Philadelphia Flyers injured center Vincent Lecavalier could return to the lineup soon. When he does come back, Scott Hartnell will be the odd man out.
When Hartnell signed a six-year contract extension worth $28.5 million after the 2011-12 season ended, he had just finished the best season of his career. He scored 37 goals and notched 30 assists while playing on the top line with Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr. He was even named to the 2012 All-Star team.
In the seasons following his extension, Hartnell has been a huge disappointment for the Flyers. A broken foot caused him to miss 16 games during the lockout-shortened season of 2013. He only scored eight goals and totaled three assists for 11 points in 32 games.
This season has not been much better for the 31-year-old winger. Through 31 games, Hartnell has 13 points. He only has one multi-point game this season. During the 2011-12 campaign, he had 18 multi-point games.
Back on Nov. 30 against the Nashville Predators, Lecavalier injured his back. A few days later, it was announced he would be out for 3-4 weeks with an non-displaced lower back fracture. Lecavalier skated with the team this morning and said he felt it was his “best day” so far. He has added extra padding on his back to protect himself from cross checks, which caused the small fracture. Thursday evening, he said there was a possibility he could return on Dec. 28 when the Flyers begin another six-game road trip.
When Lecavalier does return to the lineup, there is no question his name will go down as the second-line center. Brayden Schenn will likely slide over to the left wing position, and Wayne Simmonds will likely stay on the right wing. That leaves Scott Hartnell with nowhere to go but down.
Some fans have argued the Flyers cannot put Hartnell on the fourth line or scratch him because of his contract. Hartnell’s contract should not dictate what line he plays on, nor should it dictate how much ice time he receives. Players who play well deserve more ice time. Players who do not play well deserve less. Hartnell has played poorly through most of this season. He has taken too many dumb penalties and has not produced enough offense – five points in his last ten games – to justify a place in the top six.
The top line has been on fire since Michael Raffl was inserted on the left wing. Lecavalier, Schenn and Simmonds have worked well together and the third line has been shutting down the opposing top lines on a consistent basis. That leaves the fourth line open, a line where Hartnell should stay until he proves himself worthy of a top-nine spot.
The Flyers hit the road Saturday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets. After that, they will host the Minnesota Wild on Monday night. The team will then take a four-day holiday break. Those several days off to give Lecavalier and Steve Downie, who is out for a week, time to rest and heal. It also gives Berube time to develop a game plan for another crucial road trip against some tough Western Conference opponents.
*I wrote an article that Hartnell should earn back the top left-wing spot back on Oct. 23.