© 2024 ALLCITY Network Inc.
All rights reserved.
Let’s be clear: no one in the Philadelphia Flyers organization wants to trade Scott Laughton.
And for good reason. Laughton embodies the positive culture that the Flyers’ new-look front office so desperately wants to foster. He’s the only Philadelphia player with a letter on his sweater, speaking to his status as a team leader. When he’s at his best, he plays a hard-nosed, relentless style that naturally drags his teammates into the fight. He’s remade his game to become a quality NHLer after initial struggles to stick at the highest level of hockey, serving as a developmental success story and an example to all of the young players in the organization of the sacrifices necessary to carve out a long-lasting role on the big club.
So why explore a possible Laughton trade? It’s the fact that Laughton — for all of those reasons — has serious value around the NHL, and some of those aforementioned young Flyers players are also starting to provide for the team what Laughton long has.
Just as they did on Thursday night against the Winnipeg Jets.
This week, both Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and The Fourth Period’s Anthony Di Marco reported that the Flyers were listening to offers on Laughton, with a first-round pick as their asking price. Last summer, the team reportedly turned down a first rounder for Laughton, believing that with their locker room culture still very much a work-in-progress, they couldn’t afford to lose such a positive influence and team leader — probably the team leader.
But the Flyers’ culture has strengthened since last summer. They’ve dramatically exceeded preseason expectations, and currently sit third in the Metropolitan Division. They’ve regularly taken down top-tier opponents, and swept the season series against the Jets on Thursday with their 4-1 victory. It’s the tightness of the locker room that many players cite as the driving force behind their overachievement — why they keep winning despite lacking flashy superstars.
Laughton, as one of the team leaders, deserves a not-insignificant amount of credit for helping to construct that strong culture. But it’s fair to wonder if it’s now so strong that it could handle the loss of Laughton and remain self-sustaining.
For his part, Laughton made it clear on Thursday morning that he doesn’t want to go anywhere.
“I definitely want to be here and be a part of this,” he reiterated. “I think I’ve become part of this room and this culture. I’m best friends with a lot of guys. So yeah, it weighs on your mind and your family and everything like that.”
But Laughton lacks any no-trade protection in his current contract, which has two more seasons remaining at a $3.0 million cap hit. And with both Elias Lindholm and Sean Monahan already off the market over a month in advance of the March 8 trade deadline, center-needy teams don’t have many options remaining. Even Laughton, who likely tops out as a 3C for a Stanley Cup contender, could be very attractive to a club looking to beef up its center depth and add a gritty, “playoff-type” player in the process — especially one with a reasonable cap hit and some term remaining.
But what about the Flyers? Couldn’t they use a player like Laughton too?
Well, yes, which is why Laughton is still here. But he’s in the midst of a down season, and it’s worth noting that other players — younger ones — have stepped up this season to provide what the Flyers have long depended upon Laughton to deliver.
Let’s start with Ryan Poehling.
Poehling — a cheap free agent signing this past summer — received a two-year extension from the Flyers just before the all-star break worth $1.9 million per season, and he celebrated his new contract in style on Thursday. First, he set up Tyson Foerster’s game-opening goal via his plus skating speed. Then, he put the game on early lockdown with a second period shorthanded goal — about the only good thing a Flyers skater did over the final 40 minutes of the contst.
Laughton’s role on the Flyers has long been that of a Swiss Army Knife, a quality depth forward ideally stationed in the bottom-six at even strength but with the skill to play further up if necessary, while also serving as a penalty kill stalwart.
That’s essentially what Poehling has provided for the Flyers this season in the midst of Laughton’s struggles — except Poehling is five years younger.
“There are times when I’ve felt he deserved more ice time and moved him up,” Flyers head coach John Tortorella noted on Thursday morning. “He still hasn’t shown me that he’s gonna be up there all the time in the top-six, but I think you can put him up there because of his speed. He’s got tremendous speed.”
Tortorella was speaking of Poehling. Remove the praise for his speed, however — Laughton is quick but not a true burner — and he very easily could have been speaking of Laughton. At least, the version of Laughton from the past four seasons.
Even Laughton himself admits he sees a bit of himself in Poehling. Both, after all, are first round picks who turned pro with high hopes of being scorers at the NHL level, before receiving brutal wake-up calls that they’d need to adapt to stick. Laughton, famously, was sent down to the AHL for a full season to recalibrate his on-ice mentality. Poehling was traded by his first team, and not issued a qualifying offer by his second.
But like Laughton eventually did, Poehling appears to have found his place.
“I mean, I’ve always wanted to find a home,” Poehling acknowledged after Thursday’s win. “I think I’ve just relied on my hard work and my faith to just lead me to where I’m supposed to be, and I think Philly is that place.”
“He’s fit in with this group seamlessly and been a great addition,” Laughton added. “He’s a guy I have a ton of respect for, just being a higher pick and grinding his way through it, and finding a way here.”
Could the Flyers hold onto both players? Of course. But not only are their roles on the team exceptionally similar, one is clearly outplaying the other in the coach’s eyes right now — and it’s not Laughton.
It’s no secret that Laughton is having an underwhelming season thus far.
The front office knows it. The head coach knows it. And Laughton isn’t denying it, either.
“Obviously my game hasn’t been where it was last year, and I need to get it back there,” he said.
