Tyler J. Altemose
There has been much to discuss about the Flyers defense lately. With Pronger still recovering from his foot injury and Kimmo Timonen playing with an injured hip, the Flyers were forced to call upon the services of Oskars Bartulis and Danny Syvret. Bartulis, the Flyers' 7th defenseman and frequent attendee of the press box, has filled in for Pronger in his absence. Syvret was an emergency call-up from the Phantoms in case Timonen's condition worsens.
Even more interesting is the fact that defenseman Matt Walker is skating again in a yellow "no-contact" jersey. If you recall, Matt Walker is the guy who injured his hip in a preseason fight with the Devils' Pierre-Luc Letourneau Leblond, had surgery, began a conditioning stint with the Adirondack Phantoms, injured his other hip, had surgery (again), and is awaiting his return to the Orange and Black. Good thing he only has two hips.
So with the impending return of Walker, the hardly noticeable addition of Bartulis, and Syvret waiting in the wings, it's almost anyone's guess as to how things will play out. Also, let's not forget that Flyers prospect Erik Gustafsson was also called up for a brief period, also in response to Timonen's injury.
What are the Flyers to do? Well, I've got an idea. Hear me out.
Matt Walker Personally, I think he needs to be and is going to be waived. He's walking literally the same path as goaltender Michael Leighton, and I see no reason why the powers-that-be within the Flyers organization won't seal his fate the same way they did Leighton. Walker has literally contributed nothing to the Orange and Black this season, and given the length of time he's been out and the extent of his injuries, I seriously question the impact he can have on this team's defensive corps.
Given the Flyers' cap situation, I can infer and propose that this is what happens: After a conditioning stint with the Adirondack Phantoms, the Flyers will announce that they've waived Walker in order for him to get more healthy in the AHL. They'll leave him down there and he'll get another shot in 2011-12, a la Leighton.
Oskars Bartulis I want to like Oskars. I want to continue to be patient with him, and it's blatantly obvious the organization does as well considering the fact that he landed a three-year contract extension last year, but I'm beginning to question whether the Flyers are trying too hard to get his NHL career started.
Oskars first started seeing consistent NHL action this season as he replaced Pronger. Before then he had a permanent spot in the press box, save the conditioning stint he had with the Phantoms. And that was likely because he would have turned into the Tin Man sitting in the press box every day.
During said conditioning stint, Bartulis posted a measly 5 SoG, had only 1 assist, and was a -4 in 4 games played. His numbers have been just as lousy with the Flyers. With Bartulis already playing minimal minutes, it seems to me that it'd make more sense to send him back down to the Phantoms and let him work on his game there. He doesn't seem to be ready for the NHL yet, and it'd be in the team's best interest long-term to not throw him to the dogs right away. Let the guy build up his game and re-introduce him to the NHL next season.
Erik Gustafsson Gustafsson is a great kid and is going to be a star some day, but the fact remains that he's still a kid. He just turned 22, and prior to this season has only played 5 games in the AHL. I understand that his numbers are above and beyond the rest of his Phantoms teammates this season (and that it's ridiculous because the guy is a defenseman), but that doesn't mean he is ready for his NHL debut yet.
Yes, yes, I also understand that he was recalled from the Phantoms and nearly just made his NHL debut in place of Kimmo Timonen. But as far as I see it, Gustafsson won't crack the Flyers lineup for at least two years yet. The team is starting to get better with how they handle their prospects (e.g. not rushing them through the system), and I like to think that he'll get his time with the Flyers once he's good and ready for it.
Danny Syvret Ah, so we've reached the final piece of the puzzle. For those of you unfamiliar with his past, Danny Syvret played 21 games with the Flyers last season before getting sidelined with a shoulder injury nearly one year to this very day. His career with the Flyers looked promising until the injury occurred, and it was unfortunate that he wasn't given a second chance once it was over.
Syvret's contract expired at the end of last season, and instead of being resigned by the Phantoms he was picked up by the Ducks. Syvret managed to crack the Ducks roster at the beginning of the season but was later demoted to the Syracuse Crunch, the Ducks' AHL affiliate. He was later traded back to the Flyers with forward prospect Rob Bordson in exchange for Patrick Maroon and David Laliberte of the Adirondack Phantoms.
Remember that second chance that Danny never got? Well, this is it. Out of all of the Flyers' defensive prospects, Syvret has proven best that he is ready for the NHL and is the most likely to flourish there.
If the Flyers were smart, they'd waive Walker upon his healing, send Bartulis down to the Phantoms once Pronger heals, keep Gustafsson with the Phantoms, and keep Syvret as the Flyers' 7th defenseman.
Not only would that give the younger players a better chance to develop, but it would also give the Flyers more wiggle room cap-wise coming into the trade deadline. And as Holmgren has made it evident with the recent effort to snatch up former Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner, the Flyers are planning on being active at the trade deadline. They could certainly use the extra room.
Time will tell how things play out. For now, we must wait.