With a three-game road trip next on the slate for the Philadelphia Flyers, Olle Lycksell…
The mission statement of this season of Flyers hockey can be expressed in one word: development. A continued journey in unearthing the next core of the Philadelphia Flyers. Dressing up that very simple one-word goal is a lot of talk about standards and accountability and “doing things the right way.”
As far as I’m concerned, all of those statements’ validity were in very real jeopardy on Monday. There’s a lot of talk about “earning your keep” or some derivative of the same sentiment in Flyers Land. Yesterday represented an opportunity for the team to align their money and their mouth. Besides that, it tested the statements of Danny Briere, who repeatedly ensured the fanbase that “the team wouldn’t be blocking the kids.”
Making those assurances while bringing in Sean Walker, Marc Staal, Garnett Hathaway, and Ryan Poehling was bold. Briere painted himself into a box. Now, you might defend any of these moves individually. Perhaps you’ll even defend all of the forward signings by saying that “the kids wouldn’t be on the fourth line anyway.”
That’s missing the point. Hathaway and Poehling will be on the fourth line. This means that other veterans like Scott Laughton will be in the top-9, and presenting at least some blockade to “the kids” in the process.
With all of that said, I have to give Danny a ton of credit here. He walked that tight rope.
There were four kids who seemed prime for a roster spot based on the returns of training camp, or their previous seasons. Tyson Foerster, Bobby Brink, Emil Andrae, and Egor Zamula. Two forwards and two defensemen.
Ostensibly, there was only room for three of those four to make it. When the Flyers refused to waive Felix Sandstrom–for reasons beyond my comprehension–they created that paradigm. It seemed all but certain that either Bobby Brink or Tyson Foerster would be starting their season in Leigh High Valley, ergo “blocking a kid” when I was assured that no such thing would occur.
But there was a plot twist that unfolded.
Risto is dead. Colloquially speaking, at least. He’s actually placed on the Injured Reserve list, which means he will be off the roster for at least seven days. Without Rasmus Ristolainnen on the roster, Danny had room to protect Sandstrom from waivers and carve out roster spots for the precious children.
Opponents of Risto would be wise to seize the day, and point out something like: “Imagine if we could do this for the whole season, and not pay him over 5 million dollars.”
I admit, I’ve had a couple of such daydreams.
Unfortunately, Chuck Fletcher’s contract will be honored and Ristolainnen will be wearing Orange and Black sooner rather than later. I mean, unless Ristolainnen turns out to be Ryan Ellis 2.0. Or maybe Cam Atkinson 2.0. Given that I have 2 examples in as many years, it’s–at the very least–a realistic possibility.
Still, the most likely outcome is that Risto will play, and soon. That means this is, at best, a temporary measure.
The question is how much the four rookies will actually play in the interim. Now, I don’t know why I’m asking this question in reference to a team that’s actively rebuilding. It is not unheard of for rebuilding teams to feature at least four rookies on their day-to-day roster. It isn’t uncommon for competitive teams to field that many true youngsters.
But my gnashing of teeth will fall on deaf ears. For better or worse, I will have to grapple with this question. And so will the Flyers’ brass, particularly John Tortorella.
There is only one spot in the top 9 for Brink and Foerster. Now, that statement has a caveat. Someone else might be dead. This is the Flyers, so we can’t rule it out. Cam Atkinson is being kept in bubble wrap, I am all but guaranteed. Sean Couturier has had more back surgeries than regular season NHL games since December 2021.
Tortorella told me that Risto was only “nicked up” and being kept out for precautionary reasons which didn’t actually speak to an inability to play hockey. Then I found out he’s on IR.
Likely, the two will switch in and out for each other. The can will be kicked just a little further down the road. I will say: it seems like a terribly inopportune arrangement for Foerster. With someone who is suffering through an uncharacteristic lack of precision, going back and forth from the top-9 in the NHL the bench could be a wonderful way of making things significantly worse.
Emil Andrae and Egor Zamula are a bit more interesting. Theoretically, both could play in every game that Risto misses. At least one will play every game in the interim, assuming the Flyers extend Risto’s IR trip to encompass 3 or so games. Based on camp performance and Tortorella’s statement, Andrae seems to be in the lead for the guy who is guaranteed minutes.
But Tortorella has always liked Zamula, and it wouldn’t be an imprudent idea to sit down with Marc Staal for a few games (or a whole season, actually.)
The Flyers are likely hoping that their little gambit with Risto will buy them enough time for the picture around which of these 4 kids is most ready to become more clear. It’ll be an interesting storyline to follow as the season opens on Thursday.
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Flyers Website