Photo courtesy of Amy Irvin/38Photography
The blue line remains a battered place for the Flyers.
Braydon Coburn has missed time twice with injury, including now after suffering a lower-body injury against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Jan. 12. Nick Grossmann went down with an upper-body injury against the Capitals on Jan. 8.
Most recently, on Monday afternoon, the Flyers lost Nick Schultz and Carlo Colaiacovo with upper-body injuries, leaving just four regular defensemen in the lineup – Mark Streit, Andrew MacDonald, Luke Schenn and Michael Del Zotto. There is also Kimmo Timonen – a valuable missing piece for the Flyers – who hasn't played all season and likely won't as he deals with a blood clot in his leg.
Needing call-ups, the Flyers elected to go with Brandon Manning and Oliver Lauridsen, two younger players with NHL experience. While the moves were understandable, and likely just for one game, there was belief that the Flyers could pull the trigger on calling up 19-year-old prospect Robert Hagg.
Through the ongoing struggles the Flyers face and an even worse situation on defense due to injury, the Flyers are remaining patient with the prospects.
Ron Hextall preached patience with the many talented prospects the Flyers have, especially on defense. Blue line help is on the way for this team. Three defensemen in the system – Travis Sanheim, Sam Morin and Shayne Gostisbehere – ranked in the top 20 on TSN's top 30 NHL-affiliated prospects. Sanheim is 10th on the list with Morin at 14th and Gostisbehere at 19th.
The talent is coming – though Sanheim and Morin are likely a few seasons away still playing in juniors. But Hagg turned heads playing for Sweden at World Juniors and Gostisbehere already got his feet wet at the NHL level in October. At least two prospect defensemen could be ready next season.
That may be the one thing that makes the remaining portion of this season tolerable. Having virtually nothing to play for will only help the Flyers stay the course. Sure, they will talk about how they still believe they are a playoff team and about how they won't tank. But the outlook still remains fairly the same, even if the Flyers don't purposely try to lose. They will likely fall to the far superior teams in this league on most nights anyway.
But with nothing to play for, the temptation to make a rash move – as they did with Gostisbehere in October – is gone. Gostisbehere will continue to get healthy, go back to Lehigh Valley and easily be on the Flyers radar next season to join the team for good. Hagg will also get valuable playing time before the preseason even begins at Lehigh Valley and be another target.
Given the Flyers are stuck with MacDonald and Streit for several more seasons, the Flyers will have two spots left to fill between Schenn, Del Zotto, Coburn and Grossmann.
Chances are Coburn will be shipped off soon enough, and Grossmann's days seem numbered as well. If the Flyers keep Del Zotto, Schenn and Schultz likely return as their sixth and seventh defensemen. Even bringing just one or two defensemen from the minors into the picture could greatly change the outlook of the team.
It won't make the Flyers a playoff team overnight, but it will certainly be a lot more tolerable to watch two prospects grow at this level instead of veterans consistently screw up on a nightly basis.
That doesn't mean there are any guarantees for Hagg or even Gostisbehere. Both will have to earn their spots by impressing Hextall and company. But it seems the Flyers would set their sights on having at least one prospect defenseman at the NHL level by next season.
It would be an experiment, but it would fulfill what the Flyers have preached all season. What the Flyers need for their youngest players is a clean slate, a team – and perhaps a coach – that provides a fresh start and a new beginning. A new season will do just that.
So the prospects stay in the minors and for good reason. They will be here soon enough.
Kevin Durso is managing editor for Flyerdelphia. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.