In the Flyers’ Game 4 win against Montreal on Tuesday, there were some changes to the forward lines made by Alain Vigneault that, despite the victory, left me feeling slightly puzzled. Coming back into the fray were both Joel Farabee and Connor Bunnaman, who would replace the injured Nicolas Aube-Kubel, and interestingly, James van Riemsdyk. I hadn’t thought that van Riemsdyk looked particularly noteworthy, either good nor bad, in Game 3, so to see him pulled from the lineup was slightly surprising. Well, in the end, I understand why this was done.
The Flyers obviously want Joel Farabee to be playing, and with van Riemsdyk toiling away on the fourth line, which I didn’t get the feeling they liked doing, replacing him made sense. Then, with Aube-Kubel out, Bunnaman was the logical option to place in the bottom six as they moved Farabee up with Kevin Hayes and Travis Konecny (the lines were weird in general, like having Claude Giroux with Derek Grant and Scott Laughton? What? Well it worked I guess).
For me, then, that brings up the debate of Morgan Frost. I get that Alain Vigneault has reasons for slotting in Bunnaman for the role he wants him to play, though I couldn’t help but think that the roster would be more improved with Frosty the Goal Man (trademark pending) on it instead.
It likely won’t happen in the immediate future, given the “if it isn’t broke don’t fix it” nature of line combinations in the NHL. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t hope.
Regardless, here are the arguments, that I present, for and against Frost:
Like I stated outright, Frost just makes the team better, more so significantly than Connor Bunnaman. I’ll make the argument that we, for the most part, know what Bunnaman brings to the table. He’s really a fourth line player at best who can bring a minimal amount of scoring while being responsible defensively and scrappy on the forecheck. Now, I’m not trying to disparage Bunnaman nor the type of player that he is. You do need guys like that in your roster. However, the Flyers already have a better version of that in Nicolas Aube-Kubel. While it makes sense to perhaps bring Bunnaman in to play that role while Aube-Kubel is out of the lineup, for future games where NAK is healthy, I see no reason why Bunnaman should be here.
I can say the same for Nate Thompson as well, who actively hurts the Flyers’ possession metrics. It would even make more sense for Thompson to come out of the lineup for Frost since they both play at center and the Flyers want Frost to be played at center at the NHL level. Regardless of who you put Frost in for, his inclusion and the subsequent exclusion of the worse player improves the Flyers, which is all we really want. If they are really concerned about the role that Frost would play, you can even slot him in at 3C and juggle things around. Ideally, I think it could look like this:
Giroux - Couturier - Voracek
Konecny - Hayes - Farabee
Laughton - Frost - Aube-Kubel
Raffl - Grant - Pitlick
You then have the ability to move Scott Laughton over to the wing, where he has been objectively better, without sacrificing the ability of the fourth line to accomplish its mission of pressuring and forechecking, since Raffl and Pitlick are quite adept at the skill. This version of the Flyers is simply better, and I would love to see it.
This all being said, the Flyers have played a markedly different way against Montreal than they have for most of the season. They’ve almost matched Montreal’s ethos of “get the puck to the net no matter what” and most of those pretty passing plays we saw in the round robin have gone out the window.
You can argue this has been due to the Flyers’ lack of crispness and accuracy in their passing plays, but more so, they’ve been trying to adapt to Montreal’s style of play by playing a more defensive brand of hockey.
I can't wait to this series to be over. The style that the Habs play is sooooo annoying.— Mike Milbury = (@RyanLMeyer) August 18, 2020
Normally, the Flyers’ defensive system is effective and rigid, but they’ve put more focus on it and in cutting out turnovers and mistakes, since Montreal seemingly only want to attack when they can get a turnover from the Flyers. Montreal aren’t creating anything, they’re just using their speed and getting to the net for some fairly boring hockey in my opinion.
The Flyers are clearly adapting, as they should, to contain this, and perhaps putting in Morgan Frost doesn’t help accomplish that goal, and may not do against the Islanders as well if they play them in the second round (if that is indeed to happen), since they play a similar puck-hounding style. Frost is a skilled forward, but he isn’t going to provide the same level of defensive coverage and physicality that the Flyers seemingly want.
While I really would rather see Frost, I do understand why, in this series, it may be for the best to ice other forwards. Though, despite what I said earlier, I would like to see the Flyers become more offensively creative and out-skill teams as we progress (hopefully), and Frost can more so aid to that.