Throughout the continent, and really the globe, pro hockey players are mostly just hunting for ice time and worthy competition as the NHL sits in relative limbo. Jan. 1 remains the target, but who knows?
It’s the goalies you worry about the most during the downtime because It’s impossible to simulate consistent NHL-level shots no matter how brisk and physical the pickup games are.
“The biggest factor isn’t getting ice. It’s getting shooters who can help [goaltenders] get the feel back,” Flyers third-string goalie Alex Lyon said. “That’s pretty important. I’ve been in situations before where you don’t face high-level shooters [in the off-season], and all of a sudden, you get slapped in the face when training camp starts.”
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Hockey players aren’t paid during the off-season. Not paid during the playoffs, either. They earn their salaries during the regular season, which is why Lyon is a little concerned for some of his teammates.
Not his Flyers teammates. Many of those guys are NHL veterans who should have enough commas in their bank-account statements to last them through several pandemic stoppages. Lyon, who signed a $700,000, one-year deal in September to again be the top minor-league goalie in the Flyers system, worries about the youngsters in the organization.
“Guys like me are very fortunate that we’re not too stressed about making it through this,” said Lyon, who played in three games for the Flyers last season, and was one of four goalies on the playoff bubble roster. “I don’t ever, ever like to talk about another person’s money, but a lot of people don’t understand there are a lot of guys who are just making [minimal] money, coming out of college.”
“Especially in the East Coast league and the American League. It’s not just the NHL guys that have to find their way. It’s also those lower-level guys and it’s just not quite as simple for them. My heart really goes out to them.”
Lyon pointed out that the league minimum for AHL players is $51,000 annually while the ECHL, the league a step below the AHL, has minimum weekly salaries of $490-$530 depending on experience. The AHL canceled its season in March and announced last week that it was not resuming until at least Feb. 5.
Flyers assistant general manager Brent Flahr has not heard of any of the minor leaguers having to take second jobs or anything, but he shares Lyon’s concern.
“Hopefully when things get started up we can have a long enough season, things like that can work itself out,” Flahr said. “The reality is that nothing unfortunately can be done at this time.”
Lyon will be 28 on Dec. 9 and he has a degree from Yale, so he’s in better shape than many others. He recently bought a house in New York with his dentist girlfriend, Dr. Alexa Schweitzer.
“It’s easy for the [general public] to say, ‘It’s fine; they get paid millions.’ But for every [superstar], there are five guys beneath him that have to handle their money well,” Lyon said. “There’s just a whole crop of guys that are stressed right now.”
Inspired by colleague Marc Narducci’s take on what Brandon Graham is doing for the Eagles, wondered if there was a Flyers equivalent.
Narducci pointed out that Graham, at age 32, is on pace for 14 sacks, which easily would be his career high.
These aren’t career highs, but who are the only three Flyers players to score 30 goals or more in their age-32 season or later? Hints: None is in the team’s Hall of Fame, and two played for the Flyers within the last 15 years. Answer below.
The Flyers have not signed any prominent forwards, perhaps hoping that the scorer they lack might already be on the roster. They were able to jump up to second place in the Metro Division, finishing one point behind when play was halted.
It’s why the possibility of Nolan Patrick coming in and resuming a career that showed flashes is intriguing, Patrick, 22, missed all of last season with a migraine disorder. Flahr said last week that he hadn’t seen Patrick in various scrimmages, but was encouraged by what he was hearing. He said Patrick speaks frequently with general manager Chuck Fletcher and team medical director Jim McCrossin.
“I think he’s feeling good. He’s real excited because he didn’t feel like this last year,” Flahr said. “Obviously, being on the ice and working out [is good]. Hopefully, he’s ready to go.”
Patrick, who signed a qualifying offer for $874,125 in October, declined a request for comment.
“We’re also getting [Oskar} Lindblom back and healthy,” Flahr continued. “Those are two huge additions that we were counting on last year. I think our team played pretty well without them, but at the same time, if we add those two guys to the mix, it gives our coaching staff different weapons to use.”
“It certainly gives us a lot more depth down the middle and the way those guys both can play on the power play and penalty kill. It would probably allow [Sean] Couturier a lot more freedom in offensive situations with [Kevin] Hayes. It just gives the coaching staff a lot of different looks.”
“It’s a big year for him. He’s a guy our coaches are excited about. The skill set that he brings, and the ability. But there’s not a rush. I know everybody wants him to play right away [after] last year, but his time in the American League was valuable. He’s got to get stronger still. He’s working at that. A lot of his abilities, you can’t teach. The skill level, his ability to make plays and generate offense. His play will dictate when he’s ready. This year, at some point, [we hope ] he’s a regular contributor.”
— Flyers assistant general manager Brent Flahr on Morgan Frost, a 21-year-old who played 20 games in the NHL and is considered the Flyers' top prospect.