The Flyers have stayed largely healthy on defense through the season’s first two weeks, as all of their scratches so far have reportedly been of the “healthy” variety. That will now change, as Andrew MacDonald — the elder statesman of the Flyers’ defense, so to speak — will miss significant time due to a lower-body injury.
While we can’t say for certain, the injury MacDonald is dealing with was almost certainly one that he suffered in the third period of Saturday’s win over the Edmonton Oilers. On a penalty kill, MacDonald blocked a shot from Oilers winger Milan Lucic, but then crumpled to the ground and was visibly hobbled for the remainder of his shift (which, to his credit, he gutted out until the Flyers could get a clear).
MacDonald missed a few shifts following that injury, but did return before the game ended, leading most to believe the injury wasn’t serious. As we now know, that was not the case, and the Flyers will be without him until around Thanksgiving. Replays of that block appeared to show a shot that hit MacDonald right on the side of his knee, right where padding is minimal, so the fact that MacDonald suffered an injury that will lead him to miss time isn’t too surprising.
The Flyers haven’t yet announced a corresponding roster move to make up for MacDonald’s absence, but the team can likely go in one of two directions to replace him in the lineup.
The first option would be to get Brandon Manning back into the lineup as a regular. He’s played in three games so far this season, and while Travis Sanheim seems to have taken his place as a lineup regular and figures to be on the ice more or less indefinitely moving forward, Manning is someone that the team likes and who the coaches aren’t afraid to give regular minutes to. If that’s the case, the team will likely call up an AHL-level replacement who will mostly be around to sit in the press box — think someone along the lines of T.J. Brennan or Mark Alt — while Sanheim and Manning play in the majority of games.
The other option — the riskier one, but almost certainly the more exciting one — would be to start working Sam Morin into the lineup here in Philadelphia. Morin was the one who missed out in the Flyers’ competition amongst its rookie defensemen this past training camp, as Sanheim and Robert Hagg clinched NHL roster spots while Morin was eventually sent back down to the Phantoms. It seems clear that the team thinks Morin is close to NHL-ready if not there entirely, and with MacDonald’s injury, there’s now room for him on the NHL roster if they want to get him some extended ice time.
If Morin does get the call, though, it’s tough to know how Dave Hakstol and co. would handle the lineup from there. Would the Flyers be willing to run out a regular lineup with three rookies? Would Manning and Morin at least start out by trading off time, the way Manning and Sanheim did for the first two weeks of the season, until the team was comfortable with Morin taking on most of the ice time?
If the team does go with Morin, they’ll need to have a plan in place. Ron Hextall has repeatedly maintained that, if possible, he’d prefer not to send players back to the minor leagues after significant time with the Flyers. There are exceptions — Scott Laughton was called up in 2014 due to injury, and was eventually sent back to the Phantoms in early 2015 after 31 games — but it’s something they want to avoid, understandably so. MacDonald will be back before too long, so the team may have to be prepared to make a move regarding one of its current NHL-level roster pieces at that time to make room for Morin if it’s not willing to send him back to the Phantoms.
Whatever their decision is, we’ll find out about it soon enough. The Flyers have another home game on Tuesday before flying out to Canada for a two-game trip that begins on Thursday in Ottawa, so while they could prepare for Tuesday’s game with just six defensemen on the roster, they will definitely need to make a move by Wednesday morning at the latest. We’ll know more at that time.
The other player to watch as a result of MacDonald’s injury is Ivan Provorov, who has been joined at the hip to MacDonald on the ice since early December of last season. It remains to be seen how the Flyers move their pairings around without the constant that has been MacDonald next to Provorov, and it’ll be interesting to see how Provorov fares away from the guy who’s been his partner exclusively for most of his NHL career.
Since the team is under the salary cap, it should not need to send MacDonald to long-term injured reserve to make room for his replacement, though MacDonald will definitely go on normal injured reserve to give the team another roster spot in his stead.