The Flyers are currently tied for the second-best points percentage in the NHL (shared by the Boston Bruins), but most fans this year would agree that those results are despite the team’s play. Philadelphia clearly has some issues to work out with the current roster, especially concerning the defense. The bottom pair trio of Robert Hägg, Erik Gustafsson, and Justin Braun have been unacceptable. The third pairing has also struggled with Mark Friedman and Nate Prosser rotating in. The solution to this issue likely lies outside of the organization, considering the trajectory of top defensive prospects Yegor Zamula and Cam York. However, the Flyers are in a cap crunch and will need to consider the upcoming expansion draft. The ideal player to patch this hole is a play-driving defenseman who can win puck battles and contribute in transition, all for a low acquisition price while on a cheap contract. That’s a tall task for Chuck Fletcher, but the Montreal Canadiens might’ve given him a solution this week.
According to TSN, Victor Mete requested a trade this week, and the rumors have been swirling ever since. The 22-year-old is on a one-year contract worth $735,000 against the cap, making him one of the few players available to the Flyers that wouldn’t require them to shed serious salary. Mete isn’t a point producer and is well known for his hilariously long goal droughts, but in terms of bottom-pair defenders, his production has been pretty standard. Four goals and 31 points in 171 NHL games put him right in the neighborhood of Robert Hägg’s slash line (11/42/202). Why do I think Mete could fit as a player for this team? Let’s look at his profile.
Does Victor Mete Make Sense?
Mete is as rock-solid a bottom pair player as you’ll find, even at a young age. Over the past three seasons (not including this one due to a lack of sample size), Mete has ranked among the league’s elite in impact by xGA/60 and xGF/60; his 2017-2018 season RAPM numbers, in particular, put him in the same neighborhood as guys like Mattias Ekholm and Brett Pesce (via Evolving-Hockey.com). HockeyViz.com’s isolated impact gives him similar projections, but with a less offensive punch. Still, he profiles as a positionally sound player who won’t make you shout at the television constantly, which is more than I can say about Hägg, Braun, or Gustafsson. At the peak of Mete’s usage with the Habs, he skated around sixteen minutes per game. He can easily handle the ice time required of a bottom pair player and a nice backup plan should any of the top four defenders suffer another injury.
Mete is a smooth skater who contributes plenty in breakouts and entries in terms of the eye test. He’s particularly good at moving the puck with control and blowing past guys despite his diminutive size. His hockey IQ is clearly a big selling point, too, as it’s not uncommon to see him making brilliant positional plays or smooth passes. His offensive and defensive toolkits aren’t spectacular from a raw talent perspective, but the execution is calm and consistent for someone so young.
Mete is cheap (as mentioned before) and, more importantly, won’t cost a crucial player to acquire. There’s been some smoke about the Canadiens shipping him out for another young player who might have requested a trade in Calgary’s Sam Bennett. Bennett has produced at a third-line level in Calgary for the past few seasons, so despite his draft pedigree (selected 4th overall in 2014), it isn’t a stretch to say that the Flyers could easily create equivalent value with a combination of a mid-round pick and a player of Nicolas Aube-Kubel’s caliber. He also wouldn’t be a concern for the upcoming expansion draft; the expiration of Mete’s contract will make him a UFA for the first time in his career, and given his lack of production, the Flyers could easily sign him in free agency after the expansion draft on the cheap. Mete is a good player who fits the mold of what Chuck Fletcher considers an underrated defenseman (see Jared Spurgeon’s early career), and I think he’d be a great fit in Philly.
Mete is small and doesn’t score much, two things that will likely draw the ire of the more traditionalist fans who want this team to be more physically imposing. I don’t love his play along the boards, but he makes the most of his tools with good stick checking and positioning to negate those issues for the most part. His shot attempt rates against and for aren’t great either, but the Flyers tend to be a shot quality overshot quantity team anyways, so I think that won’t be a big issue.
Even with all that considered, a 5’9″ defenseman might struggle against the more physical teams in the division, especially the New York Islanders’ heavy forecheck. I also worry about his decision making in the neutral zone when he doesn’t have the puck, especially on odd-man rushes. Victor Mete was originally on Montreal’s top pair a while ago, but he’s since been passed by Brett Kulak, Ben Chiarot, and now Joel Edmundson and Alex Romanov, so that’s food for thought. Still, I think he’s got plenty of potential to be better than he has been, and his floor is a solid third pair player.
I love Victor Mete as a player, and I think he’s the ideal choice for a temporary or long-term solution to the glaring hole at the bottom of the blue line. He brings a steady, consistent style of play that fits well with the more… defensively inconsistent players on the roster (Gostisbehere, Gustafsson) while also adding speed to a plodding team. Hopefully, Chuck Fletcher sees the same things and goes after this talented young asset while he has the chance.
Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire