Good morning, folks. The NHL is inching closer to returning, but things are still far from normal.
The Flyers had a handful of players at their small-group workouts in Voorhees on Monday. But no fans, reporters, or photographers were allowed in the building. Heck, even Zack Hill, the team’s public relations whiz, wasn’t permitted to attend. Players had to enter and exit the Skate Zone wearing masks and had their temperatures taken, and no coaches were allowed on the ice.
Welcome to Phase 2 of the NHL in the coronavirus age.
The NHL still hasn’t announced when training camps will open, other than to say they won’t start until at least July 10. That gives some players a chance to participate in voluntary workouts at their official practice arenas. Others are working out in rinks near their homes so they can remain with their families. Most of the Flyers are either staying home in Canada or Europe and working out there.
When the season does return -- the goal seems to be at some point in August -- the Flyers will be in a three-game round-robin format to determine the Eastern Conference’s top four seeds. Boston, Tampa Bay, and Washington are the other teams in the East’s round robin.
Coach Alain Vigneault will have some interesting decisions to make when play resumes.
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What are some of the personnel questions facing the Flyers when the games do restart and they try to get the conference’s No. 1 seed?
Here are some of them:
Where does left winger James van Riemsdyk play?
Thanks to the long break, van Riemsdyk has recovered from a broken finger and will be back in the lineup. He figures to play on either the second or third line. He seemed to have good chemistry with Derek Grant and Tyler Pitlick on the third line, so that is the likely spot where he ends up.
Does rookie Joel Farabee remain in the lineup?
That’s a tough call. Farabee played well as the second-line left winger in five games during the Flyers’ nine-game winning streak late in the season. But with van Riemsdyk’s return, Scott Laughton may become the second-line left winger, a spot he has handled well, and Farabee could be an extra player.
There’s also a possibility that Laughton drops down to the fourth center (replacing veteran Nate Thompson) and Farabee stays as the No. 2 left winger.
Should goalie Carter Hart play all three round-robin games, or is it important to give Brian Elliott a game to keep him sharp?
If the Flyers win their first round-robin game and still have a shot at the No. 1 seed, it wouldn’t be surprising if Hart continued to play until the team lost. Securing the No. 1 seed should bring favorable matchups down the road.
On the flip side, you want Elliott -- whose play has been much better than his stats -- to get some action and to be sharp.
Who assumes the role of the sixth defenseman -- Robert Hagg or Shayne Gostisbehere?
Hagg has been an underrated member of the defense and I think he’ll get the nod. He’s also one of the team’s most physical defensemen.
The local media was asked the other day to vote for the Bobby Clarke Trophy, which goes to the Flyers’ MVP, and the Barry Ashbee Trophy (team’s most outstanding defenseman).
Here is my ballot:
Bobby Clarke Trophy
1. Sean Couturier: The 27-year-old center was the Flyers’ best all-around player, no question. Besides defending teams’ top offensive players, Couturier had 22 goals, 59 points, and a team-best plus-21 rating. He played in all situations and led the NHL in faceoff percentage (59.6 percent).
2. Travis Konecny: He led the team in goals (24) and points (career-high 61) and was Mr. Consistency throughout the season. Konecny, 23, has had 24 goals in each of the last three seasons, and would have had a personal best if the season wasn’t cut short. The Flyers played 69 games.
3. Carter Hart: At 21, Hart has a bright future. The present isn’t too shabby, either. He went 24-13-3 with a 2.42 GAA (eighth in the NHL) and .914 save percentage. He is about to play in his first Stanley Cup playoffs, where reputations are made.
Barry Ashbee Trophy
1. Ivan Provorov: Looking like a future All-Star, Provorov, 23, erased the memory of a disappointing 2018-19 season, when the weight of a new contract may have affected his performance. He was stellar on defense this season, and led Flyers’ defensemen in goals (13) and points (36).
2: Matt Niskanen: Acquired in the deal that sent Radko Gudas to Washington, the veteran stabilized the defense and helped his defensive partner, Provorov, blossom. Niskanen, 33, finished with 33 points (eight goals, 25 assists) and a plus-15 rating.
3. Travis Sanheim: The 24-year-old defenseman quietly emerged as a solid second-pairing defender and chipped in with eight goals, 25 points and a plus-4 rating.
July 10: The earliest training camps can open.
Who are your current top five prospects for the Flyers? (submitted by @T_rain12)
Thanks for the question. I’m not including Joel Farabee since he has been an important part of the team this season, but here are my top five, in order: 1. Morgan Frost, center; 2. Cam York, defenseman; 3. Egor Zamula, defenseman; 4. Wade Allison, right winger; 5. Bobby Brink, right winger.
FYI: Zamula is coming off back surgery, and the Flyers hope that doesn’t slow down the impressive strides he made on the junior level. He is expected to play for the Phantoms in 2020-21.