Flyers Acquire Tony DeAngelo & 7th From Carolina For 2nd, 3rd, 4th
It’s been no secret that the Philadelphia Flyers are in for a busy offseason. Unless a team is well in the thick of a deep rebuild, that’s an expectation for a team that finishes fourth worst in the entire NHL. And even though the Flyers cashed in on their top-five pick on Thursday night, there was no doubt that more moves were in sight. The only question was when Chuck Fletcher would pull the trigger.
On Friday morning, just before day No. 2 of the draft began, he answered.
The Athletic’s Charlie O’Connor confirmed the picks heading to Carolina are Philadelphia’s 2024 2nd, 2023 3rd, and pick No. 101 in this year’s draft, which is a fourth-rounder. Of course, a trade for an RFA, which DeAngelo was, isn’t really complete until the contract is signed. But that’s already taken care of here.
There is a lot to consider in this trade. That’s basically always true with a five-asset trade, but even that doesn’t fully explain the amount of moving parts here. Of course, the one player on the move is DeAngelo, an outstanding puck-moving offensive defenseman with local ties to the area; he’s originally from Sewell, New Jersey, which is only about a half-hour drive from the Wells Fargo Center. DeAngelo fits the new wave of NHL defensemen who are willing to jump up on the rush and produce offensively. DeAngelo recorded a career-high 53 points in 2021-22, also passing the 50-point threshold in 2019-20. For a Flyers team in need of high-end, point-producing talent, DeAngelo certainly fits the bill. In fact, his 53 points would have led the team last season.
But the red flags surrounding DeAngelo aren’t those reflected in the stat columns. For starters, DeAngelo has always been regarded as a liability in his own zone. DeAngelo was dead last among Carolina defenders in carry against percentage and entries with chances against per 60 minutes last year, ranking below league average in both, per Corey Sznajder’s All Three Zones tracking project. Among 229 defensemen with at least 300 5-on-5 minutes played in 2021-22, DeAngelo was tied for 164th in expected goals against per 60 minutes, per Natural Stat Trick. That puts him in about the 28th percentile, which isn’t good. And the full micro-stats picture isn’t prettier when it comes to defense.
But those concerns pale in comparison to the ones off the ice. You might notice in those above charts that there’s no data for DeAngelo in the 2020-21 season. That’s because he played in just six games before clearing waivers and being essentially benched the rest of the season. Reports came out that DeAngelo got into “an altercation” with teammate Alexandar Georgiev. DeAngelo was waived immediately after, unsurprisingly went unclaimed, and was bought out in the offseason.
And that’s far from the only incident in the 26-year-old’s career. In fact, DeAngelo’s checkered past dates all the way back to his junior hockey days. DeAngelo was disciplined multiple times for violating the OHL’s harassment, abuse and diversity policy, once for saying a slur to a teammate. Back in his Arizona Coyotes days, he was once suspended for abuse of an official. And DeAngelo stirred up more contention with a series of controversial Tweets about COVID-19 and politics. It’s generally not a good sign if a player has to be if he supported the Jan. 6 Capitol Insurrection, as DeAngelo was when he signed with Carolina (he said no).
What this means for the Flyers is even more precarious. The Flyers had an obvious hole at third-pair right defense, but both DeAngelo’s cap hit and playstyle don’t seem like that’s where he’d fit. And if that isn’t the case, it means he’s playing higher in the lineup… which is where Ryan Ellis would be if healthy. Ellis played just four games in the 2021-22 season, missing almost the entire year with what Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher has called a “multi-layered” injury in the middle of Ellis’s body. In his last pre-draft presser, Fletcher said Ellis was making progress, but the bulk of his rehab lay ahead of him and his status for 2022-23 is unknown. Investing three picks and $5 million in a player who plays the same position as Ellis doesn’t exactly scream “vote of confidence.”
But perhaps the strangest part of this trade is how DeAngelo fits off the ice in Philadelphia. DeAngelo should slot in nicely on the Flyers’ top power-play unit, which needed a major boost. No Flyers d-man has had more power-play points than DeAngelo’s 2021-22 total (20) since Shayne Gostisbehere in 2017-18. He’ll provide a boost there. Maybe he’s actually a better fit than first glance suggests next to Ivan Provorov, who is clearly been a much better player when paired with a puck-moving defenseman. Putting a defenseman as one-dimensional as DeAngelo in a top-pair role is generally not a good idea. But perhaps this is an exception.
However, if there’s one thing the Flyers have to fix this year, it’s their culture. After the 2020-21 season, which saw the Flyers underwhelm, Fletcher said the team needed to get the right mix. While that in part had to do with fixing the team defense and improving their depth, it also had to do with the dressing room. The Flyers focused on high-character adds like Cam Atkinson and Keith Yandle a summer ago. When that didn’t work and the team spiraled, they didn’t abandon that approach. If anything, the hiring of John Tortorella means doubling down on the importance of character. Words like accountability are synonymous with Tortorella. And many of the team’s biggest critics believe that a lack of that is a major reason why the team has gone south.
Whether or not DeAngelo can fit into that system is up for debate. And given his track record both on and off the ice, it’s fair to be concerned, if not outright frustrated with the move. The Flyers have now traded away three consecutive second-round picks. Two of them were part of the packages to acquire defensemen with major question marks; analytical ones for Rasmus Ristolainen, defensive and personality ones for DeAngelo. Another was necessary to jettison Shayne Gostisbehere, whose playstyle is comparable to DeAngelo but without the character concerns.
This isn’t a “low-risk, high-reward” move like it was for the Hurricanes to sign DeAngelo to a 1-year, $1 million contract last summer. This is the type of move Fletcher has to be right on. Of course, a general manager should never be operating based on what their team’s fans want. But this is the type of trade that has the potential to blow up spectacularly. And there will be no shortage of people waiting to tell Fletcher “I told you so” if it does. It’s not like Tortorella will take things easy on DeAngelo. It will be on the player to fit in with the team, not the other way around. And if it doesn’t work out, Fletcher won’t be able to say he didn’t know the risks.
Trading for DeAngelo is a mistake waiting to happen. Maybe the Flyers will be able to kick that mistake far enough down the road so that it doesn’t hurt them. But that doesn’t make the logic of the move any less confounding.