Philadelphia Flyers: Assembling the defense after Samuel Morin’s injury
The Philadelphia Flyers were expecting to have hulking defenseman Samuel Morin playing for the big club in October, but a serious knee injury may force the team to re-evaluate its options.
The sport of hockey can be unpredictable and cruel. Take the case of Philadelphia Flyers prospect Samuel Morin, for example. A graduate of the 2013 NHL draft class, Morin has taken the long road to the NHL. It seems like the Canadian lefty has been developing his game for an eternity in the minors, as his ascendance to the big show eagerly awaited by the fan base.
Not only after Hall of Famer Chris Pronger led the Flyers to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance and several trips to the playoffs thereafter, the club drafted Morin in the hopes that he would follow in Pronger’s footsteps by becoming a dominant, physical force.
Morin is a towering 6-foot-6, 202-pound giant that plays a tough, gritty style. He projects as a stay at home defenseman who can bring the puck out of the zone when needed, but will mostly be asked to play a physical shutdown game. The comparisons to Pronger were probably unfair from the start, as Pronger was one of the best puck moving defenseman of his era, but that hasn’t done much to temper the organizational expectations.
It was expected that 2017 would be Morin’s year. That was supposed be the season in which he was finally called up for good. But the hockey gods have a funny sense of humor, as we saw pretty early on in the season. Morin made the team out of camp and traveled on the first road trip, but it was clear from the start that he was not high on head coach Dave Hakstol‘s priority list.
Morin ended up watching most of the western road trip from the press box (via John Boruk of NBC Sports Philadelphia) while Hakstol elected to use Brandon Manning. When Shayne Gostisbhere returned from injury, Ron Hextall made it clear that one of the eight defensemen they were carrying would be returning to Lehigh Valley. After all, it would make little sense to leave young players like Morin and Travis Sanheim in the press box where they cannot gain valuable playing time.
Unfortunately for Morin, it was not his time. He returned to Lehigh Valley where he hoped to show the coaching staff that they had made a mistake by demoting him. He would battle injuries for a majority of the season, but was a key player for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms during their Calder Cup Playoff run. Just when it seemed like Morin was making his case to join the Flyers next year, he suffered a season-ending ACL tear in the Phantoms’ epic five-overtime win, which now threatens to derail his 2019 season.
The injury to Morin’s knee is concerning for multiple reasons. For one, there is great uncertainty regarding his role with the Flyers heading into next season. The injury to his ACL will sideline him until at least February 2019, and that’s only if his rehab goes perfectly.
This puts the team in a precarious situation, due to the fact that Morin is no longer waiver exempt. This means he cannot be sent to Lehigh Valley without first clearing waivers. This would be a risky move for Hextall, as a team would most certainly take a flier on Morin as a waiver claim. Hiding him in the minors while he recovers is probably not an option.
Another reason is that the Flyers will now need to replace him on the roster. Due to his waiver-exempt status, it was almost a certainty that Morin would be with the Flyers next season. He will now be placed on long-term injury reserve which will help with the salary cap hit and free up a roster spot.
Before Morin’s injury, the depth chart for the defense going into next season resembled something like this:
First pair: Ivan Provorv, Shayne Gostisbhere
Second pair: Travis Sanheim, Radko Gudas
Third pair: Robert Hagg, Andrew MacDonald
Seventh: Samuel Morin
Outside shots: Phil Myers, Mark Friedman
The hope was that Morin would crack the top six and push out a veteran like MacDonald or Gudas. Perhaps Hextall would even feel comfortable enough to trade away one of the two, if possible. But Hakstol’s questionable history of lineup decisions forced me to project Morin as a seventh defenseman until proven otherwise.
The team will need to carry at least seven defensemen, and so Hextall must now decide how he will assemble this group going into the season down one player. In the wake of Morin’s injury, I believe there are three options that Hextall has with regard to his defensemen for 2018-19.