Flyers should keep Scott Laughton beyond 5 games

Posted: January 23, 2013

AS SCOTT Laughton hugged and said goodbye to his parents and friends in an empty section of seats in a chilly First Niagara Center on Sunday, teammate Zac Rinaldo limped down the steps toward the Flyers' awaiting bus to the airport.

Rinaldo's limp, the product of 20 fresh stitches in his right thigh area, is Laughton's opportunity.

"It's hockey. It happens," Rinaldo said of his injury.

Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren announced Monday that Rinaldo will need to sit out at least a week to allow his lacerated leg to heal.

Coincidentally, the Flyers will need to make a decision on whether to keep Laughton - a rookie first-round pick - or send him back to OHL Oshawa before Sunday's game in Tampa Bay.

Once Danny Briere returns from his wrist injury, likely as soon as this weekend's set of back-to-back games in Florida, Laughton's main competition for a spot to stay will be with Rinaldo. He'll have an addition three chances to prove himself this week, and Peter Laviolette will have plenty of time to view him filling Rinaldo's void.

On Tuesday night, Laughton will face off against another first-round pick in Devils forward Stefan Matteau, the son of the Rangers' 1994 playoff hero.

Like Matteau, who bullied his way onto Pete DeBoer's lineup card, Laughton, 18, strung together a nearly flawless first weekend, including his NHL debut against Pittsburgh in a pressure-packed, nationally televised atmosphere on Saturday.

As Flyers director of player development Ian Laperriere warned before training camp, Laughton "plays like a Flyer." He registered three hits on his first shift in the big leagues.

Laughton's stat line for his first two games: 22:26 ice time, four shots, one attempt blocked, six hits, one shot block, while going 6-for-13 (46 percent) in the faceoff circle. Only Claude Giroux had a better faceoff percent during the first weekend, something that Laviolette said should be a bigger focal point for this team.

"I thought he did a nice job," Laviolette said Saturday. "He was responsible defensively. He was strong on puck battles and had a couple opportunities at the net. I thought he played a strong game."

If it's any indication as to Laviolette's gut at this point, Rinaldo skated only 8:54 against Pittsburgh on the fourth line. Laviolette had Laughton on the ice for a little more than 3 minutes longer.

That's saying a lot, considering Laviolette's outspoken support for Rinaldo along the way.

"I'm a big Rinaldo fan," Laviolette said last week. "He brings a lot of energy to the room and to this rink. He's a terrific player."

Rinaldo says he retooled his game with the Phantoms during the lockout. He fought only twice, instead trying to improve his offensive abilities. Rinaldo's puckhandling improvements were obvious this weekend. But he still has his shortcomings.

Regardless of cause, intent or circumstance, Rinaldo made his team shorthanded more than any other player in the NHL last season. With his thundering checks and fearless attitude, Rinaldo has developed a reputation that has followed him.

To hear the Flyers' coaches explain it quietly, they believe Rinaldo often receives a penalty for what was otherwise a clean hit solely because of the loud crash on the boards or the opponents' reaction.

Two games into his NHL career, Laughton doesn't have that baggage - even if he does have a 10-game OHL suspension on his disciplinary record. That alone has to count for something. Laughton is nearly 2 inches taller than Rinaldo, plays with the same physical edge and both players can fight.

Unlike Rinaldo, Laughton has a keen eye for the defensive zone, his positioning is stellar and he can actually contribute offensively. We have only a small sample size to go on, but Laughton is a more complete package.

Also unlike Rinaldo, Laughton has contract ramifications. If he plays his sixth game on Sunday, he can still be sent back to the OHL at any time, but he will have burned a year on his entry-level deal. Are the Flyers willing to do that for a shortened season?

They did it in 2008-09 with Luca Sbisa, waiting 39 games before shipping him back to WHL Lethbridge.

Keeping Laughton also would put the Flyers at the 50-contract limit, since his deal will no longer "slide" on the cap. And when everyone is healthy, the Flyers would need to waive Rinaldo, Tom Sestito or Jody Shelley to make room. Are they willing to risk losing one of those three players for Laughton?

Holmgren said before training camp that "it's about the Flyers" and they would make tough roster decisions if it meant giving the team the best chance to win. He has a chance to prove that this week.

Laughton deserves to stay. He simply gives the Flyers the best chance to win, age or contract be damned.

Slap shots

The Flyers recalled forward Tye McGinn from Adirondack. With Zac Rinaldo out, McGinn could make his NHL debut on Tuesday night against the Devils . . . The Flyers did not practice Monday . . . The first of 13 Flyers radio broadcasts on WMMR (93.3-FM) takes place on Tuesday. It's the first sports programming in the station's 45-year history.

On-ice

STAT WATCH

1: Times the Flyers lost three straight to start a season, back in the 1994-95 lockout-shortened season. Bob Clarke traded Mark Recchi for John LeClair and Eric Desjardins and the Flyers won the Atlantic Division by a eight points.

3: Games in a row in which Claude Giroux scored a goal to start last season. Giroux has tallied once in each of the Flyers' two games this season.

10: Times the Flyers have started 0-2. Previously, they went on to make the playoffs six of those times and missed three (1971-72, 1989-90, 1990-91). Somewhat of a telling stat, since the Flyers have missed the playoffs only eight times.

256: Days between games for the Flyers. They last skated on May 8, 2012, falling to the Devils in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

664: Games played between stints with the Flyers for Ruslan Fedotenko, second only to Vinny Prospal's 715. Fedotenko's last regular-season game with the Flyers had been April 14, 2002.

RULE CHANGES

Three new rule changes to keep in mind:

* Players will be automatically penalized for playing the puck with a hand in an attempt to win a faceoff.

* Players still will be allowed to move the puck with a free hand in the defensive zone; however, an automatic penalty will be whistled for closing a hand completely on the puck to do so.

* The NHL is also trying to cut down on deliberate slashing to the hands / wrists, usually done in an attempt to slow down a player.

CBA NUANCES

Three lesser-known benefits for players under the new CBA:

* Beginning with a player's second contract, they are entitled to their own hotel room on the road vs. having a roommate. The previous rule was 8 years of NHL service.

* If asked, all NHL teams must compete in at least one international game over the term of the contract, usually to start the season as in the Premiere Games.

* By 2022, the minimum salary for players will be $750,000.


On Twitter: @DNFlyers

Blog: philly.com/FrequentFlyers

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