As the Philadelphia Flyers embrace a rebuild under interim GM Danny Briere, one area they have stated they wouldn’t mind trying to capitalize on is rehab projects. Another team’s trash could be their treasure, so to speak. The Flyers have had relative success with this strategy in recent seasons with Owen Tippett and Rasmus Ristolainen turning things around in Philly and have made attempts with Kieffer Bellows and Brendan Lemieux.
For a team that isn’t really in the classic state to rebuild, finding a few diamonds in the rough that fit in with the age group of the players they’re currently trying to build around is a solid strategy to attempt.
There may be an unusual trade partner for the Flyers when looking for a few new rehab projects in divisional rival the New York Rangers. Rumor has it the Rangers could look to deal one or two of their younger players as they suffered an untimely defeat in the first round of the 2023 playoffs against the Devils.
Alexis Lafreniere was the first overall selection in the 2020 draft, a pick the Rangers moved up 11 slots to win in the lottery. He had quite a bit of hype following him into the NHL, but has failed to live up to his lofty expectations. He’s produced just 47 goals and 91 points in 216 career games, with a 39-point effort in 2022-23 his career best.
The price tag of the trade will be the big hiccup here. He’s still a former first overall pick and just 21 years old, but has three underwhelming seasons under his belt and is an RFA this summer at the end of his entry-level deal. The Rangers aren’t going to give him up for nothing, but his value doesn’t necessarily justify giving up a big asset or two to take the risk.
Does it make sense for the Flyers to give up, say, Florida’s 2024 first rounder they acquired in the Giroux trade to land Lafreniere?
They don’t own a second round pick until 2025, which probably doesn’t interest the Rangers, but the Flyers do have Florida’s third round pick this year. Does a third rounder for Lafreniere’s rights get it done? Does it make sense to give up much more than that if you’re the Flyers?
There may be other teams out there who are in a better position when it comes to having an abundance of assets to give up or at a better place in their timeline to take a risk on a player like Lafreniere. But the Rangers have another young player whom the Flyers could consider taking a chance on.
Kaapo Kakko is a 22-year-old forward with one year left on his contract at a $2.1 million cap hit. He was drafted second overall in 2019, another lottery win for the Rangers. He has 239 NHL games under his belt in four seasons where he’s scored just 44 goals and 98 points.
He did have a career-best 18 goals and 40 points during the 2022-23 campaign, and there was agreement from the Rangers’ faithful that he was seemingly starting to put the pieces together during the second half of the season.
Considering he carries a $2.1 million cap hit next season, there may be fewer teams willing to take a chance on him. Considering the Flyers will have a bit of extra cap space this summer, and Kakko’s trade value may make a little more sense for the Flyers. Though Kakko primarily lines up at right wing, a position the Flyers already have too many bodies at and most seemingly have a higher ceiling than Kakko. Unless someone moves to the left side, does it make sense to bring another random dude into an already large pool of random dudes?
Realistically, making moves for players like Lafreniere or Kakko does make sense for the Flyers. Not only do they have a chance to unearth a diamond in the rough and cash in on value the Rangers weren’t able to, but it’s a way to make changes to the current roster without breaking the bank or giving up major assets to do so. It’s a risk-reward aspect that qualifies as a “rebuild” without wasting years of on-ice misery with random depth plug-ins or the wait-and-see approach of blindly drafting and waiting for a lackluster outcome.
It’s always possible the player doesn’t pan out further, which is the “risk” factor of the “risk-reward” system, but given both player’s former high-end status, there could definitely be more they have to give, and a situation like the Flyers presents them an opportunity to start over and be apart of a team with much lower expectations and less prying eyes to cast judgment.
The Kraken claimed sputtering prospect Eeli Tolvanen off waivers from Nashville earlier in the season and he ended up posting a new career high in goals and points in just 48 games with the Kraken. The Sabres claimed Tyson Jost from the Avalanche and he posted numbers that he hadn’t since before the pandemic. It’s always possible a change of scenery is a simple key to unlock a player’s potential.
Danny Briere and the Flyers are going to have to get creative this summer, especially since the draft lottery didn’t fall in their favor, and a few cheap, sneaky good rehab projects could be just the thing that could spark. There will be other players out there that fall into the category, but for now the Rangers’ former first and second overall picks are the cream of the crop when it comes to calculated risk taking.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: nypost.com