Was Trading Brayden Schenn the Right Move?

June 23, 2017 is a date with a lot of memories for Flyers’ fans. It was the day they drafted Nolan Patrick after winning the second overall pick in the lottery. The day the franchise was supposed to take a massive step forward. It’s also the day the organization traded forward Brayden Schenn in exchange for a pair of first round picks and forward Jori Lehtera.

The Flyers drafted forwards Morgan Frost and Joel Farabee with those picks in 2017 and 2018 respectively.

Even though we’re entering the sixth season since that trade went down, there’s still no clear answer about a winner. Brayden Schenn went on to win a Stanley Cup with the Blues in 2019 meanwhile Farabee and Frost have yet to truly step up and become stars, still coasting on the potential they held as first round picks.

It’s a topic of hot debate, because the Flyers did get good value for Schenn. Two first round picks for a 26-year-old top-six forward who had only hit the 25-goal mark twice and never grazed 60 points in Philly is above market value. Though dealing away Schenn, who was an established center and key contributor hurt the team far more than realized at the time. It’s a hole that, even after all these years, hasn’t been properly addressed.

Farabee, who will turn 23 in February, is a player who has seemingly been on the verge of a true breakout for the past two seasons, but a string of injuries and a general lack of talent surrounding him has limited just how useful he has been. He was the only Flyer to hit the 20-goal plateau during the 2020-21 campaign, but hasn’t been able to reach those heights since. A disc replacement surgery during the offseason in 2022 has once again pushed out his development timeline even further while he learns what his new neck can handle.

Morgan Frost, 23, on the other hand, has been one of the most disappointing players drafted during the Hextall era. Ever since making the jump to the professional level in 2019-20, he wasn’t able to replicate his two-point-per-game pace he had in juniors and struggled to keep his head above water with the size and speed of the NHL. Between injuries and Chuck Fletcher’s refusal to add center depth to this team, Frost had a perfect opportunity to step up and take a top six center spot in 2022-23, but so far has continued to be the endlessly underwhelming forward he’s always been.

The most obvious issue trading Brayden Schenn caused was the fact the team was finally supposed to be trending in a competitive direction and they dealt a key piece of the roster away for more future hopes and dreams. He had three years left on his contract at a $5.1 million cap hit.

Theoretically, they were supposed to have second overall pick Nolan Patrick to take his spot, as well as Morgan Frost making the jump not far behind. That obviously didn’t happen. It was a calculated risk that blew up in their faces big time. Had they drafted Patrick and retained Schenn, there would’ve been a safety net in place had Patrick not been able to adjust to the NHL out of the gate and they could’ve taken their time to develop him properly, something that, despite Hextall’s love of prospects, was so rarely done.

Schenn was a versatile forward, so it’s not like he was married to the center position. Keeping him around on the wings as a backup option in case Patrick didn’t dominate as expected would’ve probably been the smarter play. Not to mention his domination on the powerplay, losing Schenn and the organization refusing to replace him was a major reason for their special team’s collapse over the last few seasons.

And in the bigger picture, the organization, through two different general managers and five coaches, has never really addressed the center depth since. They put way too many eggs in the basket of Nolan Patrick both when he was drafted, and later when he returned from a year-long absence, and both time he never rose to the occasion. Then they once again put way too much stock in the development of Morgan Frost, who has been given opportunity after opportunity to stick in the NHL and has never proven his ability to do so.

So both of their prospects didn’t pan out, and the front office’s refusal to add outside center depth in the five offseasons since they traded Schenn is an on-running gag at this point. With the exception of Hayes, whom they acquired and signed in 2019, the center position has basically been ignored, duct taped together by random depth acquisitions and waiver claims.

It’s not even that Schenn was anything special as a player. He, to this day, never hit 30 goals in a season and he’s only broke the 60-point plateau once during his first year in St. Louis. But he was an established center who understood the physical aspect of the game as well as being a useful member of the powerplay, with 175 of his 534 career points coming on the mad advantage. All things the Flyers have desperately lacked since that deal went down.

At this point is seems highly unlikely Morgan Frost ever becomes anybody of note in the NHL. He may hang around and eventually carve out a nice little middle six niche for himself, but the elite, point producing speedster we were promised is more than likely never going to appear. As for Farabee, the potential is certainly palpable, but it’s hard not to get antsy waiting to see if the consistency ever shows up. Given his bad luck with injuries over the last calendar year and the miserable state of the team as a whole, there are some built in excuses for the time being, but if he’s ever going to step up and truly become a top guy, the clock is ticking.

The Brayden Schenn trades presents one of the biggest “what if” questions in recent Flyers’ history. If they never traded him would it’ve helped Nolan Patrick’s NHL career? Would the Flyers have spiraled out of control as badly as they had? Though the trade, even with the exact same results, may not be that big a talking point if the Flyers were a competently run organization that addressed their glaring hole at center instead of ignoring it for half a decade. At its roots, it was a very good value deal for the Flyers, and St. Louis landed a piece that helped them win a Stanley Cup. It was a poorly timed deal by the Flyers and despite a strong return, was a trade that just wasn’t worth it. But hey, hindsight is 20/20, right?

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By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)

photo credit: nhl.com

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