Well, the future may have arrived early.
Flyers GM Ron Hextall announced Sunday that Andrew MacDonald will be sidelined for the next 4-6 weeks with a lower body injury, seemingly suffered while blocking a shot during the Flyers’ 2-1 win over the Oilers last Saturday night. While saying this may rub some the wrong way, it still has to be mentioned that the first ten games of this Flyers season may have been some of MacDonald’s best. He seems to have built a bit of a repertoire with partner Ivan Provorov, not being as much of a burden to the young stalwart throughout the Flyers first eight games as he previously does, and actually at some points played a critical role on the back end, as surprising as that is.
But, he will be absent from the lineup for the next month at minimum, and that spot has to be filled by somebody, and before the fan base gets in hysterics over the prospect of Sam Morin being called up and the rookie revolution finally being realized, understand that Brandon Manning is most likely the next man up. Being the 7th defenseman since the season began, and sometimes even swapping in for Travis Sanheim during back to back games or on road trips, means that Manning has the inside track to take MacDonald’s vacated spot. However, on the off chance Manning is left out of the lineup, it could be also be a major turning point for the Flyers organization.
The season so far has been hallmarked by the youth movement on the back end, so it is not out of the question that Sam Morin could end up with the Flyers by the end of November. There are a couple circumstances which would allow this to happen, the first, obviously, being another injury. If anyone else on the blueline goes down before MacDonald gets back, it will allow Morin to slot in and co-exist with Brandon Manning until the injuries are resolved. The other option is a little more far-fetched, it involves Manning falling out of favor with the Flyers brass and being removed from the lineup sometime in the next month or so while MacDonald is still injured.
Due the emergence of Travis Sanheim, we have seen that the Flyers coaching staff is not adverse to benching Manning for a younger option, so if Morin continues his superb play in Lehigh Valley, and Manning looks shaky over the next month, Morin could very well get the call up, sending Manning back to the press box. The only thing really preventing Morin from breaking into the lineup immediately is the abundance of youngsters who already have. If Morin was to play in place of MacDonald, that would give the Flyers five defensemen under the age of 25. While for fans this probably would not be much of an issue, Ron Hextall has proven to be very conservative with his defensive crown jewels, and throwing them all together most likely will not be his first choice, even though Manning himself does not offer much more in the way of experience.
Throughout the months leading up to this season, Manning was trumpeted as one of the “veteran leaders” on the back end along with Radko Gudas and A-Mac himself. However, Manning, while being a part of the organization since 2011, has only played 146 NHL games, less than Shayne Gostisbehere, who has just started his 3rd year in the NHL. On the performance side, it is quite obvious that the ceiling of Morin is much higher than that of his counterpart Manning. Morin is already more polished than Manning in every way, he just seems to be in more control of his body, even though Morin has about five inches on Manning, evidenced by Morin’s Chris Pronger-like man-handling of anyone who challenges him, both in the NHL and AHL.
Overall, this injury has presented an opportunity for one of Manning or Morin to establish themselves as important members of the defensive core, both have somewhat small windows as the Flyers continue to fill up their back end with prospects that make the spots even more sparse then there already was. The top six when healthy seems to be set, so this month long audition is very integral in determining who will get the call when the next injury or roster move happens. There is a very real possibility that whoever takes MacDonald’s spot never gives it back, especially if it is Morin who is tapped as a replacement. Tonight the Flyers take on the Ducks at home, and whoever draws in for that match-up will be an indicator of who exactly will take that coveted last spot, the young gun, or the safe bet, it is up to Ron Hextall to decide.
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