To put it bluntly, the situation surrounding Nolan Patrick and his migraine disorder has been nothing short of a soap opera. From dancing around the diagnosis early on, to teasing comebacks. Multiple scrimmages, practices, everything Nolan Patrick does has been micro-analyzed. Yes, it’s concerning that the guy hasn’t played in over a full calendar year. What’s kept him from playing that long is the biggest concern. Migraines are a different beast and can flare up at any given moment. This isn’t something that’s technically “cured,” mainly just held at bay, for lack of a better term.
This past September, fans got a glimpse of some good news from Flyers General Manager Chuck Fletcher. In a quote from Jordan Hall of NBC Sports Philadelphia and his Five Takeaways piece back in September, Fletcher had this to say about Nolan and his progress:
“He’s skating, he’s working out, he’s golfing, he’s living mostly a normal life. I think he’s made a lot of progress since March.”– Chuck Fletcher, Sept. 2020
Alain Vigneault was recently asked about Patrick’s progress as well. The Flyers Head Coach was pretty mum about Patrick during the season, focusing on the players he knew he would have at his disposal. Last week, Vigneault gave his two-cents on Patrick situation and where it’s at right now:
“All I hear are positive things… I can just imagine whether you’re Nolan Patrick or Sam Morin, and you haven’t been on the ice in a while, you’re nervous, you’ve got some anxiety, but you’re looking forward to hopefully coming back and being there at the start of camp and at the start of the season.”– Alain Vigneault, Dec. 2020
While things are certainly looking up for Nolan Patrick, there are still some concerns heading into the shortened 2020/21 season.
Typically after being out of the game for as long as Nolan Patrick has been, players would be loaned to their AHL affiliate for a conditioning stint. Shayne Gostisbehere missed a fraction of the time Patrick has this past season, and was loaned to Lehigh Valley to get back to game speed before being called back up to the Flyers. With Nolan Patrick having not played since April 2nd of 2019, a conditioning stint would likely be the best option.
Therein lies the problem, however. With the NHL season slated to start January 13th and the AHL season start pushed back to February 5th, Patrick would miss the first 12 games minimum. Depending on how long the conditioning stint lasts, Patrick could miss a quarter of the shortened 56-game season. Are the Flyers willing to wait that long to get back their former number two overall pick, or will Patrick be thrown to the wolves and inserted into a trial by fire type situation? Fans saw Oskar Lindblom return from his cancer treatment in the 2020 NHL Playoffs only to play limited minutes in a fourth-line role. Vigneault may take the same approach with Patrick, and that might be his only option.
This one may come as a bit of a surprise. Many may think, “How can you not fit a former second overall pick within the organization?” The truth is, Patrick fits in this organization because they’re in need of depth down the middle. You can move Giroux back to center if need be. Same goes for Laughton. However, if Patrick is back, there’s no need and you can continue having Giroux and Laughton on the wing, where they’re arguably more successful.
The problem with his fit comes in the way of coaching. Patrick only ever played under Dave Hakstol and Scott Gordon. Under Gordon, Patrick had eight goals and 13 assists in 44 games. Under Hakstol, Patrick recorded 50 points (23g, 27a) in 101 games. While the numbers are consistent, Alain Vigneault brings an entirely new system to town, along with a new coaching staff as well. A coaching staff that hasn’t gotten the opportunity to coach Nolan Patrick just yet. If Patrick can gel with the new coaches after being off the ice for nearly two years, then it’s no worry. If he has trouble adjusting to Vigneault’s style, it could be difficult for him to gain his footing.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to overcome is the one that landed us here in the first place. Up until recently, it was made unclear how Nolan Patrick had been dealing with his migraines. Anyone who suffers from them knows how debilitating they can be. While one medication may work for some time, your body could get used to it and it stops working as well. Medications change, your body adjusts, and you manage what you can. With Nolan Patrick, this migraine disorder may not ever completely go away.
What happens then, if the migraines come back part-way through the season? How long are we looking at having him sidelined? Is it something that could potentially threaten his career? Most importantly, is it worth risking greater injury? The weight of these risks surely weighs heavily on Patrick, and his decision won’t be an easy one to make.
Physical Wear & Tear
In a way, this ties in with the recurring migraine disorder, but also covers a wider array of potential issues. The NHL schedule is a grueling one, and shortening it to 56 games over around four months makes it that much more difficult. Will Nolan Patrick be able to hang with the physicality and day-to-day wear and tear on his body? Conditioning is one thing, but we all know the physical toll an NHL season can take on a body. Patrick needs to prove that he can withstand the rigors of a condensed schedule in a tight time frame.
Every player in the league is aware of his migraine disorder. That’s not to say anyone will take it easy on him. At the end of the day, the moment he steps on the ice he is just another guy. Nobody is going to ease up when approaching him in the corner. No player is going to cut away at the last second when they catch him coming through the neutral zone. He isn’t going to necessarily be targeted, but nobody is going to take it easy on him. Patrick needs to be 100% ready to take those types of hits if he hopes to return at full strength.
If Nolan Patrick is back on the ice come January 13th, it’s because he’s 100% ready to go. There’s no reason for him to return if he isn’t exactly 100% ready to. The Flyers can survive without him, they did all last year. His health is paramount and should be treated as such. Physicals will take place on January 3rd, so we should know exactly what to expect after that date. Until then, it’s fair to acknowledge the concerns most of us have in regards to Nolan Patrick returning to play. While the possibility is realer than ever, it still comes with a good bit of risk.
Photo Credit – Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire