Steve Downie's appearance probably would have changed very little in the grand scheme of things on Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers looked like a good old fashioned trainwreck, way beyond what any one guy could fix. But poor performance from everyone else in the lineup doesn't excuse poor coaching decisions.
Downie's healthy scratch on Saturday was his third of the season, with the other two coming on January 12 and 14 against the Rangers and Sabres, respectively. This is all less than one month removed from him being on a line together with Sean Couturier and Matt Read, on what was more or less universally agreed to be the best line on the team between early-mid November and mid-late December (at which point Downie suffered an "upper-body injury" for which we never really found out the specifics).
Since returning to the team on December 28 from an undisclosed injury, Downie has moved around quite a bit, from the fourth line ... up to the third line ... to the first line ... to the third line ... to the press box ... to the a different, weirder version of the first line ... to a different, weirder version of the third line ... to the fourth line ... and finally back to the press box on Sunday. All of this happened over a 16 game span.
Now, let me make something clear: Downie hasn't played well in that time. He has scored zero points since his return to the lineup, despite spending multi-game stretches on lines with high-end playmakers like Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Vincent Lecavalier. That's bad. His Corsi-for percentage (the percentage of total shot attempts at 5-on-5 while he's on the ice that go the Flyers' way) in that time is 45.8 percent. That's also bad. In that time, he's committed five non-coincidental minor penalties and has drawn three, which isn't particularly good either.
This is why I was OK with Downie getting scratched the first time, against the Rangers a couple weeks back. Send the guy a message, let him know more is expected of him, and set him back on his way.
But Downie sitting against Boston -- a team that packs toughness AND skill into one big, difficult-to-play-against lineup, a matchup in which Downie would come in handy -- leads me to think that his stock is tracking way, way low within the team and organization.
It's not like the guys playing in his stead are making any sort of actual contributions. Chris VandeVelde is a fourth-line grinder and fringe NHLer. Jay Rosehill is dressed for his toughness and fists, which sure came in handy on Saturday while he was getting a stupid penalty for gently grazing a guy with his elbow after the play, all while Scott Hartnell and Luke Schenn were the ones doing the fighting as the Flyers faced three- and four-goal deficits.
Downie is one of the 12 best forwards on this roster. That isn't really up for debate. His being scratched for the two aforementioned guys leads me to think that Craig Berube and the Flyers believe that the Downie we saw in November and December is gone. It's sad to think that unless there's an injury in the top-9, he's probably doomed to spend the season's last two and a half months shuttling between the press box and the fourth line, getting about 10 minutes a game.
Maybe I'm wrong. And maybe this will all be a moot point this week, because apparently Downie skated on a line with Couturier and Read in practice Sunday while Scott Hartnell was walking around the arena with a boot on his foot. But I'm just getting this sinking feeling that the team has decided that Downie is the odd man out indefinitely. For a guy who has, among other things, helped the Flyers get more out of Sean Couturier, that's a little upsetting.
When Downie was brought here in a trade on Halloween, people -- both from and not from Philadelphia -- basically laughed it off as the Flyers being big dumb goons like they always have been. That's stupid. It was stupid then and it's stupid now, as anyone who spends approximately eight seconds looking at Downie's (and Talbot's) career stats could tell you.
But Downie's not by any means an elite guy when it comes to playmaking and creating scoring chances and things like that, so if you put him on a fourth line, you probably shouldn't be surprised to see him put up results worthy of a fourth-liner. Granted, his time on other lines hasn't been good either in that timeframe, but odds are if he gets his chances with good players he'll eventually make good on them. If he keeps playing with the Chris VandeVeldes and Adam Halls of the world, we're probably not going to see much more out of him than what we've seen the past few weeks.
I get that Craig Berube's hands are tied a little bit here. Various things have happened -- Michael Raffl not making his way up the lineup until December; Vincent Lecavalier getting injured; Matt Read suffering a concussion -- that allowed Downie to stay in the top-9. With all of those guys in the lineup, there are 10 guys to fit into nine top-9 forward spots. And Downie -- whose style, more than any of the other choices for demotion, lends itself to a tough, checking fourth line -- is the obvious choice.
But that doesn't make it any less disappointing (or annoying) to watch a guy who's succeeded with the team this year see his impact effectively decrease as the season goes on.
Downie will probably draw back into the lineup Tuesday night either way, since the Red Wings don't dress anyone "worth" dressing Rosehill for. But barring some sharp turn upward in his fortunes (or, as mentioned above, some injuries), I wouldn't be surprised to see Downie in and out of the lineup the rest of the way this year.
His contract runs out at the end of this year, and at this point in time it sure seems likely the Flyers are going to cut their ties with him come July 1. Which, if that happens, is totally fine -- he's brought value to the Flyers in his time here, and lord only knows the Flyers could use the extra cap room that they wouldn't have been able to use had Talbot (a good, albeit easily replaceable player) still been here.
I'm just worried that the Flyers are content to let this experiment run its course without making any attempts to revive it, and as a result they'll let go of a guy who's shown he can help this team and play well with them because of a bad set of circumstances. Which, for a trade that was actually well-reasoned and well-intentioned, is a darn shame.