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Making sense of the Flyers fourth line carousel

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Is all the movement helpful or hurtful? You decide.

Heather Barry / SB Nation

In case you missed it, yesterday the Flyers made another roster move, sending German Rubtsov down to Lehigh Valley and recalling Mikhail Vorobyev. If you feel like you’re getting whiplash from trying to keep up with all of these prospects going up and down, this wouldn’t be unreasonable—this marks the fifth move the Flyers have made to shuffle players between their team and the AHL squad, and yes, that’s kind of a lot.

And in a way, this isn’t much of a surprise—Chuck Fletcher told us before the season started that he anticipated there being quite a bit of fluidity and movement of players between the Flyers and Phantoms to start the season, and he’s certainly delivered on this promise.

But that also begs the question, is all of this movement actually doing any good?

The good

The Flyers are clearly trying to work through some issues, chiefly among them how to put together a fourth line that’s effective in the limited minutes they’re getting, now that both Nolan Patrick and Scott Laughton are out. And this is something they’ve really struggled with—they’re trying different looks but nothing’s really worked. Indeed, in their last three different iterations, the fourth lines have put up adjusted 0.00, 51.04, and 33.72 CF% against Pittsburgh, New Jersey, and Carolina. And that, it seems, just isn’t cutting it.

The encouraging piece of this is that the Flyers seem to be pretty quick to recognize when something isn’t working, and are doing what they can to change things up and look for a fix. They aren’t just married to a bad thing because they like it for Reasons, or because their pride wants them to see it through, or whatever it was that we’d gotten used to. They’re willing to make the change when needed.

The other positive is that they seem to be rewarding players for strong play in the American League with a call-up to the Flyers, and that’s exactly what you want to see. You want it to be a meritocracy. So the players doing well are being rewarded, and the ones struggling are pushed to be better, to keep them from getting complacent just because they made it to the NHL. It makes things more competitive, and competition is rarely a bad thing.

The potential drawback

With all of that said, we can’t help but be concerned about how quickly the Flyers are making these changes. Connor Bunnaman got four games to prove he was ready to play at the NHL level. Vorobyev got five. Rubtsov got three. And now Vorobyev is back, presumably to get another handful of games or to prove that he can stick. That’s not very large of a sample for proving one’s readiness.

Joel Farabee took all of maybe two periods to look like he belonged, but you can’t expect every prospect to adjust as quickly as Farabee (and besides, he also had the benefit of playing more meaningful minutes, more akin to what he’s used to playing). These new call-ups have a lot to adjust to, between the pace and physicality of the NHL, but also finding a way to be effective while playing far fewest minutes and they’re used to. It’s a difficult ask for them to do this in a game, and it’s not really a surprise that these players called up so far have looked like they’re still working through some things after three to five games with the team.

We like that the Flyers seem willing to make a change when something isn’t working, but we’d also like to see them actually giving the thing a chance to work. Dropping a new player into a new role and giving him three games to prove his worth and then dropping him when he doesn’t isn’t really helping anyone.

If you want to see if these kids are ready, you need to give them a legitimate chance.

All stats via CapFriendly and Natural Stat Trick.