Over the next several days, we’ll evaluate the Flyers at each position, give a regular season and postseason grade and provide an outlook for their roster status for the 2018-19 season. Next up, Part 2 of the defensemen:
The 2017-18 season was one of growth for the Flyers' young defense with half of that six-man unit in their first or second years of NHL service. After the Flyers' three consecutive years of drafting defensemen in the first round, we finally received a glimpse of how the defensive core will look like over the next few years. We broke down the young blueliners Thursday, so let's now turn to the veterans.
Regular season: C-
Gudas’ 10-game suspension continued to linger over his head after he returned to action. He struggled to find the delicate balance between playing physical and playing responsible. Gudas would get caught puck chasing in his own end and, along with Brandon Manning, was much of the reason why the Flyers would spend a good amount of time in the defensive zone. Gudas was erratic in the playoffs and his turnovers in Game 6 were part of the Flyers' eventual downfall in the series.
2018-19 outlook: Under contract for the next two seasons at $3.35 million, which makes the contract tough to trade if the Flyers elect to do so, especially considering his suspension history. Right now, Gudas is the only right-handed defenseman on the roster, which could change through free agency. Unless a deal presents itself, the Flyers will likely hold on to Gudas for next season.
Regular season: B
As much as MacDonald seems to draw the ire of Flyers fans, he’s not a concern for the organization. In the second half of the season, MacDonald proved to be a solid playing partner for Travis Sanheim, whose game settled down after he returned from Lehigh Valley. MacDonald scored in two of the Flyers' playoff games and played very well defensively in those contests. I thought he was inconsistent with his penalty killing through the regular season.
2018-19 outlook: Two more seasons at $5 million — a cap hit that’s becoming mid-level salary as revenue increases throughout the league. With some of the young prospects still working their way through the system, MacDonald gives the blue line a steady, veteran presence. Expect MacDonald to be part of the Flyers' second pairing next season.
Regular season: C
Manning displayed more of an offensive upside in 2017-18, jumping into plays and finishing the season with seven goals, but he was clearly exposed defensively when mismatched against the opponent’s top two lines paired with Gudas. Manning would play a string of games and look like a steady NHL defenseman and then have an absolute clunker.
2018-19 outlook: An unrestricted free agent, Manning will not return next season, Ron Hextall confirmed Thursday (see story), as his departure opens up another spot on the team’s blue line. Either Hextall will find a more dependable veteran to replace Manning or elect for one of the prospects to slide into that role as a third-pairing defenseman.