|Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey|
What will 2017's NHL Trade Deadline mean for Phantoms?
With the trade deadline now less than 24 hours away, some NHL clubs are starting to feel the pressure of needing/wanting to add depth for a Stanley Cup Playoffs run.
A lot of trades have already been made. A lot of the big names rumored to be on the market - like St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop and forward Brian Boyle - have already been moved.
But, what does the trade deadline mean for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and the 29 other teams in the American Hockey League (AHL)?
AHL PERSPECTIVE - FLYERS/PHANTOMS TRADE DEADLINE SITUATION
There's no doubting that the Philadelphia Flyers have a few expiring contracts that might be worth moving at the trade deadline this year in the right situation.
Both goaltenders on the NHL roster - Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth - are impending free agents this summer as well as defensemen Mark Streit, Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz and forwards Pierre-Eduoard Bellemare, Chris VandeVelde and Jordan Weal.
The expectation is that Weal will be reassigned to Lehigh Valley for the day tomorrow, thus making him eligible to play in the AHL with the Phantoms down the stretch and in the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs. More on that is explained below.
Currently, the Flyers have eight defensemen on the NHL roster. It's certainly possible they could move a defensemen or two to a contending team, as already evidenced around the league with Shattenkirk, Brenden Smith and others already traded and off the trade market.
From a Lehigh Valley Phantoms perspective, the Flyers trading a defenseman off the NHL roster for draft picks or prospects would have little to no effect on the AHL club. The Flyers would still have seven NHL defensemen - six for one more game after Brandon Manning serves the first of his two-game suspension Tuesday night against Colorado.
What gets interesting for Lehigh Valley is what the Flyers would do if they moved two defensemen off the NHL roster before tomorrow's trade deadline.
Do they call up a prospect - Robert Hagg, Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim come to mind - or look to acquire a replacement level NHL defender for the rest of the season to rotate in and out of the lineup as a 6th/7th defender?
Another thing to consider is the possible return of any potential trade Flyers make to move a defenseman off their NHL roster. It will likely be a draft pick, or prospect or even both. If the prospect is a pro-level player in the AHL, it's possible the Phantoms could receive some added depth for their push towards the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Speaking of the Phantoms, what could the AHL club use down the stretch?
Goaltending isn't an issue with Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon splitting starts. There's a healthy competition there that's pushing both goalies.
The defense looks pretty solid too, with Mark Alt, Will O'Neill and T.J. Brennan mentoring the prospects on the blue line - Sam Morin, Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim and Reece Willcox.
The forward core's depth is being tested right now with Weal currently in the NHL and forwards Steven Swavely, Taylor Leier and Boyd Gordon out with injuries. While Leier's timeline to return to action is undefined, Gordon and Swavely are expected to miss a few weeks and whether or not they'll be ready for an AHL postseason run is unclear.
The assumption that Weal will be sent to Lehigh Valley Wednesday to make him AHL-eligible for the rest of the 2016-17 season certainly helps the Phantoms after the Flyers' season ends, but if he plays 10 games with the Flyers he will have to clear waivers to be sent to Lehigh Valley this spring.
If the Flyers have Lehigh Valley's roster needs in mind, perhaps they'll acquire a mid-level prospect forward currently in the AHL in any potential trade they make.
Of course, the addition of the organization's prospects from the NCAA, Canadian junior hockey and overseas in the coming weeks could alleviate any concerns about the Phantoms. We'll have more on this aspect in the near future.
AHL ROSTER ELIGIBILITY FOR 2016-17 SEASON
Something to keep an eye Wednesday afternoon is the waiver wire. Any player on an NHL roster as the trade deadline passes is ruled ineligible to play in the AHL for the remainder of the season and the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs. Expect quite a few teams to send guys to the AHL tomorrow afternoon to make them AHL-eligible, then call them back up to the NHL roster after the trade deadline passes.
Furthermore with waivers, any player in the NHL who requires waivers to be assigned to the AHL had to be placed on waivers today (Tuesday). Syracuse Crunch captain, defenseman Luke Witkowski, was not waived today and thus won't be returning to the Crunch for the remainder of the season.
Another thing to be aware of is that after the trade deadline, NHL teams are only allotted four recalls for the rest of the regular season unless emergency conditions arise.