In hindsight: Was sending Scott Laughton back the right call?
As you assuredly know by now, the Flyers' offense displayed literally historic levels of ineptitude in the first eight games of this 2013-14 campaign, en route to 11 total goals and a 1-7-0 start. While it goes without saying that this level of offensive failure isn't going to be sustained over a whole 82-game season, and things will get better before they get much worse, it's certainly worth wondering if maybe this offense just isn't quite as good as we had thought it would be.
And while finding upgrades isn't easy (and was never going to be easy) given the Flyers' inflexibility in terms of the salary cap and roster limit, there was one move that the team made just after the season began that suddenly looks like it may have been a mistake.
Last Sunday afternoon, this was happening in Oshawa, Ontario:
That's ESPN's Corey Pronman, describing Flyers 2012 first-round pick Scott Laughton, who was in the process of dominating the first period of his game against the Saulte Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Laughton would go on to add another goal in the third period, en route to a 5-4 shootout win for his Oshawa Generals.
Games like that have become commonplace for Laughton. A quick recap of his eight-game Ontario Hockey League (OHL) season so far:
* He has ten goals and seven assists. In case you need reminding, that's one less goal than the entire Flyers team has put up in the same number of games.
* He's seventeenth in the OHL in scoring, in total, despite having played in fewer games than just about everyone else near the top of the leaderboards. Of the sixteen guys ahead of him in total scoring, only three are scoring more per-game than Laughton is.
* In a similar vein, his 1.25 goals per game leads the OHL.
* He has more games in which he's scored three or more points (three) than games in which he's scored one or zero points (two).
* His team is 7-0-1.
* They've scored 28 goals in that process, meaning Laughton has scored a point on about 61 percent of those goals.
There are more numbers like that that I could rattle off, but I think the point is made here. Laughton so far is absolutely lighting the OHL on fire, and even if he probably won't end the year above two points per game, it seems like a safe bet that he'll spend the rest of the year dominating that league.
So knowing what we know now, which is basically the following:
* That Laughton, at 19, is clearly punching above his weight class in the OHL this year;
* That he obviously has more scoring prowess than his underwhelming training camp and preseason had suggested, and;
* That the Flyers could only have Laughton in the OHL or on the NHL team this year ...
... did the Flyers make a mistake by sending Laughton back to the OHL this year?
Let's recap what the possibilities were on October 3, when the Flyers sent Laughton packing back to Oshawa:
* Send Laughton back down to the OHL, knowing he'd get big minutes and probably dominate in them. This is, of course, what happened.
* Keep Laughton in the NHL as a fourth-line center. This looked like it was a possibility in training camp, and it would've instantly given the Flyers' fourth line a big edge in skill over most teams' fourth lines. The downside there is that Laughton is that the team has only three years of his cheap entry-level deal to burn, and that spending the first one of those years having him face mostly-fourth-liners for 12-14 minutes per game at most isn't the best way to use one of those years.
* Keep Laughton in the NHL as a top-9 center. With the logjam of centers in place on the team (Claude Giroux, Vincent Lecavalier, Sean Couturier, potentially Brayden Schenn), this seemed like a long shot from the start unless the Flyers were willing to move one of them (likely Lecavalier) to the wing. But that brings up the last alternative...
* Keep Laughton in the NHL as a winger, likely on the third line. This also looked like a possibility in training camp, and one that -- solely in my opinion -- seems closer to a long-term inevitability, what with the Flyers' aforementioned depth at center. But it's one that the Flyers shot down early on in training camp, and apparently they were very adamant about that. Which is fine -- if they think moving him over will hamper his development, then don't do it -- but I'm surprised they wouldn't at least consider it if they wanted to get his speed and impressive two-way ability into a top-9 position.
None of those were terrible options, but none of them were without their obvious drawbacks. Either keep him in the OHL, where he'll develop a bit but will only learn so much while dominating younger, obviously inferior players, or force him into the NHL lineup and end up playing someone out of position.
Ideally, they would've been able to send him to the AHL, where he would face better competition and the team could oversee his development directly. But the NHL/CHL transfer agreement is stupid and doesn't allow that, so here we are.
Maybe Laughton doesn't have this offensive explosion if the Flyers don't give him a wake-up call by sending him back to juniors, and maybe what's happening now is for the best. Maybe the decision to force him into the lineup next year will be a lot easier now that they're confident he can produce offensively.
But on the other hand, if Laughton could've been able to provide any sort of offense to a team that is really struggling for offense right now, it's hard not to wonder if it wouldn't have been worth it to use up the first year of his contract to see what he could've done.
It's easy to crap on the Flyers for not keeping Laughton on the roster, and I'm certainly not convinced it was the right decision. But even with his success so far, it may not be as cut-and-dry as it looks.
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