The Philadelphia Flyers are in an interesting predicament. Considering that a lot of “experts” predicted that they’d be among the NHL’s worst teams this season, they are actually in a fairly enviable position. They are winning while in a rebuild. Not only that, with injured players getting ready to come back and contribute, they will have to bench some guys who have been performing well.
A lot of times when a team loses some star or second-tier players, you see the team struggle to win or, in extreme cases, fall apart. Good teams can rise above while bad teams make excuses.
Funny thing, the Flyers have been without two of their starting defenders, their starting goalie, and have been actively scratching one of their star forwards. They really haven’t missed a step. Sure, they are not yet anywhere close to being called one of the NHL’s elite teams, but they aren’t bad either. They are in the playoff hunt and seem to be improving in some areas.
Because of this, I don’t envy John Tortorella’s job at all. He has to actively balance the needs of the veterans, the needs of the younger players, and the needs of the team all at the same time. This means that someone good is going to have to sit some times. Torts said it best when he said in a recent press conference:
"“When there are decisions to be made, you know you’re getting deeper in your lineup, I’m not going to lose sight of the kids. We’ll see where it all goes. We’re going to be making these decisions all year long, whether it be older guys or the younger guys, as we continue. We want to grow them, but we’re trying to win hockey games, too, as we’re involved in the season.”"
Let’s define this a bit with the defense. Travis Sanheim and Sean Walker have been playing very solid, very reliable defense. Nick Seeler has been among the more physical guys out there. Cam York and Yegor Zamula have had some pretty big moments so far and show signs of growth. Even injury fill-in Louie Belpedio has played outstanding in the short amount of time he’s been up.
Marc Staal is ready to come back to play. There are some reports that Rasmus Ristolainen may also be ready to play soon. Who’s gonna sit? With two defenders coming back, who are you going to sit or, in the case of some, demote to the AHL ranks? Will sending some youngster down to Lehigh Valley or scratching them stunt their development? Will scratching a vet for a game damage their ego and their motivation to play?
We’re seeing this sort of battle going on with the forwards with the whole Morgan Frost situation. With Frost seemingly “waking up” after his two goal performance last weekend, it would seem to be an easier decision to insert him into the lineup. But again, that means that someone like Bobby Brink, Tyson Foerster or Ryan Poehling will have to sit.
For a coach like Tortorella, he has to put the best team out there that can compete. At the same time, he has to think about the future of the Flyers. What players need time to develop to become the backbone of this team? What players are time running out on? What players need exposure so that their skills could be put on display so they could be moved for future assets?
While I am sure that Tortorella has control over the Flyers daily lineups, you can bet that GM Daniel Briere and President of Hockey Ops Keith Jones have their fingers in a lot of this as well. This is a team that is more talented than people are giving credit to. Finding that balance is key to moving forward.