The Flyers’ small-group, on-ice sessions in Voorhees have started, training camp is on the horizon, and the NHL’s 24-team tournament will begin at some point in August.
And, so, yes, there is at least some direction to the resumption of a season that was paused March 12 because of the coronavirus.
But there are still questions, lots of questions, about the NHL and the Flyers as we navigate back to the league’s long-awaited reopening. Here are some of them that were asked this week on Twitter:
Question submitted by @playsomehockey: When the Flyers go deep into the playoffs this year, do you think there is ANY possibility fans will be able to attend in any capacity? The thought of G (Claude Giroux) raising that Cup after 45 years and NOT being in the building to see it live is not something I’m prepared for.
Answer: Right now, the NHL is planning to play all games at the hub cities without fans, but deputy commissioner Bill Daly did add a sliver of hope Wednesday when asked if there was any chance the Stanley Cup Final could be held in the two teams’ cities with fans in the building. “I would never rule anything out, but we are not currently planning for that to be the case," he said.
Played without fans, the games would lack the emotion and spontaneity that spectators bring to the drama-filled playoffs. But it would make some team’s Stanley Cup parade -- good luck with trying to keep social distancing intact for two-plus-million people if it happened in Philadelphia -- extra memorable.
Question submitted by @peterghouwen: I heard that Samuel Morin is skating in Voorhees. Is that just rehab or is he ready to practice with the team when allowed?
Answer: He’s just rehabbing after knee surgery. There’s a slight chance he will skate with the team when training camp begins in July, but he won’t be ready for the season’s restart. The hope is that, after two ACL surgeries on his right knee, he will be ready for camp going into the 2020-21 season and be able to battle for a roster spot.
Question submitted by @joshinphl: Will Gritty be among the Flyers’ 50 personnel at the hub city?
Answer: I asked a Flyers spokesperson on your behalf Wednesday and he wasn’t sure. “We don’t know yet” was the response. My guess is that he will be there. To me, it seems like a marketing moment they won’t be able to refuse. My question: Will he wear his costume when he is given a mandatory temperature check?
Question submitted by @GhostHart5379: Which Flyer is most likely to be traded when the season ends?
Answer: Shayne Gostisbehere is the most likely guy, but as I’ve written, the Flyers will need to get a good return for an offensive-minded defenseman who, despite consecutive subpar seasons, has loads of potential. And, remember, this season he was hindered by a knee injury that recently required surgery.
As for a trade, a second-round choice or a winger with 20-goal upside might get it done.
Question submitted by @T-rain12: Who are your current top five prospects for the Flyers?
Question submitted by @theashcity: What is the future of Zamula? Could he crack the lineup in the next couple years?
Answer: I rank the puck-moving Zamula, signed by then-GM Ron Hextall as an undrafted free agent in 2018, as the Flyers’ No. 3 prospect but with an asterisk. The asterisk is needed because it is unknown how he will respond to back surgery. The 6-4 Russian excelled in the Western Hockey League, but he will probably need two years with the AHL’s Phantoms before he is NHL-ready.
Question submitted by @flyerfan751114: With the Flyers’ penchant for slow starts to a year, any concern they come out slow and struggle mightily in Round 1?
Answer: When you say Round 1, I’m assuming you mean the Stanley Cup playoffs and not the three-game round-robin tournamen. I don’t think fans should have concerns. The Flyers started slowly -- they had more losses than wins (11-7-5) after the first seven weeks -- but a big reason for the mediocrity was because they were learning a system applied by their new coaching staff and they also had a handful of key new players.
Once they got acclimated to their new system and new lines and pairings, they began to roll.
This team was focused and playing with playoff-type urgency when the season was stopped. Look for that to continue.
Question submitted by @jrsynbr30: Do you think 3-0 in the round robin is a possibility? Or is 2-1 more realistic?
Answer: Going 3-0 against Boston, Tampa Bay, and Washington seems unrealistic. A 2-1 record would be a very good showing and would give them a nice seeding. I like Tampa to win the mini-tourney.
The Flyers did have the best record (5-3-1) among the four teams against one another in the regular season, though. They had a .611 points percentage against those opponents, followed by Washington (.600), Tampa (.563), and Boston (.500).
Question submitted by @1965CJW: Opinions vary, but many people would say the Flyers don’t have the high end/superstar players that teams like Tampa, Toronto, Boston and Colorado have. I believe the Flyers are close and their advantage is their coaches and the system that every player bought into. Agree? Elaborate?
Answer: Good question. Having a superstar or two obviously helps, but it isn’t necessary to win a Cup. (See St. Louis, 2019). I agree with your assessment that the Flyers were truly playing as a team when the season was suspended and that the new coaching staff played a big role. More times than not, it’s teams that play as a cohesive unit and have balanced scoring that do well in the playoffs. That favors the Flyers.
Question submitted by @Dewars22: I don’t truly trust Carter Hart between the pipes. I know I’m in the minority, but how long of a leash do you think [Alain Vigneault] gives him in the playoffs?
Answer: Perhaps some of your anxiety is created by all tournament games’ being on the road -- and Hart’s poor road performance (4-10-1, 3.81 GAA, .857 save percentage) this season. (He was dynamic at home, going 20-3-2, with a 1.63 GAA, and .943 save percentage.) But while the Flyers will be playing all tournament games on the road (based on the current format), so will all teams. Hence, there really isn’t an advantage.
Hart was starting to play better on the road and was on a roll when the season was paused. He had a 9-2 overall record with a .934 save percentage in his last 11 games since coming back from a lower-abdominal injury -- and I think Vigneault has trust in him and will give him a long leash.