Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas was suspended 10 games for his slash on Thursday night. He served the first game on Saturday, so he will be out for nine games, taking him through the beginning of December.
Gudas is one of the Flyers’ most dependable defensemen, and the Flyers will need to replace him for nine games. Mark Alt has played well enough in a spot start role, but he isn’t the type of guy that can fill a gap for nine games. Andrew MacDonald is nearing a return from a lower-body injury, and could rejoin the lineup this week, but that might not be the answer either. That still leaves Brandon Manning as the team’s sixth defenseman.
The defenseman that deserves a call up to the NHL is waiting in the AHL, and was actually in Philadelphia for the Flyers Wives Carnival on Sunday. That man is Sam Morin.
Morin came into training camp with two years of AHL experience under his belt, and looking to take one of the two open spots on the blue line. He impressed in camp, and many (including myself) thought that he did enough to make the roster. However, due to fit, it was Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim who took those two spots, with Morin being sent back to Lehigh Valley after the opening road trip.
The Flyers were planning on calling up Morin after MacDonald’s injury, and they even announced it, but they couldn’t after learning of Morin’s injury. He missed a few weeks, but is back in the lineup and deserves a chance now. He’s played two games since returning, and has felt no ill effects of his injury. He picked up an assist and even took down an opponent in a late fight in the Phantoms’ most recent game on Friday night.
Gudas brings a tough, physical presence in the defensive end, and is also capable of holding his own and making plays in the offensive end. Morin brings the same skillset. His game has taken a bit longer to refine due to his size, but he has improved his game and he’s NHL ready. He showed in the preseason that he’s capable of playing great defense, is faster than he looks, and can even chip in offensively with a snipe and a nice setup to Wayne Simmonds for a shorthanded goal.
The main difference between Gudas and Morin, besides experience, is handedness. Morin is lefthanded, while Gudas is righthanded. Therefore, Gudas plays on the right side and Morin is much more comfortable on the left. It shouldn’t be too much of an issue, though, as Shayne Gostisbehere has been going back and forth this season, as have Robert Hagg, Brandon Manning, and even Travis Sanheim at times.
The perfect fit might not be there still, with Morin ideally taking the spot of someone on the left side (like the planned call up for MacDonald), but the timing is right. The Flyers’ young defenseman are settled in and proving themselves at the NHL level. There are no worries about Ivan Provorov or Shayne Gostisbehere, who are both young in their own right, and the two rookies in Hagg and Sanheim have adjusted to the learning curve. The Flyers weren’t worried about potentially playing three rookies a few weeks ago when trying to call up Morin, and they shouldn’t worry about it now.
MacDonald’s return plays a huge factor in the potential call-up, however. He could return to the top pair with Provorov, slide Hagg back down with Gostisbehere, and keep Manning on the third pair. But that shouldn’t be the case. Manning, while playing well at times, is ideally a seventh defenseman. Bringing Morin up will allow MacDonald to get to 100% before being activated, and will move Manning back to that seventh defenseman role. Even if Manning plays a game here or there for Morin, or someone else, getting Morin into the lineup is key.
Nine games is a lot; just over 10% of the season. Trying to use a band aid in Alt would be incredibly foolish, and while Manning can be solid, a six-man group with MacDonald and Manning as liabilities isn’t smart either. Morin has bided his time with the Phantoms and has earned a chance with Gudas out.
Andrew MacDonald is nearing a return, but will not be available for Tuesday night’s game against Vancouver. Wednesday night in Brooklyn will be a possibility, but there’s no need to rush him back.
The Flyers placed Matt Read on waivers on Monday, likely opening up a roster spot for a defenseman in Gudas’ absence. Morin should be that guy.
The Flyers can use Mark Alt as a seventh defenseman after they call up Morin, and send him back down once MacDonald is activated.
Using Morin in Gudas’ place makes sense, and the news from today’s practice only furthers that argument.
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