Despite sitting atop the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia Flyers appear to be a team in crisis.
On Friday, they announced that veteran defenseman Chris Pronger and highly-touted rookie Brayden Schenn are out indefinitely with concussion-like symptoms.
On Saturday, Flyers superstar Claude Giroux left the team’s matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning due to a head injury when teammate Wayne Simmonds gave Giroux a knee to the head.
Having apparently lost their top scorer and top defenseman to head injuries, the Flyers are undoubtedly scrambling to find a way to remain competitive this season.
Schenn was one of the league’s most highly-touted prospects when the season began, and the team has been trying to fit him into the starting roster since opening day. However, his injury-related setbacks, especially this current problem, should be reason enough to keep Schenn on the bench for an extended period of time.
The potential absence of Giroux leaves a vacancy at center, Schenn’s natural position, and as a result it seems like an opportunity has opened up for the former No. 5 pick.
However, the Flyers must keep in mind that the team is invested in a long-term future.
With players like Giroux, James van Riemsdyk, Sean Couturier and Braydon Coburn signed to extended deals, Paul Holmgren has made it clear that he is building a team that is going to be competitive for years to come.
Schenn, with the appropriate development, is a major part of that plan, even if his contributions must wait.
Matt Carle’s third period goal on Saturday made the Flyers the first team in the NHL to reach 100 goals this season, demonstrating that the team’s offense is certainly not a weak point.
While no team wants to lose its leading scorer, the Flyers have the luxury of looking for offense elsewhere on the roster, without rushing a budding player back from a serious injury.
Over the last eleven months, the Pittsburgh Penguins have allotted Sidney Crosby an ample amount of time to heal from a concussion sustained in early January. While Crosby’s recovery time seemed unorthodoxly long, the Pens made a decision to invest in the future, even at the expense of the present.
Like Crosby, Schenn is too valuable to rush through an injury.
The new culture of the NHL has players taking head injuries very seriously. New guidelines require trainers to pull athletes aside when they suspect a head injury may have occurred to gather information, which is measured against baseline tests to determine if a player’s brain is functioning normally.
If it is not, the player is shut down until he demonstrates an ability to play the game without affecting his brain.
Thus, the Flyers may take a cautious approach to Giroux’s injury. This would force a change in the lineup, with Sean Couturier moving up to the center position somewhere in the top three lines, along with centers Danny Briere and Max Talbot.
The fourth center position would be open to another player, perhaps a scratched veteran in the form of Blair Betts.
While Schenn would normally work his way into the lineup in this scenario, Holmgren understands that exposing Schenn to the sort of injury issues that prematurely ended the careers of Eric Lindros and Keith Primeau will do the youngster no good.
Despite all the hype going into this season, Schenn may be unready to break into the NHL.
Until he has his head right in all aspects of the game, the Flyers need to function as though they don’t need him.
With Giroux and Pronger out, this may be difficult, but the team will prevail, and be better for their cautious approach to Schenn’s future.