Nobody likes to wait.
As much as Flyers fans wanted to hear an update on the status of 21 year old forward Nolan Patrick who has not suited up in a game yet this year due to a chronic migraine disorder, one can’t help but wonder the toll that this is taking on the player. The Flyers forward must be incredibly frustrated that he has been delayed in continuing his development as a promising and important piece of the Flyers’ plans going forward. He has been seen skating, participating in drills on the ice, and testing himself with workouts off the ice at the Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey.
When word got out that Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher was going to provide an update of Patrick’s status at his midseason press conference on January 14th, fans buzzed with anticipation. Finally, some questions would be answered to give fans and the team a clear understanding of what was going to be happening moving forward. Right?
Fletcher’s press conference was still vague and as we sit here today in the month of February, we are no closer to understanding if or when Nolan Patrick will be suiting up for the Orange and Black this season.
Here is a link to the portion of the press conference where Chuck Fletcher updates both the Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom situations:
Speaking about Patrick, Fletcher said, “I do expect him to play this year. He’s skating harder. He skated again today. He’s getting his heart rate up higher. I think he’s feeling a bit better. It’s hard to predict.”
“Once we have certain information, if he’s cleared for contact or anything like that, we obviously will let you guys know right away. I can just tell you from the on and off ice workouts he’s doing, he is progressing. There certainly isn’t any clear path as to which way this will go,” Fletcher continued.
When questioned about being cleared for contact, Fletcher responded by saying, “I couldn’t answer that. Certainly, he is skating at a higher level. I watched him today. His skill level is still there he is shooting the puck great. I guess the important thing is when we get to the point where he is feeling well enough to take that next step… he has been working hard on his conditioning”.
All in all, fans of the Flyers welcomed this news as a positive step that Nolan Patrick was on his way to working himself back into the Flyers lineup at some point this season. The prevailing sentiment seems to be that if Chuck Fletcher is optimistic then so to should the fans. Patrick was dubbed as the ultimate trade deadline addition for a team in the midst of the stretch run and battling for a playoff position.
Fans were excited by what Fletcher said however, the more telling aspect of the press conference lay in what Fletcher did not say.
Was Chuck Fletcher being truthful with his update on Patrick, and how much stock should we put into this press conference? While I think the Flyers GM was being honest and truthful, I believe that he didn’t tell the whole truth.
To start with, Fletcher was vague with everything and did not give any specifics. How long and how often is Patrick skating and practicing? Is there any quantifiable measure by which the team can conclusively say he is progressing, or is it just based solely on how he looks out there? Is he still experiencing migraines? Has he had any setbacks along the way?
Most telling of all is the fact that there is still no timetable for Patrick to able to participate in contact drills or participate in full team practices. Even if he gets cleared for contact by Valentine’s Day, Patrick would more than likely need a conditioning stint with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the AHL. Such a stint would probably last in the neighbourhood of 3-4 weeks to get Patrick’s timing and conditioning back to the level that it needs to be in order to compete during an NHL game. That would take us to mid-March and give Patrick a whopping 3 weeks worth of NHL games under his belt to potentially prepare for the grind that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Is all of the optimism genuine? Probably. When Fletcher said he was confident that Patrick would be expected to play “this year”, did he mean this season or the start of the 2020-2021 season? The statement is unclear at best. But is there a reason why Fletcher was vague and perhaps withheld other crucial pieces of information about Nolan Patrick at his press conference?
The obvious reason appears to be the trade deadline on February 24th.
Chuck Fletcher is experienced enough to know that with the deadline coming up, teams on the outside of the playoff picture will be looking to sell some of their players in exchange for a maximum return in the form of picks, prospects, and other roster players. With the Flyers looking to fill the hole in the lineup that Patrick’s chronic migraine disorder has created, teams will be looking to prey on potential signs of weakness in a club trying to make a deal.
It is no secret that the Flyers will be looking to solidify their bottom six and preferably seek out a third line center. Added to the mix is the lack of top tier talent projected to be available at the deadline as well as the tightness of many teams’ salary cap situations. All of this means that Fletcher has to walk a very fine line in his dealings with the leagues other GM’s. Fletcher has to project that the Flyers are not desperate to make a move and will most certainly not make a move if the price is not right. One of the best ways to control cost is to tell everyone who will listen that Patrick is expected to play this season.
Another is for the Flyers to keep winning hockey games. Coming off the bye week and the All-Star break, the Flyers took a valuable point on the road against the rival Pittsburgh Penguins in a 4-3 overtime loss and defeated a Colorado Avalanche at home by a convincing score of 6-3. If the Flyers continue accruing points, there will be decidedly less pressure on Fletcher to make a move and would hopefully allow the prices on some of their targets to get more reasonable.
Ultimately, even though the team hopefully continues to secure points in the standings the team should still be looking to buy. If the Flyers make one of the Wildcard spots, they would be facing either the Washington Capitals or the Boston Bruins in the first round. While they have had success against these two teams this year and seem to play better against stiffer competition, the Flyers are at a point where they need to convince fans that they are serious about winning. Getting pieces at the deadline is no guarantee that the Flyers will win a playoff round, but at least they would be trying to do everything reasonably possible to do so.
Patrick would be a welcome addition for this Flyers team come playoff time. Fletcher didn’t really provide a total update on Patrick’s status because he needs to buy Patrick time for his potential return, and also try to lower the demands of opposing GM’s to make reinforcements come at a more manageable price.
Was the Nolan Patrick update really much of an update? No, and Fletcher has very good reason to keep up the cloak of secrecy that has shrouded Patrick’s diagnosis from the get go. Is it possible that Patrick gets cleared to engage in contact drills soon? Sure. Fletcher’s press conference bought some time by allowing him to give an update with out really giving an update. While it wasn’t an outright lie, it wasn’t the complete truth either. Let’s call it a sin of omission.
My thoughts are that we will continue to be kept in the dark until the trade deadline has come and gone, and only then will decisions about Nolan Patrick’s season be truly updated with either a return to the lineup, or shutting him down for the remainder of the season.
Do you agree or disagree? Feel free to leave a comment or leave a response via twitter.
Until next time from Preaching to the Flyer on BrotherlyPuck.com,
photo credit: tsn.ca