And our search for our new third line center rolls on! As we noted in yesterday’s piece, we’re starting by working through the Flyers’ internal options to take on this job, and began with Scott Laughton—much of last’s year’s 4C, and something of a logical candidate for promotion. And since we’re looking in that vein, we have another former 4C whose candidacy we should consider.
[brakes screeching, metal crunching, in the distance, sirens]
Yes, you’ve picked up the correct thread. Jori Lehtera spent the tail end of the regular season and the playoffs serving as the Flyers’ fourth line center, after Dave Hakstol rather unceremoniously moved Laughton back to wing. If we’re talking about promoting our 4Cs, we also have to talk about the potential for seeing Lehtera promoted.
Now, let me be clear, before we get too deep into this—this is a horrible idea. Hakstol absolutely should not promote Lehtera, but we can absolutely see him doing this. We spent yesterday breaking down why Laughton might be a good fit at 3C, and we’re going to spend today breaking down why Lehtera should remain where he ended the season, on the fourth line. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s move on to the meat of this.
2017-18 Regular Season Stats
Numbers time, baby! We’re in it!
So let’s take a look at Lehtera’s on-ice figures. In short, they are…decent? Not too bad? They’re fine. His adjusted CF% at 5-on-5 is just below break even, if you will, and while not a stellar figure, it doesn’t suggest that the Flyers were getting well and completely torched whenever he was on the ice. Outchanced, sure, but not wholly outshot. So, like we said, the on-ice numbers are just... fine. Not as bad as we might have imagined.
And since we’re talking positives (is that what we just did?), let’s take a quick moment to sidebar, to note that while he was putting up those figures that we just broke down, he delivered an absolute mood. Three goals on the whole of a season is not a lot goals. But one of those was little short of a masterpiece. How about we recap real quick.
Jori Lehtera just scored on Andrei Vasilevskiy. Yup. pic.twitter.com/sZGT5gFiOQ— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) March 3, 2018
And his breakdown of said goal:
"Just closed my eyes and [shot] it." Jori Lehtera imparting his hockey wisdom upon the masses here.— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) March 3, 2018
Same, Jori. Just… same.
But enough of that tangent. We’re done with the joke. Let’s get back to the point.
Let’s pull back for a moment and isolate his individual numbers. When we do this, the picture changes. Lehtera’s 6.97 iCF/60 and .4 ixGF/60 are pretty rough, and in fact rank him 14th and 13th, respectively, among 15 forwards. So, individually, his performance was a little rough against overwhelmingly fourth line competition, and he likely has his linemates to thank for those positive on-ice metrics. And, dare we say, these aren’t exactly individual figures that would or should merit a promotion, not numbers that we might see improving, in the face of even tougher competition.
But to follow the template that’s starting to emerge, let’s move on to discuss style. We talked yesterday about how Laughton would work with Lindblom and Simmonds’ styles and their emphases on getting up ice in transition quickly to crash the net and generate high danger chances, but the same can’t really be said for Lehtera. To be blunt, he is not a fast gentleman. He’s 30 years old and his skating is just not what it used to be. We’re figuring to have two highly skilled players already on the third line, players who can be highly impactful, if they’re not stuck trying to drag Lehtera up-ice with them. We’re not figuring he’ll be a flat out liability against third line competition, that might be a step too far, but he would almost certainly be holding back his linemates.
So why, then, are we spending so much time on this topic? We know Lehtera wasn’t great last season, and we all but know he struggle if he were to be given this promotion. We don’t love this idea. But you know who might love it? You guessed it. Dave Hakstol.
In a way, it’s a strange situation—Lehtera could barely crack the lineup through the front half of the season, but once he was brought back into regular rotation on December 23, Hakstol decided he was absolutely indispensable, even in the face of the poor results. And this is the root of our worry. Hextall’s done well so far to take away Hakstol’s toys, if you will, but Lehtera is the one that remains. And, if he isn’t waived to make room for one of the kids (which, to be fair, isn’t out of the question), if he starts the season with the Flyers, there will remain the worry that Hakstol’s over-trust will win out over a better performance or higher skilled player in camp. Steady and predictable, and as such trustworthy, is his favorite mold of player, and that might just be enough to win him the promotion. It shouldn’t be, but the fact is that we just can’t rule it out.
Our pal Charlie’s said it time and again, that we shouldn’t be too worried about the 3C battle, because just about anybody would be an upgrade from Valterri Filppula in this position, and on the whole, he’s right, but this may well be the exception to that ruling.