The playoff dream is officially dead. The Philadelphia Flyers have six games left and are eight points back of the Montreal Canadiens, the final wild card team. No matter what the players say in post-game interviews about things not being over, a mediocre two-week stretch (capped off with a pair of losses last weekend) completely doomed the long shot.
With that out of the way, it’s time for the Flyers to try to fit in some of the late-season player evaluation that teams usually do once their playoff chances have been formally extinguished. There are two players in particular who deserve a look.
Cam Talbot Deserves to be Played
The Flyers traded young goaltender Anthony Stolarz for veteran Cam Talbot on Feb. 16. He didn’t make an appearance for the team until more than two weeks after that, allowing three goals on 33 shots in a victory over the New Jersey Devils. He got a 15-save, one-goal-against relief performance five days later on March 6, and hasn’t seen the ice since.
General manager Chuck Fletcher made a couple of statements about the reasoning for the trade right after it occurred. “This is an opportunity to get a guy that’s been a No. 1 in the league, he’s been a No. 2 in the league…I think he’ll just give this organization a shot in the arm right now,” he said, and also, “I think this is an opportunity for us to evaluate Cam down the stretch and see if there’s a fit.”
Neither has borne out. Instead, Brian Elliott has played in 11 games since that trade, including nine starts, performing pretty well throughout and doing his part to keep the team’s distant playoff hopes alive (until they weren’t). Rookie Carter Hart has shouldered the rest of the load, but suffered some bad starts and injuries in that time.
It all raises a lot of questions. Elliott was injured from November until February, but he returned to action just three days after Talbot was acquired and has been healthy since. Though Fletcher has only been general manager since essentially the time Elliott left with injury, that doesn’t mean he had no idea what the goaltender offers. The soon-to-be-34-year-old (his birthday is in mid-April) has played 13 NHL seasons, more than five of them in the same division as Fletcher’s former team, the Minnesota Wild.
So Fletcher, in trading for Talbot, seemed to indicate that Elliott had no future with the franchise, but then the team entrusted Elliott with the remainder of this season. In true Philadelphia fashion, this seems more or less unfair to three goalies: Elliott, certainly; Stolarz, since his drafting team traded him away for a piece they basically deemed non-essential; and Talbot, the player who moved across an entire continent to play about 95 minutes of hockey in a month.
At least Hart, who any of those three would be competing to back-up next season, wasn’t dragged into that one.
If Elliott’s done with the team, then it’s time to give him a rest. And if there’s any real interest in seeing what the 31-year-old Talbot has to offer, it’s time to do that, too. There are six games left, and it would be disappointing–and entirely head-scratching–to not see Talbot start a couple of them.
It Ought to be Morin Time
Samuel Morin was drafted five years and ten months ago, a towering and mean 6-foot-7 defenseman meant to pick up the punishing defensive-defenseman role that’s been vacant since Chris Pronger’s career was shattered.
But organizational turnover and horrible injury luck has held Morin to just three NHL games, one in 2016-17 and two in the first half of 2017-18. He suffered an ACL tear shortly after, but his road back seems to be all-but complete: the only thing missing is an NHL appearance (or six).
The team has seen success inserting another large rookie defenseman, Philippe Myers, into the lineup. He’s had his share of shaky moments, but the positives have far outweighed the rookie mistakes and his presence seems to have finally unseated fan-least-favorite Andrew MacDonald from the starting lineup.
Morin, for his part, has been chomping at the bit. Recalled a month ago from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, he’s been bringing all the intensity that the team wants from him to Flyers practices: “I mean, it upsets some guys. But I really don’t have much of a choice. I need to be really intense and I need to work hard so when I get my shot, I will be ready,” he said recently (from ‘As Flyers hang on, Samuel Morin’s chance to play dissipates,’ The Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/19/19).
Signed to a bargain of an NHL contract and possessing a physical skillset no other Flyer can claim, Morin remains an alluring prospect who could further strengthen what’s shaping up to be an impressive young defense. Both Robert Hagg and Radko Gudas, the current physical stay-at-home defenders on the roster, only have a year left on each of their contracts (though Hagg will remain a restricted free agent). A few games now for Morin could help the team get a sense of who they have to fill that role, in the interest of shaping their offseason personnel plans.
It’s in Gordon’s Hands
Up to this point, the Flyers’ resurgence from basement dwellers to fringe playoff contenders has been shaping their roster decisions. Interim head coach Scott Gordon certainly has had incentive for a playoff push, as it would strengthen his case to cut the “interim” from his title. There’s no criticism to be levied at Gordon for choosing to ride known quantities rather than new faces with a potential playoff berth on the line.
But with their official elimination coming as soon as the Canadiens find their next four points (or the Flyers lose twice), it’s high time to start making necessary player evaluations for the future. Though there are only six games left, the team may owe both Morin and Talbot a chance to make their case for jobs next season. And in the very least, it’ll give the fanbase something new to watch for over the last two weeks of another uneven, lost season.
A childhood hockey player who never grew up to be big and strong, so ended up a writer.