Throughout training camp, it was obvious that the Philadelphia Flyers had a serious logjam on defense. With eight defensemen on NHL contracts, it was not only going to be difficult for any of the highly-touted prospects to make the team out of camp, but also would be a test for the veterans, who faced a legitimate battle for a spot on opening night.
Last Saturday the Flyers sent the remaining prospects - Shayne Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg - to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. But that still left eight vets battling for six spots. And this morning, it appears the other shoe has dropped.
Forward and defense lines:12-28-93, 10-14-17, 24-49-20, 76/40-25-78, 55-32, 82-3, 15-23, 47-22.— Bill Meltzer (@billmeltzer) October 3, 2015
Mark Streit, Nick Schultz, Evgeny Medvedev and Michael Del Zotto always seemed like lineup locks. But this morning at practice, Brandon Manning and Radko Gudas filled out the top-six, leaving expected starters Luke Schenn and Andrew MacDonald out in the cold on the fourth pairing.
And this very well may be a dress rehearsal for Thursday night's opener.
Hakstol said it's not set in stone that lines and D pairs used today hold thru opening night, but also in not planning immediate change.— Bill Meltzer (@billmeltzer) October 3, 2015
With the first game of the season five days away, it's certainly possible that Schenn or MacDonald could impress enough in practice to make it back into the lineup. But Hakstol was clear that if the season started today, both veterans would be up in the press box.
So what happens now? Hextall clearly has been working the phones throughout the week, and it's likely that a main focus of any trade talks centered around the Flyers jettisoning a defenseman or two. But if negotiations prove fruitless, would the Flyers actually bench $8.6 million worth of cap space?
According to CSNPhilly's Tim Panaccio, another option may exist.
based on Manning now as starting D w/Del Zotto, it's more likely LSchenn goes on waivers by TUE. ... (part 2 on this coming...)— Tim Panaccio (@tpanotchCSN) October 3, 2015
I asked Hextall about Schenn scenario. how it would look (JVR trade) if that happened. He said history wont factor into any moves coming— Tim Panaccio (@tpanotchCSN) October 3, 2015
With only one year left on his current contract and young prospects banging on the NHL door, Luke Schenn was always the most likely trade candidate. The chances of Schenn being in Philadelphia's future plans are slim. But waiving Schenn would be a drastic move, especially for a player who on average has performed at the level of a competent third-pair defenseman over the past three seasons.
It also doesn't make much sense in terms of asset management.
If Luke Schenn was waived, he would almost certainly be claimed by at least one NHL team. Despite Schenn's obvious limitations, such as skating ability and defensive zone coverage, the 2008 5th overall pick has an underrated first pass and has historically been a strong penalty killer. He has been at his best when paired with a legitimate top-four defenseman (such as Kimmo Timonen), and his play has slipped as the Flyers have employed progressively fewer of those over the past two seasons.
The only real justification for waiving Luke Schenn and probably losing him for nothing would be to clear space, both from a roster and salary cap standpoint. If Schenn simply disappeared, the logjam on defense would disappear with him. In addition, the Flyers would gain real salary cap flexibility, placing them comfortably under the cap ceiling for the first time during Ron Hextall's tenure at GM. Waiving Schenn would also allow the team to keep 14 forwards, giving promising center Scott Laughton a spot on the roster.
But there are multiple reasons why such a move would be ill-advised.
To start, losing a useful asset like Luke Schenn for nothing would be painful, even if he is no longer in the organization's plans past this season. Aside from Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto, Luke Schenn may have the most trade value of any of the team's current defensemen. He's an NHL veteran who has proven over an extended career that he can play a meaningful, limited role on a contender. He also has only one year remaining on his contract, which would allow another team to add Schenn without committing long-term.
Right now, with few teams dealing with serious injuries on their blueline (only the Boston Bruins have an immediate need), the amount of teams willing to part with an asset for Schenn is limited. As injuries mount during the season, it's not unthinkable that another team would take Schenn off the Flyers' hands for a draft pick or two.
Second, there is a good case to be made that Schenn is one of the better statistical defensemen on the team. His possession statistics relative to his teammates have topped all current Flyers blueliners other than Mark Streit over the past three seasons, and dumping him without an extended look under Dave Hakstol could be a hasty decision.
Finally, there is the defenseman who looks to be right beside Schenn in the press box on Thursday night - Andrew MacDonald.
At this moment, Ron Hextall and Dave Hakstol want Radko Gudas and Brandon Manning in the team's lineup, apparently believing that would give Philadelphia the best chance to win. If the Flyers are adamant Gudas and Manning start and that a defenseman must be waived in order to keep Scott Laughton, it makes more sense to waive Andrew MacDonald instead of Luke Schenn.
Like Schenn, MacDonald has struggled in camp after being benched sporadically in 2014-15. Unlike Schenn, MacDonald has multiple years left on his mammoth six year, $30 million contract, and therefore would likely go unclaimed. MacDonald could then be sent to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, both solving the roster crunch and giving the Flyers a bit of extra cap space ($950,000 in cap relief).
And if another team did claim Andrew MacDonald and take his contract off the Flyers' hands, it would be a glorious day for a team struggling with multiple long-term contracts for overpaid veterans.
The only reason that the Flyers would choose to waive Luke Schenn over Andrew MacDonald, despite both looking destined for deactivation on opening night, would be the greater likelihood that a team would take Schenn off Philadelphia's hands.
And while the immediate cap relief and short-term benefit of roster flexibility would be helpful to the team, it would be a surprisingly shortsighted move from a general manager who has both preached and practiced patience since gaining the role.