On the heels of the Flyers’ disappointing 2020-21 performance, money bought as much new talent as the salary cap could allow. General manager Chuck Fletcher used every inch of space to position the team for the playoffs this season, from acquiring a top-pairing defenseman in Ryan Ellis to trading for a playmaking forward in Cam Atkinson.
Money, as the Flyers learned in January, can’t buy time. The COVID-19 pandemic limited last season’s training camp to six on-ice days and one intrasquad exhibition game for every NHL team, diminishing the important ramp-up period to the regular season.
Now, to Flyers chairman Dave Scott, there’s nothing more valuable than sweet, precious time for the new-look team to get acclimated as the NHL returns to a full 82-game schedule.
“That’s the big difference,” Scott said. “We have time. This is an organization that needs that time to really jell and a lot of new faces. So I think we have it. It’s great to really have six preseason games and gives us time to figure out that final roster.”
With the Flyers’ first preseason game at home against the New York Islanders just three days away, Scott emphasized the importance of a full development, rookie and training camp to preparing players for success this year. Through six preseason games, head coach Alain Vigneault will have time to experiment with various line combinations, defensive pairings, and special teams units to see which groupings have the best chemistry.
Although the Flyers have the benefit of time to get ready for the season, Scott acknowledged the sense of urgency surrounding the team to make a drastic improvement after going 25-23-8 in 2020-21 and failing to reach the postseason for the fifth time in the past nine years. That urgency was reflected in his conversations throughout the offseason with Fletcher, who added seven NHL veterans to the team via free agency and trades.
“It’s early, but job one is you’ve got to make the playoffs,” Scott said. “You just have to make the playoffs. It’s expected and I think we’re all on the same page with that. We’re early into this, but we’re feeling pretty good.”
With ample time to prepare for the full-length schedule, Scott aims to create something of a time machine to teleport the Flyers back to their success of the 2019-20 season. That year, the team finished 41-21-7 in the regular season and ranked second in the Metropolitan Division. The Flyers entered the Toronto bubble for the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
In the playoffs, the Flyers won the first round against the Montreal Canadiens in six games, but they fell in the seventh game of their second-round series against the New York Islanders.
“I was so excited about the step we took back in ’19-’20,” Scott said. “We want to build off that. Just got to win that game, that game seven and take the next step. So once you get in the playoffs, anything can happen. So I think we’re going in the right direction.”
That direction includes forwards Sean Couturier and Joel Farabee and goalie Carter Hart, who Fletcher signed to extensions this offseason. The experience of their proven core combined with the Flyers’ prospect pool gives Scott hope for renewed success, and the potential for a Stanley Cup, in the years to come.
“I think we’re built really for a long, successful future,” Scott said. “I mean, you look at that pipeline all the time — you have to really in the cap world — and figure out what contracts are coming up. So you got to keep the funnel full. We were thrilled to get Sean to sign early and Farabee coming on. So we’re well-positioned.”
Brassard starts camp as third-line center
When Chuck Fletcher signed forward Derick Brassard this offseason to a one-year, $825,000 deal, he picked up a versatile 14-year NHL veteran with the ability to slot in on the wing or at center. As a member of the Arizona Coyotes last season, the 34-year-old played both left wing and center on the second, third, and fourth lines.
Now, with center Kevin Hayes out for six to eight weeks after undergoing abdominal surgery on Sep. 21, Brassard’s first opportunity with the Flyers comes as their third-line center. For the first three days of camp, Brassard anchored the middle of a line featuring Oskar Lindblom and Cam Atkinson on either wing. Morgan Frost, the 2017 first-round pick, is centering James van Riemsdyk and Joel Farabee on the second line.
“Just going to try to help out,” Brassard said. “It’s going to be hard to replace [Hayes]. I don’t think anyone can. He’s a game-changer. But, at the end of the day, he’s going to come back a few weeks from now. Whether it’s Frosty [Morgan Frost] and Nate [Thompson], whoever can play center, we have a lot of guys who can play that position, and we’re just going to have to make sure we’re ready to go.”
Brassard, who was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets sixth overall in 2006, has plenty of familiar faces in the Flyers locker room. His five-and-a-half season tenure overlapped for less than two with Atkinson, who spent the last ten years in Columbus.
Additionally, Brassard spent time with defenseman Keith Yandle and Hayes on the New York Rangers from 2014-2016. One of his Flyers connections goes as far back as major junior hockey — Brassard played in the QMJHL for the Drummondville Voltigeurs from 2003-2007 and first encountered Claude Giroux when he was a member of the Gatineau Olympiques.
“I think it means a lot to me, personally, to play with Cam here and all the other guys I’ve played with,” Brassard said. “I’ve been here for two weeks now. I think we have a pretty good room. It’s been really good so far, and I like the atmosphere that we have.”
Flyers Warriors to host 2021 USA Hockey Warrior Classic
Warrior hockey teams, which provide injured and disabled U.S. military veterans the chance to play the sport, typically gather at this event annually. However, last year the event was canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Flyers Warriors won the event in 2019 with a 7-3 victory over the Carolina Warriors.
“Because the classic was not held last year, we are the defending champions and we can’t wait for the puck to drop on November 5,” Brad Marsh, Flyers Warriors head coach, said.
According to Alain Vigneault, Oskar Lindblom’s fitness levels are back to the standard he established before his cancer diagnosis in December 2019. “That’s a real positive sign,” Vigneault said. “We tested him my first year. What he did on the ice, off the ice, he’s back to that.” … Center Tanner Laczynski, who is coming off of hip surgery performed in April, did not participate in practice on Day 3 of training camp. “He tweaked his other side,” Alain Vigneault said. “So we’re in the process of evaluating exactly how that is.” … Recent entry-level deal signee Jon-Randall Avon slotted in for Laczynski on the third line, centering Isaac Ratcliffe and Tyson Foerster … Defenseman Linus Högberg left practice early with what Vigneault called a strained oblique. Forward Matthew Strome switched to defense to fill in for Högberg through the remainder of practice.