Things have gotten a bit wild on the Flyers blue line lately. First, you have Andrew MacDonald go down with an injury that sidelines him for almost two months. Next, you have Shayne Gostisbehere go head first into the boards courtesy of Leo Komarov and hasn’t played since due to a concussion. Then, you have Radko Gudas go missing after the first period of the Chicago game. It’s honestly starting to get out of hand.
Then, just when you think things can’t get worse, and that the light at the end of the tunnel for Samuel Morin is near, he is injured, he doesn’t get called up, and the Flyers slot Mark Alt in place of him. Then another defenseman goes down, Morin is still hurt, so Will O’Neill gets the callup. Man, talk about bad luck.
Barring anything else happening between now and when MacDonald gets back into the lineup, the Flyers will be back to normal with every defenseman they started the season with, unless you count Sam Morin. You’ll get MacDonald back with Provorov on the top line, Gostisbehere may, and should, stay paired with Robert Hagg, and Radko Gudas will get paired back up with Brandon Manning. Everything will be back to normal and all things will be right in the world.
Just kidding. Nothing is ever right with the Flyers blue line. The defense is consistently in a state of flux. First it was Manning getting playing time over Sanheim. Then Sanheim would get plugged in for a game or two, only to be replaced by Manning. Then MacDonald goes down and Sanheim becomes a more permanent fixture. Then Ghost goes down and Mark Alt gets brought up and plugged right in. Then Gudas goes down and O’Neill is up. Just when you think it’s over, Ghost is back and O’Neill will likely get sent back to Lehigh Valley.
Now, it’s nothing against Alt or O’Neill. They did what they needed to do when they were called upon. Let’s not start this whole “do they deserve to stay up” debate, because that’s a load of crap. They’re plug-and-play guys. They come in, do their job, and get sent back down. Nothing wrong with that, but they aren’t NHL caliber players yet.
Now you have MacDonald, Provorov, Gostisbehere, Hagg, Gudas, Manning, and Sanheim left as the seven defensemen on the roster when all are healthy. You have become accustomed to the fact that one young defenseman will get the shaft in this system because, well, that’s just how Dave Hakstol operates. You have the top pairing of MacDonald and Provorov who are going to block shots and take care of the puck, unless you count MacDonald as an ACTUAL part of that line, and then it just kind of cancels out.
Then with Ghost and Hagg, you have an offensively gifted defenseman in Ghost who will drive the play, and you have Robert Hagg who is a very sound, all around guy who you can trust on both sides of the puck. Then in the third pairing, you have Gudas and Manning who are going to be your defensive minded bruisers. These guys are going to prevent teams from establishing in the Flyers zone, and honestly, they aren’t that terrible at it. Sure, everyone hates Brandon Manning, but only because they all want Sanheim playing.
I’m here to tell you that contrary to popular opinion, Sanheim may need more time to adjust to the NHL level. He has made too many essential mistakes at this point. He gave the puck up against Arizona which led to their game winning OT goal. This isn’t to say that he is a bad player, because he is far from a terrible player. The kid just needs a little more time, that’s all. At some time in the near future, probably even later this year, he will become a more permanent fixture in the Flyers lineup. Until then, he will sit and learn like those before him.
Until then, those are the six you are stuck with. No, it’s not as bad as you all make it out to be, and no, it isn’t ideal either. I’m a big advocate for a Morin callup, but until another injury or until Hakstol comes to his senses and realizes he needs a Chris Pronger-like player to sweep clean the crease in front of Elliott and Neuvirth, that likely won’t happen.
So get used to the six you saw at the beginning of the season folks. It will be a bumpy ride this season, because it always is, but we will undoubtedly ride the highs, the lows, the in-betweens, and still complain every time MacDonald turns the puck over or Manning makes a bad pass. As fans, we need to be used to this by now. It might get better, it might get worse, but regardless, it’ll continue to happen. Let’s just enjoy what we have at this point, and dream about a year or two when all these prospects live up to their lofty expectations and we have a blue line filled with complete studs. That’ll be the day…
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports