In the last few seasons, Marc Bergevin has targeted serviceable fourth-line players to fill out the bottom of the Montreal Canadiens’ lineup. In 2015 he acquired both Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn from a floundering Buffalo Sabres team. Mitchell has gone on to be a solid fourth-line role player for the Habs who can move up a line in a pinch. Flynn, on the other hand, had mostly been treated as the 13th forward, getting ice time only when an injury necessitates it or to shake things up after a rough stretch.
At his best, Flynn is a decent penalty killer and a fourth-line player who could break even on possession without hurting his team. However, those games were few and far between this season, as Flynn was a negative possession player for the majority of the 51 games he played.
With the way the Habs utilize their fourth line, having players that can’t stay afloat on possession end up costing the team in the long run. Flynn ended the year with a 47.7 Corsi-for percentage: 5.3% percentage points below the team average. That’s not the performance of a player who should be seeing regular ice time. While he did contribute a bit of offence in his limited usage (six goals and four assists), there were better options than him to eanr an NHL position in the organization.
That’s really the sticking point with Flynn. It’s not his fault his coach preferred veteran players over rookies, but his presence in the lineup was yet another barrier for the younger players in the AHL to overcome and carve out an NHL spot for their own.
Sven Andrighetto was scoring at over a point-per-game rate in St. John’s this season but couldn’t get a regular lineup spot until he was traded to Colorado — for a fourth-liner. Given the Habs’ scoring woes it surely would have made more sense to give Charles Hudon or IceCaps’ leading scorer Chris Terry an extended look. Flynn’s two-year, $950,000 contract could have been fully buried in the minors and his production likely would have been easily replaced by any of the AHL call-ups this season.
There is a general desire to have a veteran presence in the locker room, but where it becomes an issue is when that presence starts to block younger players from breaking in to the league, and causes a stagnation in development. This continued to be an ongoing problem and eventually caused a major issue in the playoffs as Flynn along with the deadline additions of Andreas Martinsen, Steve Ott , Dwight King failed to do anything of note in the games they played while the team struggled to get the puck behind Henrik Lundqvist.
Flynn’s shouldn’t receive the blame for plugging the pipeline from the minor ranks, as he didn’t dictate his own starts and ice time. It’s the culture Montreal has bred in Bergevin’s tenure as GM, that being a veteran matters more than being able to actually contribute something meaningful on the ice. Hopefully under Claude Julien we’ll see a shift away from that policy and more youth in the lineup.
As for Flynn, it’s highly unlikely he suits up for the Habs again, but there’s always a team out there looking for a role player, and with an additional 23 players needed in the NHL next season with the addition of the Vegas Golden Knights, he may not have to wait long for a new team.
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