It’s not that Laughton hasn’t shown flashes of his old self. He was the catalyst for the Flyers’ big comeback in Detroit just before Christmas. He played quite well during the team’s successful mid-January road trip. But through 52 games, Laughton has just five goals, and his underlying 5-on-5 results have fallen off a cliff, to career-low levels.
So what happened? It’s not like Laughton is old — he’s still in his 20s, albeit at the tail end of them. Laughton admitted on Thursday that at times, his lesser role this season has made it more difficult to consistently play with the intensity that he needs to be effective.
“I’m just trying to keep my mental side of the game sharp, and always be ready when you’re counted on,” Laughton said. “It’s pretty easy when you’re out there every other shift like last year, and you’re creating stuff.”
Knowing that his shifts are more infrequent this season, Laughton has by his own admission sometimes gotten trapped in his own head, trying to do too much or make up for lost time, rather than simply playing his ideal game.
“I think just every shift, having that tenacity, especially where I am in the lineup, and bringing that energy,” he noted as his strategy to get back on track. “Bringing what I do on the PK to 5-on-5, and creating things for myself instead of watching it go by me.”
Tortorella agreed, citing inconsistency earlier this week to the traveling media as Laughton’s biggest issue.
“I’m hoping he steps up, and just (gets) on the right side of consistency. Because it’s there. He’s a very important guy for us,” Tortorella said.
But even when Laughton is struggling, he provides intangible value, according to Tortorella. Young players on the team look up to him, ask him questions, and following his lead both on and off the ice.
“He’s that guy. He’s the glue,” Tortorella noted.
But as Thursday showed, Laughton might be the only Flyer wearing a letter, but he’s not the only visible leader on the team.
Enter Travis Konecny.
Konecny was undeniably the team’s catalyst on Thursday night against the Jets, packing a game’s worth of work into 4:08 minutes of first period ice time. He fought Neal Pionk (and won). He scored what ultimately proved to be the gamewinning goal. And then, with two minutes left in the period, he wrapped up his second career NHL Gordie Howe hat trick with a second assist on Morgan Frost’s goal.
That’s tangible value, yes. But it also serves to manufacture energy for the rest of his team, as Laughton pointed out after the win.
“He brings it every night, so guys follow him,” Laughton said of Konecny.
In fact, it was a play at the end of the second period that truly speaks to Konecny’s emerging embrace of a team leadership role. Winnipeg defenseman Dylan Samberg fired a puck at Flyers goalie Sam Ersson just as the buzzer sounded to end the period, and Konecny took it upon himself to confront Samberg, kicking off a predictable fracas that drew both teams into a no-holds-barred battle.
Why did Konecny do it?
“I know it’s not intentional,” Konecny acknowledged regarding Samberg’s “late” shot. “It’s just more (to) set the tone that we’re not going to let that slide. You never know when one of those pucks deflects, hits somebody. Maybe Erss has to try on something like that when there’s no need to. So you just kinda set the tone that we’re not going to allow that stuff.”
Konecny may not have a letter. But on Thursday night, he spoke as someone who does.
And it’s not like Konecny was acting with the goal of proving his leadership bona fides. He’s just doing what comes naturally to him, what he sincerely believes the team needs.
“As far as leadership, I find that, for me, it’s not so much talking,” Konecny said. “I just try to work hard on the ice and do what I can energy-wise (and) work ethic.”
Konecny isn’t the only one emerging as a leader in the room. Sean Couturier’s return after nearly two full seasons on the shelf has brought a fatherly presence to the group. Depth players like Nick Seeler and Nicolas Deslauriers and Garnet Hathaway provide on-ice energy. Joel Farabee is stepping up as a social leader for the younger players on the club especially, who appear to be in the process of building a very strong bond together.
In fact, they even made sure new acquisition Jamie Drysdale was able to join the growing crew for their planned bye week tropical vacation.
“I literally didn’t have to do anything,” Drysdale recalled. “They booked the ticket for me, they set up the hotel, everything. I literally just had to show up.”
The Flyers’ culture, in other words, is strong, just as the team as a whole is taking a major step forward in terms of on-ice performance.
New leaders are stepping up, just as Tortorella hoped they would. Young players are improving rapidly. In short, it’s a very different situation compared to where the Flyers stood the last time they took offers on Laughton back in the summer.
Back then, they didn’t know that Couturier would be able to return to action at close to peak form. They didn’t know Konecny and Farabee would embrace a larger leadership share. They didn’t know Poehling would prove capable of handling a Laughton-esque role. These are all new and truly positive developments for the team.
They just might not be positive for Scott Laughton.
The Flyers certainly aren’t going to give Laughton away. They value him far too highly — both as a player and person — to do that. And Laughton is very much hoping that he’ll be able to stick around. He hasn’t spoken with general manager Daniel Briere or president of hockey operations Keith Jones yet about the possibility of a trade — in fact, according to Laughton, he hadn’t even discussed it with his agent as recently as yesterday morning.
But it weighs on him.
“I built a life here,” he said. “My wife works here. Built a pretty good life here. But at the same time, I know it’s a business. I know what they’re trying to do here, and obviously I want to be a part of it.”
And Laughton still may. But there are fewer reasons now for the Flyers to believe that Laughton absolutely has to be.