Evidently, Chris Stewart doesn’t even have to be on the ice in order to maintain his agitator role.
Stewart’s short tenure with the Flyers has been a subject of controversy since its inception. When news of the Flyers bringing in Stewart on a professional tryout first dropped, reception among Flyers fans ranged from sheer panic to apathy, the latter likely in anticipation of Stewart being released before coming anywhere close to a roster spot.
Despite some Flyers fans wishing him away and insisting on social media that the Chris Stewart experiment would soon come to an end… Stewart has in fact been signed to a one-year-deal and will be playing meaningful hockey for the city of Philadelphia.
Life comes at you fast when you aren’t actively involved in the decision-making processes surrounding the Flyers’ roster. And personally, I’m not worried.
The two biggest knocks against Chris Stewart stem from his perceived lack of ability to be a contributor at the NHL level, and also that he is apparently blocking guys like Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost, or Philippe Myers from a spot on the Flyers roster.
The role that Stewart will be occupying will be that of the 12th/13th forward, on the fourth line where his time on ice will likely range between 8-10 minutes. In other words, the Flyers likely aren’t expecting him to be a major contributor on the ice. It’s difficult for me to get worked up over someone who will be on the ice for less than 10 minutes a night.
His other role will be to serve as a veteran mentor to the younger players on the team, and to bring *some* element of size and physicality that the current roster does lack. The Flyers face the Flames tonight, who employ the services of noted over-the-hill goon Milan Lucic. Part of Stewart being on the roster is likely to counter Lucic’s presence, especially considering some history between the two.
So if Stewart won’t be doing a ton anyway, why not just give his spot to one of Farabee or Frost so they can make an actual impact? Or call up Myers and run with eight defenseman?
Because they wouldn’t have much of a role in those spots either. Do fans really want Farabee/Frost trying to develop alongside Bunnaman/Pitlick/Raffl with 8-10 minutes of ice time a night? My suspicion is that most fans would then turn around and complain about the lack of ice time they receive. While Farabee and Frost looked good in the preseason, well that’s just it. They just looked good. They didn’t break the door down and steal a roster spot like Travis Konecny did in his first year. Time spent in the AHL with the Phantoms will help them get acclimated to the pace of professional hockey. A certain team captain went through the same process and he turned out just fine.
There’s nothing stopping the Flyers from waiving him if the contract doesn’t work out, either. There’s a very real possibility this happens when Nolan Patrick comes back, considering the logjam of bottom six forwards the Flyers will have. This of course is contingent on Carsen Twarynski and Connor Bunnaman being able to keep up with their respective adjustments to the NHL. Considering how early on in their career they are, it’s more likely they would be the ones to get sent down. That said, nothing is guaranteeing Stewart has a bona fide night-to-night role each game.
The signing should not have been a surprise to Flyers fans. By now, most fans have likely taken notice of Chuck Fletcher’s apparent affinity for former Wild players. Stewart played under both Fletcher and Yeo in Minnesota, so the history shared by these three cannot be ignored. If the Flyers really did intend to release Stewart, they likely would have released him before the team traveled to Europe and rather carried another younger forward. His tryout lasting through the Europe trip and through the first three games of the season should have served as a clear signal he was going to stay.
At the end of the day, Chris Stewart is a Philadelphia Flyer. To root against him is to root against the team. You’re also rooting against someone who made it a goal to claw his way back into the NHL after a turbulent few years overseas that almost led him to quit hockey for good.
Meanwhile, I’m gonna root for him to succeed. If he succeeds, he’s helping the team.
By Brian Adams (@Wx_Adams)
Photo Creds: NBC Sports, NHL.com, Duluth News Tribune