Gardner signed a two-year, two-way deal with the Flyers in free agency last offseason, and he earned his first recall to the Flyers in mid-December. He was ferried back to Lehigh Valley after the Flyers played their last game before the Christmas break, but they promptly recalled him as the roster freeze wrapped up. The minor-league shutdown center served as injury insurance for most of his time on the NHL roster, as head coach John Tortorella scratched him in seven straight games before he made his season debut Thursday against the Blue Jackets. He entered the lineup in place of Morgan Frost, who sat as a healthy scratch for the 11th time this season but returned to play today.
Frost is an everyday piece of the Flyers’ top nine, posting 11 points in 27 appearances this season, but has earned the ire of Tortorella at points this season. That has resulted in extending benchings, including a six-game streak of scratches early in the season. With Frost still in the fold, though, and no injuries on offense to speak of, it makes sense the Flyers would want to return Gardner to the minors and avoid unnecessarily running out his waiver-exempt status.
The 27-year-old Gardner has now played in parts of four NHL seasons since making his debut in 2019-20, getting into 41 games while recording one goal and one assist. A long-time member of the Stars organization, who acquired his rights with the 116th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, all 40 of Gardner’s previous major-league games came in a fourth-line role with Dallas. Gardner now returns to the Phantoms, where he has three goals and one assist in his first 21 games with the team.