Contrary to recent years, the Philadelphia Flyers find themselves close to contention. After so much time dedicated to building for the future, the organization finds itself now focussing on the present. With that transformed mindset comes a change in approach. Philadelphia is no longer looking for pieces to help three to five years down the road. Instead, they are in search of assets to improve now.
Since the Ron Hextall years, parting ways with a first-round pick has been viewed as sacrilegious and for a good reason. During Hextall’s tenure, the team was in rebuild mode, counting on those draft picks to one day become franchise cornerstones. However, the Flyers are not rebuilding anymore. Still, some refuse to believe that trading away a first-round pick, unless for a complete stud, is an option ever worth consideration.
Whether you want to admit it or not, first-round picks are valuable trade chips. That does not mean they should be carelessly dealt every year. However, if the opportunity to add a needle-moving asset presents itself, teams must be willing to offer up a key piece of the future to improve the current state of affairs.
We live in a bizarre world. The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted so much of what we call normal, altering almost every aspect of life. Hockey is no exception. Every aspect of the game has changed in some way due to these popularly labeled unprecedented times. One area of sport that has taken the biggest hit is scouting. Fewer people are allowed in buildings, resorting to a lot of video evaluations. Although someone can obtain valuable information through video, it is not the same thing as seeing live-action. At the same time, some leagues have yet to play. Those that have played likely have experienced some setback or pause.
As one can imagine, this throws scouting for the 2021 NHL draft all out of whack. Organizations can acquire a book’s worth of valuable and current information on the young talent in a typical year. This year, they are lucky to obtain a solid page. Yes, teams can always look at last year. Still, a lot can change in a year, especially when the consistency of play is lacking.
Like every team in the league, the Flyers will lack a clear picture of who is available this year’s draft. Of course, high-end prospects still exist, but Philadelphia will likely not be in a position to select one of those guys. With less certainty surrounding the players available in the mid-to-late first round, maybe the Flyers view this as the year to part ways with their opening-round pick. As an organization, they may deem the asset less valuable in such uncertain times.
Conversely, if the Flyers internal decrease a first round’s pick value this year, it is likely other franchises do the same. This, of course, makes these assets worth less league-wide. As a result, first-rounders might not fetch a team what they typically would. Teams looking to add this season may be forced to add more to the deal if potential trade partners aren’t confident about this crop of draft-eligibles.
The possibility of delaying the 2021 draft exists as well. A lot of general managers appear to be for the idea of postponing the draft until 2022. That doesn’t necessarily mean combing it with the 2022 class. The idea would involve just giving some of these players more time to play so teams can put in some more evaluation time. Maybe that keeps a first-round pick’s trade value at what it typically is. Maybe it does the opposite.
Challenges arise when identifying a 2021 first-round pick’s trade value, no matter how you look at it. It’s not as easy as “you’ll have to throw in a first-rounder” this year because we do not know how down on the draft teams are this year. Potential trade partners may be more interested in obtaining already drafted prospects this time, causing teams to internally debate about whether they are parting with too much of their future to make present-day improvements.
Even though Philadelphia possesses clear needs and has the capital to do so, don’t be shocked if the roster experiences no major changes. So many extra factors and implications exist this season, likely causing hesitation. With hesitation usually comes inaction.