After activating Carter Hart from injured reserve yesterday, the Philadelphia Flyers did not immediately send a goaltender to the minor leagues. It was a curious decision, given Samuel Ersson could be loaned without exposing him to waivers. Today, they’ve explained why, by sending Felix Sandstrom on a conditioning stint with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. That does not require him to pass through waivers. The team has also recalled Kieffer Bellows from the AHL with the extra roster spot they had.
Sandstrom, 25, has essentially been overtaken by Ersson on the depth chart and has appeared just once in the last month despite Hart’s brief absence. The former top prospect has an .888 save percentage in nine appearances this season and has lost seven of them, looking shaky almost every time he entered the net. The only thing saving him from being assigned to the minor leagues more permanently is his waiver status, which would require the Flyers to expose him before sending him down.
Given that goaltenders are the most frequent waiver claims, that could be risky, though it is rather obvious who the team would prefer as the backup right now. Ersson has played well in Hart’s place, getting the last three starts and allowing just six goals on 86 shots. All three were wins, something the Flyers haven’t been able to say very often this year.
Some fans will suggest that it isn’t even a good thing. The Flyers sit 14-17-7 on the year and don’t look to have any chance of competing for the playoffs, but runs like their current win streak also push them further away from lottery contention. The club now sits 26th in the league, and 15 points ahead of the last-place Chicago Blackhawks. Eventually, they will have to make a decision on whether or not to expose Sandstrom to waivers or send Ersson back down.
Bellows, meanwhile, is coming back up after once again showing that he can score regularly at the minor league level. The 24-year-old was claimed off waivers from the New York Islanders earlier this season and struggled with his new club, failing to register a point in 12 Flyers games. But in 11 matches with the Phantoms, he has nine points and was back to playing his physical, gritty game. If the 2016 first-round pick has any NHL potential left in him, there’s no better time to show it.