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Trade or keep Laughton? Soft sellers? Dissecting Flyers' outlook at deadline

Trade or keep Laughton? Soft sellers? Dissecting Flyers' outlook at deadline originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Having not made the playoffs since the 2019-20 season, the Flyers were sellers the past three trade deadlines.

This season, they're in a fascinating spot. They're a rebuilding team in a driver's seat of the playoff race.

But that won't turn general manager Danny Briere into a buyer.

The Flyers' focus is still on the future. Briere exhibited that Wednesday when he moved Sean Walker, one of his top players on the back end, to the Avalanche in a trade package that netted the Flyers a conditional first-round draft pick.

While the Flyers dealt Walker, they also took a trade chip off the table Wednesday by signing defenseman Nick Seeler to a four-year contract extension.

Late Wednesday, Briere also played the role of third party in a trade between the Golden Knights and Flames. The Flyers acquired a 2024 fifth-round draft pick from Vegas to retain $1,237,500 of Noah Hanifin's remaining salary.

After a busy Wednesday, what else might the Flyers do before Friday's 3 p.m. ET NHL trade deadline?

Let's get into everything you need to know:

Where do Flyers stand in playoff race?

With 18 games to go, John Tortorella's club has 74 points at 33-23-8 and holds a playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division. The Flyers have been in third place since the end of January and entered Friday with a 76.4 percent chance to make the postseason, according to Hockey-Reference.com's probabilities report.

The Flyers are being challenged in March, with eight more games against teams in postseason position. But they have 10 wins over top-10 clubs this season, a fact that could ease the concern with the tough schedule.

The Islanders are the closest team on the Flyers' tail in the division race. With 70 points, they're only four back of the Flyers and they've played two fewer games. The clubs have a third and final head-to-head meeting April 1 in Philadelphia.

The Capitals (67 points), Devils (66) and Penguins (64) are trying to chase down the Flyers, as well, but have been inconsistent all season.

How will Flyers approach deadline?

Briere has said "the players will dictate" the timeline of the Flyers' rebuild.

"We’re not tanking any games, we’re not trying to lose on purpose," the Flyers' GM said before training camp. "We’re going to do things, obviously, for the future, but at the same time we expect these guys to go out and win every game."

The players have made the rebuild look expedited this season. Contending clubs are often rewarded at the deadline by seeing additions to the roster. For Briere, a way to reward his team would be to not rip the roster down to the studs.

And that could be his plan.

The Flyers will listen, but they don't have to sell as aggressively or desperately as a club in the bottom third of the NHL standings. Briere has a young team and four first-round picks over the next two years, putting him in a good position to strike a balance between fire sale and win now.

The Walker-Seeler split decision was a good example of supplementing the future but not decimating the current culture.

Which Flyers could be moved?

With Walker traded and Seeler extended, the biggest question now revolves around Scott Laughton.

Does Briere cash in on the valuable Swiss Army knife, a heart-and-soul Flyer who was once the GM's teammate?

Laughton will be in high demand. He's a 29-year-old who can play center or winger and on both special teams. He had a career year last season and is playing his best hockey down the stretch. He has 12 points (five goals, seven assists) and a plus-14 rating in the last 12 games.

When TSN's Darren Dreger reported on Feb. 1 that the Flyers were taking calls on Laughton, it wasn't particularly surprising. Briere has been open-minded since Day 1, willing to "listen on everybody."

In the organization's public rebuild, Tortorella said the team has been communicative with its players.

"When the rumors get out there, too, they start flying and then people grab ahold of them," Laughton said last month. "I've had those internal conversations with people around the organization, I think I know where I stand. I'll keep it at that. Continue to work hard and see what happens."

A couple of aspects that could lead to the Flyers holding onto Laughton:

• He's highly respected in the organization. The Flyers have stressed how important the tightly-knit locker room has been to their success this season and the standard for the future.

• He still has two more seasons left on his five-year, $15 million contract, so the Flyers could always revisit a trade down the road. But will his value ever be any higher is the counterpoint.

Marc Staal, a 37-year-old veteran rich with playoff experience, is the Flyers' only remaining pending unrestricted free agent defenseman. He has played just 29 games this season, missing time with a rib injury and also serving as a healthy scratch.

The Flyers are so thin on defense right now, they very well may find it more valuable to keep Staal than sell him for a lower-round draft pick.

"I told him right along, I said, 'Eventually we're going to need you,'" Tortorella said Monday. "I wasn't going to come off as far as developing the kids. But, 'Eventually we're going to need you.' And that's kind of what has happened here now."

Morgan Frost's future in Philadelphia looks much better now than it did earlier in the season. Once again, his game has improved as the schedule has picked up. And he also plays a premium position. It would be very surprising if the Flyers traded the 24-year-old center at the deadline.

Cam Atkinson, who has a modified no-trade clause and one more year left on his deal, could be attractive to contenders in search of scoring pedigree. His work ethic and personality would fit in any locker room. But a trade right now for the 34-year-old winger feels unlikely.

Ryan Johansen, who the Flyers took on in the Walker trade, cleared waivers and was assigned to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. The Flyers will see if they can move the 31-year-old veteran, PHLY Sports' Charlie O'Connor wrote Thursday.

Update: Flyers trade Wade Allison to Predators for intriguing winger

Any chance Flyers buy at all?

If the Flyers are to add at all, it would be inexpensive depth or a prospect being a part of a future-centric trade return.

They don't want to put young players in overwhelming spots down the stretch. Their depth has taken a serious hit on defense and they're inexperienced in net, so maybe they'll look for some insurance.

But Briere has said he won't give up top assets for rentals.

"We're not going to make trades just to make trades," the GM said in January. "If there's something that makes sense that we feel makes us better for the future, we'll strongly consider it. The one thing that I won't be doing is I won't be trading prime assets just to make a run. I'm not going to trade first-, second-round picks."

Update: Flyers acquire Stanley Cup-winning D-man in trade with Sabres

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