Throughout the start of the 2017-18 season, the Flyers have had a lot of positives. From the jump in production from Sean Couturier and the re-emergence of Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek as the cogs on the top line, to the fourth acting like gnats that just won’t leave opposing teams alone, and to Robert Hagg being a subtle star. The team has a lot going for it moving forward.
However, a major negative for the team this season has been the third line.
It isn’t just one trio of players that fail to perform at that spot in the lineup, either. At the start of the season, it was Dale Weise, Travis Konecny, and Nolan Patrick that failed to perform. Now, it’s Weise, Jori Lehtera, and Jordan Weal that haven’t played well together. Thursday, against Chicago, the third line of the Flyers played fewer five-on-five minutes than the fourth line, indicating that even Dave Hakstol views that line as the weakest on the team. In everything except the score sheet, the third line of the Flyers is the pseudo-fourth-line.
As aforementioned, the first trio of players on the third line of the season was Weise, Konecny and Patrick. In 53 minutes of five-on-five ice time together, they recorded a Corsi for percentage of 45.88, 3.08 percentage points below the team average (Corsi for percentage rel.). In terms of expected goals for percentage, they produced at a rate that was 4.45 percentage points below the team average at 45.91. To put that in perspective, the fourth line of Michael Raffl, Scott Laughton and Taylor Leier, who have played almost 120 minutes together, have a Corsi for percentage of 56.16 and an expected goals for percentage of 53.13.
Of course, when Patrick was injured against Anaheim, that line broke apart. Hakstol experimented with a few different lines consisting of Weise, Konecny, and Valtteri Filppula, as well as Lehtera, Matt Read, and Konecny. But none of them lasted that long. Over the last few games, the Flyers have deployed a line consisting of Weise, Lehtera, and Weal.
How have they fared? Besides the game against Colorado, not well. Sub-50-percent performances has been the norm for the line, reaching a low-point against Chicago in which the line hovered around the 40 percent mark for Corsi for percentage. The line has played sloppy, uncoordinated hockey that has led to offside calls, blocked shots against, and turnovers.
So, how do you fix the third line?
The immediate option would be to change the personnel the Flyers deploy. A common denominator of most third line trios has been Dale Weise, whom many fans would like to see out of the lineup. He was a healthy scratch for three games at the end of October, and the Flyers’ third line consisted of Lehtera, Read, and Konecny. This line actually wasn’t bad at all. In three games, they generated a 57.15 Corsi for percentage and an expected goals for percentage of 53.79 percent. Since then, Konecny has been promoted to the second line and Read has been a healthy scratch.
Could removing Weise from the lineup and filling his spot with someone else work? That’s definitely a possibility, but Lehtera has worse individual stats than him. One of them will be scratched soon, however.
With Patrick getting healthier by the day, it’s only a matter of time before the Flyers have their top rookie back in the lineup. Once he is back, he will more than likely be placed on the third line, and one of Weise or Lehtera will be in the press box. Patrick will immediately help the line.
A lot of fans have been saying that Danick Martel deserves a call-up. After all, he leads the AHL with 14 goals. However, forgetting the small sample size of his season so far, once Patrick comes back, Martel would immediately be sent back down to the AHL. There is no way two rookies would play on the same line together, at least at this early point in their careers. Martel will be given time to mature and improve on his game in the AHL, and Patrick will be given time to adapt to the NHL level with players who are veterans.
Another thing that is lost in all the talks regarding prospects and calling them up is the fact that they probably aren’t better than the veterans that are playing right now, at least in this lineup and system. Yes, that means I am saying that having Weise in the lineup is currently the smarter decision than calling up Martel. Give it some time, then that answer will change. The same thing goes for Oskar Lindblom, who is currently adapting to the North American game.
With the current situation regarding the third line of the Flyers, there really is no way to fix it without waiting. There is no smart, sure-fire fix that will spark the line. With Nolan Patrick coming back from injury soon, and Danick Martel and Oskar Lindblom developing in the AHL, only time will be able to fix the third line. Speaking of time, Lehtera will be out-of-contract in 2019 and Weise in 2020.
The Flyers are still two to three years away from making a serious run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. “Fixing” an issue in the short term will only hurt the team in the long run.