Flyers Reluctance to Play Kids Concerning for Hakstol’s Future
Ron Hextall said it once. Then he said it twice. And the second time, he said he wouldn’t say it again.
“Dave Hakstol is our coach and will remain our coach.”
While the Flyers GM wasn’t very specific about how long he would be allowing Hakstol to “remain” head coach should things continue to turn south, despite the Flyers snapping a 10-game losing streak on Monday, it was another poignant vote of confidence for the head coach he selected over two seasons earlier.
Hakstol’s future may be safe for now, and from Hextall’s standpoint, that’s certainly understandable. While fans are grumbling for the coach’s head, Hextall in his own right probably doesn’t want to admit defeat or failure with his choice for coaching hire so quickly, especially with so many prospects in their rookie year or with under three years of NHL experience.
But it is the very management of these players that is serving as a head-scratcher and should be a big concern as long as Hakstol is at the helm.
Among the forwards, there are the obvious core players that are going to see the ice regularly. Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Wayne Simmonds and Sean Couturier earn the ice time on merit alone. The top trio of Giroux, Voracek and Couturier, though split in Monday’s win, have been the Flyers most productive and consistent line this season.
But beyond that, there is a trio and then some of youngsters. Scott Laughton and Taylor Leier have their roles and are well-acclimated to them, so they aren’t the focus of this discussion.
It is the trio of Jordan Weal, Travis Konecny and Nolan Patrick that are the players of focus.
In a game where the Flyers had played rather uninspired hockey for the second straight outing on Saturday, Hakstol essentially benched the trio of kids.
Patrick took four shifts in the third period, one that lasted the length of the Flyers final power play with the goalie pulled. That shift lasted 3:01. There were six seconds left in the game when Patrick headed to the bench. He played a total of 2:42 before that.
Weal was in his first game back in the lineup, so perhaps you could say he was being eased back into things. Weal had three shifts in the third period of Saturday’s game, totaling 2:10.
Konecny’s treatment was the worst of them all. Konecny had two shifts in the third period. One came 43 seconds into the period and lasted 30 seconds. The other: the final six seconds of the game. That was it. Just 36 seconds of ice time.
Hakstol was asked after the game if Konecny had been benched.
“He wasn’t benched, he did get on the ice,” Hakstol said. “But that ice time is a little bit earned as well in terms of, we put together a unit that could allow us to switch up the matchup against Bergeron, obviously to free up Coots’ line a little bit more on that. The mix was put together after that with kind of a top nine in mind and a bottom three and TK was in the bottom three at that point in time.”
Playing matchups is one thing. But to say ice time is earned is another. Through two periods, Konecny had led the team in shots with four. If that doesn’t earn some ice time, I don’t know what does.
Now you could look at this and think that perhaps it was a one-off, something that would change in the next game. But alas, even with a 5-2 lead in the third period against Calgary, things remained the same.
Patrick had just two shifts totaling 1:33. Konecny didn’t have a shift at all in the period. Even defenseman Travis Sanheim saw just one shift for 18 seconds.
With the exception of Dale Weise, who left with an injury at 1:58 of the third period, the only players with less than 10 minutes of ice time for the game were Patrick, Konecny and Sanheim. Patrick had 8:22 total. Konecny had 7:56. Sanheim had 9:24.
These are supposed to be key players to the future of the franchise, and rather than give them extended ice time and allow them to try to get the on-ice experience, they are literally watching from the bench.
It would be one thing if these players were fourth-line forwards getting their feet wet while the rest of the team was successfully driving scoring. Teams that are winning sometimes have the luxury to ease young players into more ice time, especially depending on how the game’s flow develops.
But on a 10-game losing streak, there is no excuse for essentially sheltering your young players that supposedly earned their roster spots.
It’s not like Dale Weise or Jori Lehtera are producing on the scoresheet or making a huge impact that they have “earned” more ice time than the kids. Weise would have certainly seen the ice more in the final period on Monday if not for the injury. Lehtera was a healthy scratch on Monday, but played 12:03 in Saturday’s loss, including 2:41 in the third period. Weise played 13:01 in Saturday’s loss, including 4:03 in the third period.
The Flyers won't call it a rebuild, but the truth of the matter is that with so many young players on the roster with not much experience, it is a building and growing process. And the only way to grow is to get the kids on the ice.
No doubt, the Flyers and their young players have had to learn lessons the hard way, right down to Monday night when a turnover by Patrick led to the second Calgary goal.
But that's part of the process, and it can't be impeded for the sake of trying to win games. There was no reason to leave these players on the bench in the third period of a three-goal game. It's not the right message for kids who were told to earn their spot on the roster. Maybe it's the change the Flyers need.
Kevin Durso is Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.