stretch here. We'll actually get a chance to have a practice or two, and I think we have a chance to reset a bit here. But we have good players. We need to play better."

Fletcher said the way the Flyers play up the ice puts pressure on the defensemen and goalies. He said the 27 goals the Flyers have allowed off the rush are by the far the most in the NHL, according to their internal numbers.

"We're going to have to do it quickly, but we feel we can fix it," Fletcher said.

Video: NHL Tonight on possible trade deadline scenarios

Still, the Flyers are looking at their personnel.

"I think the makeup of our group probably is not right," Fletcher said of the defense corps. "I think that's a fair comment. I think we do need to address that going forward to get the right mix, and certainly some of our young players need to continue to take steps. I think our back end, like the rest of our team, needs to get better."

The Flyers face the same dynamic they did in the offseason, when defenseman Matt Niskanen retired Oct. 5 and one week later they signed defenseman Erik Gustafsson to a one-year, $3 million contract as an unrestricted free agent. Fletcher said the Flyers wanted to do more, but the NHL salary cap stayed at $81.5 million. It is expected to remain flat for at least one more season.

"We aggressively looked at a lot of options this offseason," Fletcher said. "Certainly our cap situation was not helpful for adding significant dollars without moving significant dollars, and we looked at a lot of different things and this is what we ended up with.

"I think I said to somebody earlier, I don't think I ever spent more time on the phone than I did this offseason. For various reasons, things didn't break our way, the way we had hoped.

"It's a flat-cap era, and most teams are not looking to take on any money or any term right now. To add a player with dollars, you have to subtract the same amount. Those types of trades are a little bit more difficult to make."

Selections in the 2021 NHL Draft are difficult to value for potential use in trades because NHL teams have not been able to evaluate prospects amid the coronavirus pandemic as they would normally.

"I talked to a couple teams that prefer to take the picks in '22 for that very reason, to have more certainty," Fletcher said. "In some cases some teams have let some of their scouts go and don't feel they've had the coverage that they normally would.

"I've spoken to other teams that see opportunity in '21 because they feel there could be more randomness and having more picks you might be able to get some pretty good players in the mid and late rounds because of the lack of viewings.

"I'm not sure there's a consensus on that, but I've seen it both ways."

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