Prior to the January 30th match between the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Islanders, the Flyers announced that Travis Konecny would be a healthy scratch. The announcement came as a shock to both the media and fans alike. Within seconds of the announcement, speculation started swirling that perhaps the Flyers were in the process of completing a trade involving Konecny or that he may have not been feeling well, perhaps because they had played the New Jersey Devils a few days before and was then announced that Travis Zajac entered the Covid protocol shortly thereafter. But then, as the team took the ice for its pregame skate, Travis Konecny was out there taking warm-ups and skating with his teammates and being his regular cheery self. So, what the heck was going on? Was Travis Konecny really in head coach Alain Vigneault’s doghouse?
I mean, about 2 weeks prior to him being a healthy scratch, Konecny scored a hat-trick against the rival Pittsburgh Penguins, was tied for the league lead in points and was named one of the NHL’s 3 Stars of the Week. And at the time of the benching against the Islanders, Konecny had accumulated 8 points in 8 games, including 5 goals. He is one of the Flyers most energetic and dynamic players. He led all Flyers players in goals the prior season with 24 and was well on his way to his first 30-goal season before it was cut short due to the stoppage in play because of the COVID pandemic. He had 61 points in 66 games. He scored 24-goals in the two seasons prior to that one. This benching was a real head-scratcher of a move.
After the game against the Islanders, which incidentally turned out to be an overtime victory on a beautiful steal and pass by Shane Gostisbehere to Scott Laughton, who dangled the puck and made his way to the net and scored while all 3 Islanders players just stood by and watched, Vigneault said that Konecny would be inserted back into the line-up as of the next game against those same Islanders. Vigneault went on to say that he wasn’t happy with Konecny’s overall game, which basically means his game defensively and away from the puck. He said he wanted to get Samuel Morin into a game as well. Vigneault said of Konecny:
“It’s like a mother or a father making tough decisions with their children”
After the benching and after his first game back Konecny said all the right things. He said it was tough but that he felt good and didn’t want to make things tough on his teammates the way he played, by putting them in a difficult position. He wanted to take it upon himself and help the team. He said he felt as if his feet were moving all the time and he felt great. He stayed a true professional. Which is what you like to hear, but….
Here’s the deal: I REALLY like Alain Vigneault as the head coach of this team in their current development stage. I really think they can do some damage and can beat anyone on any given night. However you don’t want to isolate your stars, and make no mistake, Travis Konecny is a star on the verge of superstardom. At 23 years old, he already boasts three 24-goal seasons. He was almost a point-per-game player last season at the age of 22. So he cheats a little bit, so what? We already have a ton of defensive responsible forwards like the reigning Selke Trophy winner, Sean Couturier, or Hollywood Hayes who is fantastic defensively, or Claude Giroux who is as good defensively as anyone in the NHL, or Oskar Lindblom who plays an absolute complete game, or Scott Laughton or Michael Raffl, or Nic Aube-Kubel, heck even JVR and Voracek have been really good on the defensive side of the puck this season, the list goes on and on. Does it really matter if a young breakout star like Travis Konecny concentrates more on creating offense than on defensive responsibilities? Well, according to Alain Vigneault through his action of benching Konecny, the answer is “Yes, it matters”. What makes things worst is that Sam Morin, the guy who replaced Konecny in that game, played a grand total of 5:31 and was a non-factor. As a matter of fact, one of the Islanders goals was due to Morin missing his assignment, where it looked like he was thinking he was still a defenseman instead of a winger. Don’t get me wrong here, I really want Morin to succeed, but he will never be a Travis Konecny… NEVER. And when the Flyers were looking for a some offense in the 3rd period after the Islanders came back from a 2-goal deficit, well…. Konecny was watching from the press box and Morin is not that guy to help in that aspect of the game. Luckily for Vigneault and the Flyers, Scott Laughton played hero in overtime and won the game, so the benching did not come back to bite Vigneault on the “you know what”. However, in his first game back from the benching, Konecny wasn’t a factor either. Only time will tell, but hopefully Vigneault didn’t hurt Konecny’s mindset of being an offensive player. You shouldn’t solve one problem by creating another. Konecny is an offensive player, let him play offense and score goals!
Photos: BroadStreetHockey.com; NHL.com; TSN.ca;