Let me preface this article by saying that one, I didn’t write this article, let alone join this industry, to make friends. I didn’t do it to appease the masses. I decided to start writing because I love the sport of hockey, and I love the Flyers. I love hearing your opinions, and I love the banter back and forth with all of you. Many of you will disagree with what you are about to read. Many of you will question my knowledge of hockey. That’s fine! However, by the end of this article, I want you all to understand where I am coming from, and I hope that you can come away from reading this at least being able to say, “You know, he has a point.” Now without further ado, here is what you’ve all been chomping at the bit to read.
Folks, this anti-Manning narrative is getting out of hand. I understand the frustration, because I used to be one of you. It’s so easy to get caught up in the mob mentality when nearly all of Flyers Nation is pissing and moaning about the same guy. You want to be a part of it, you want to agree with everyone and be a part of the majority.
I’m here to tell you that being in the minority is cool too! I’m also here to tell you that no, Brandon Manning isn’t a great defenseman, in any sense of the word. You can think that he is a bad defenseman without calling for his head every time he makes a mistake. It’s possible, I promise you.
The main reason he isn’t as bad as you jackals make him out to be is because he’s a serviceable, third pairing defenseman, making $975,000 this year, and is off the books after the end of the season. Considering everyone’s favorite scapegoat, Andrew MacDonald, is making 5 million a year, I’d say that’s a bargain.
Another reason is the fact that because he resides on the bottom pairing, he gets the least amount of minutes, or at least that’s how it should be. Over the last 7 games, he has seen his role expanded, and rightfully so. Heck, during the first month of the season, he was playing an average of 20-21 minutes a night. That’s because his play warranted such minutes. He put up a majority of his points in the first two months of the season, so Hakstol rewarded him with more playing time.
When Hakstol plays Manning at the rate that a normal third pairing defenseman plays at, it balances out. When Hakstol plays him over 20 minutes a night, comparable to what Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov log, the whole world is set ablaze in a hatred for Manning. Last time I checked, or anyone checked for that matter, you can do it yourself if you please, Manning doesn’t dictate what minutes he plays. That’s a coaching decision. Maybe your anger when Manning logs “too many” minutes should be directed towards someone else in a higher position.
Reason number three as to why the anti-Manning narrative is foolish rests in his character. When was the last time you saw Manning skate away from a fight? When was the last time you saw a guy like Giroux or Voracek catch a nasty hit with Manning on the ice, and he is nowhere to be found? Let me answer that for you, never. Manning is always one of the first players on the ice to come to a teammates defense, even if he gives up 50 pounds and 6 inches to his opponent.
It’s not about the size of the Mandog in the fight, it’s about the size of the fight in the Mandog.
Manning is constantly going to bat for his teammates, because that’s what is asked of him. Hakstol isn’t a complete moron, key word being complete. He knows what he has in Brandon Manning, and that’s toughness, grit, and a willingness to protect his teammates. When you have a guy like that playing with stars like Giroux, Voracek, Provorv, etc… you have a luxury many teams don’t.
Lastly, and quite possibly the most important flaw in the narrative, is that people are too tied up in the future of the Flyers. Don’t get me wrong, I understand, and I’m also excited about the future of the Flyers blue line. However, in case you haven’t been watching the Flyers as of late, they are currently in the midst of a playoff push, and could be pretty dangerous once they get there.
I understand how people can overlook the present. The Flyers have young, immensely talented defensemen in the pipeline and the future creeps closer and closer with every passing year. However, knowing what they have in the minors, coupled with the growing frustration of the current state of the blue line leads many to become easily frustrated when looking at the defenseman the Flyers have in the lineup currently. Yes, Manning makes mistakes. Yes, he needs to be held accountable for those mistakes. However, doesn’t Provorov make mistakes as well? How about offensive-dynamo Shayne Gostisbehere, has be made a few mistakes before, maybe leading to a goal or two for the opposing team? I think so, and I think that they need to be held just as accountable as Manning is when he suffers a gaff.
Regardless of the mistakes on the current roster, the AHL and junior leagues that harbor the next wave of Flyers hopefuls continue to grow, and at an ever-increasing rate. These prospects will be here before we all know it, and that has us all antsy. We are all so quick to point the finger and say, “Sam Morin wouldn’t have done that!” or “If Philippe Myers played that puck, it wouldn’t have ended up behind Lyon on that play.” Knowing what the pipeline possesses can hinder expectations of the current Flyers roster.
I’m well aware that Manning is far from a stud defenseman. I’m also well aware of the fact that he isn’t being paid like one either. For what he is earning, compiled with the fact that he does what he is asked of and is a victim of the stacked prospect pool expectations, it’s hard for me to fully place be blame on Brandon Manning’s shoulders. He knows he is a stopgap solution, he isn’t stupid. He knows that once these youngsters below him take that next step, he becomes not only expendable, but a free agent.
At his current cap hit, and given the current situation, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Flyers tried to sign him for next year, this time as a 7th defenseman to plug in as needed, and that should make you anti-Manning fools somewhat happy. However, don’t discount what he has brought to the table for the Flyers. He’s a physical presence who does what is asked of him, and he does it cheap.
In closing, I want you all to know that I do understand the frustration. I do understand why people become so annoyed at his play. However, it’s time for you to understand that given the current situation in Philadelphia, Brandon Manning is far from the worst option we have.
Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports