Morgan Frost, one of the Philadelphia Flyers’ best players over the final two-thirds of last season, was benched Tuesday for the seventh time in 13 games.
In the Flyers’ 2-1 loss against awful San Jose (1-10-1), Sean Couturier returned to the lineup after missing two games because of an unspecified injury. Someone had to come out to make room for Couturier.
But why Frost?
Why take out a 24-year-old center who appeared to be a major part of the future when he scored 19 goals last season and led the Flyers with 40 points over the last 55 games?
This is a rebuilding year, so players like veteran Nic Deslauriers should be benched before Frost.
Deslauriers is a warrior. Plays hard every night. Brings physicality and hard work on every shift. But he is 32 and he will not be here when the Flyers, now 5-7-1, hope to finally turn the corner in a few years.
Scott Laughton, who has been playing a lot at center, could have dropped down to the fourth line and replaced Deslauriers at left wing.
That would have enabled Frost to be either the second- or third-line center.
— Jon Bailey (@ByJonBailey) November 8, 2023
Frost needs to get into a rhythm. That’s not easy when you play two games, sit for six games, play four games, and then go back to the press box for who knows how long?
Solid in last 3 games
In his six games overall, Frost has no points. Look closer and he has set up several quality chances that his teammates didn’t convert. He has been reliable on defense, and has a plus-1 rating. Playing against Carolina in his first game back from his original benching, he looked rusty (as expected) in the first two periods. But he picked it up in the third period and was solid in the next three games.
Yet, he was benched against San Jose, a horrible team that seemed like the perfect tonic to get players like Frost, Owen Tippett and Tyson Foerster going.
Instead, no one got going against a San Jose team that had allowed a combined 20 goals in its previous two games.
Asked after Tuesday’s embarrassing loss if it was difficult to take Frost out of the lineup, coach John Tortorella had a quick, one-word answer: “No.”
Clearly, Tortorella isn’t a Frost fan, and you wonder if GM Danny Briere will try to deal him for a player more to the coach’s liking.
To be fair, Tortorella has done a nice job of getting young players in the lineup. Rookie forwards Foerster and Bobby Brink have played in most games. Defenseman Emil Andrae, another rookie, got a look before going down to the Phantoms, and 23-year-old defenseman Egor Zamula is getting a shot to be a regular.
That’s what makes the Frost benchings so puzzling. Here is a player who showed what he could do last season. He also led the Flyers in preseason scoring this year. Oh, and he plays a 200-foot game.
Tortorella has said other players have performed better than Frost and deserve to play, but that is a stretch. And besides, Frost’s potential — his 100-point seasons on the junior level, his breakthrough NHL season last year, and the fact he is a former first-round draft pick — should count for something.
No one is saying Frost is a sure thing to be, say, a 60-to-70-point performer down the road.
But on this team, he deserves a chance to show what he is capable of doing.
Think of bad sports teams over the years, and many come to mind.
The 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers, who finished 9-73, are a good example. Ditto the 1962 New York Mets (40-120 record), the 1974-75 Washington Capitals (8-67-5), and the 2008 Detroit Lions (0-16!).
The 2023-24 San Jose Sharks are threatening to join the list.
But at least they didn’t become the first team in NHL history to start a season with 12 straight losses.
San Jose goalie Mackenzie Blackwood stopped 38 of 39 shots to end the Sharks’ season-opening, 11-game losing streak Tuesday. Blackwood took a 4.78 GAA and .879 save percentage into the game.
The Flyers’ inability to finish chances, another weak power-play effort (0 for 4), and poor work in the faceoff circle — San Jose won 70% of the draws — doomed the Orange and Black.
“Special teams killed us once again,” said Couturier, mindful that the Sharks were 1 for 5 with an extra skater. “Just no execution” on the power play.
“I don’t think it was for a lack of effort; we just couldn’t get that one bounce we needed,” said Joel Farabee, who scored the Philadelphia Flyers’ lone goal.
The Flyers have lost five of their last six games heading into Friday’s matchup at Anaheim (7-5).
Will Frost return and stay in the lineup for an extended stretch?
Sam Carchidi writes a weekly column for Philly Hockey Now. He and Jeff Hare are working on a TV series on the Flyers’ glory days, tentatively called Bullies: A Love Story. Carchidi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.