Alain Vigneault and the Flyers coaching staff will continue to experiment with line combinations for the next few weeks, even into the round-robin games. Let’s try JVR up here. Let’s move Laughts over to wing. Is there a spot for Ghost?
The vibe around the club is that the focus is less on the seeding games against Boston, Washington and Tampa Bay and more on the first-round opponent, which right now would be Pittsburgh, but that could easily change.
One of the messages the coaches are imparting is that everybody needs to stay ready. The numbers explain why.
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Carsen Twarynski, like all of the young guys at the bottom portion of the Flyers roster, says that playing in the NHL playoffs would be a dream come true. It’ll take a deep run, but history suggests it’s possible his dreams could be realized in the next few months.
Twarynski and Connor Bunnaman each made the opening-day lineup out of September training camp (which feels like a hundred years ago) and both are treating Camp 2.0 similarly. What’s different, however, is veterans Derek Grant and Nate Thompson are in the way.
“I think we’re all aware that we have some extra guys,” said Twarynski. “We’ve all seen the guidelines and rules for how many players can go into the bubble.”
The Flyers have 34 players on their current roster, and are permitted to bring 31 when they leave for their bubble city on Sunday. Vigneault said the other day, “we’re bringing probably 30 players to Toronto.”
The guess here is that forward German Rubstov, defenseman Egor Zamula and goaltender Kirill Ustimenko will stay behind, along with either defenseman Tyler Wotherspoon or Nate Prosser. Both are NHL veterans who spent the season with the AHL Phantoms.
That would leave the Flyers with 17 forwards, 10 defensemen and three goalies. Twenty players dress on game nights.
The Flyers will have a strict training regimen for the extra players up in Toronto, because “if you intend on having a long playoff run, you need depth. We are going to obviously need that depth,” said Vigneault.
That’s not just an attempt at motivation. The numbers suggest guys like Twarynski, Bunnaman or even youngster Morgan Frost really could get called on, especially as tenuous as things are with COVID-19.
Over the last 10 NHL seasons, 40 teams have reached the conference finals. None of those teams played the same 12 forwards every game. Whether it was injury or ineffectiveness, moves are made throughout the playoffs. In fact, a majority of the these teams had to play 14 or 15 different forwards during their run.
And Washington, two years ago, used 16 different forwards on its way to winning the first Stanley Cup franchise in team history.
Either Thompson or Joel Farabee is the Flyers 13th forward, depending on who you ask. Generally, 12 dress on game night.
Mark Friedman, who is eighth on the Flyers’ defensive depth chart, also should stay ready. Twenty-six of the last 40 conference finalists have needed to use at least eight different blueliners during their run, including Cup runner-up Boston last year. Either Shayne Gostisbehere or Robert Hagg figure to be the seventh D-man; six usually dress.
When Vigneault took Vancouver to the 2011 Western Conference finals, he used 10 defensemen and 15 forwards along the way.
Friedman said he’s not letting himself get caught in the numbers.
“If I play, I play. If I don’t, I don’t,” he said. “Just got to sit there and learn. Take everything in and soak it up like a sponge. To me, it’d be awesome to play, especially in Toronto, but I’m here for the learning experience. That’s something that I can take away from this trip.”
The Flyers resume practice on Tuesday.
Forwards/Defensemen/Goaltenders used during the playoffs of the 40 teams that have reached the conference finals over the last 10 postseasons. Stanley Cup winner is in bold. The three teams coached by Alain Vigneault in this span are in italics.
2018-19: Boston (14/8/1), Carolina (16/7/2), St. Louis (14/6/2), San Jose (15/7/2).
2017-18: Washington (16/7/2), Tampa Bay (13/6/2), Vegas (15/7/1), Winnipeg (14/9/2).
2016-17: Pittsburgh (15/8/2), Ottawa (16/8/2), Nashville (18/6/2), Anaheim (15/8/2).
2015-16: Pittsburgh (14/8/3), Tampa Bay (15/10/2), San Jose (13/6/2), St. Louis (15/7/2).
2014-15: Tampa Bay (14/8/2), N.Y. Rangers (13/7/1), Chicago (14/9/2), Anaheim (15/6/1).
2013-14: N.Y. Rangers (15/7/2), Montreal (14/8/2), Los Angeles (13/8/2), Chicago (13/7/1).
2012-13: Boston (14/9/1), Pittsburgh (15/8/2), Chicago (15/7/1), Los Angeles (15/8/2).
2011-12: New Jersey (14/8/2), N.Y. Rangers (13/7/1), Los Angeles (15/6/1), Phoenix (15/8/1).
2010-11: Boston (13/7/1), Tampa Bay (14/8/2), Vancouver (15/10/2), San Jose (15/8/2).
2009-10: FLYERS (16/7/3), Montreal (14/8/2), Chicago (14/8/2), Sam Jose (13/7/2).
Average postseason players used by teams that have reached the last 10 conference finals is 14.4 forwards, 7.6 defensemen, 1.8 goaltenders.
Friedman is a Toronto native. He played six games this season for the Flyers and seven total in his NHL career. None have been in his hometown. If he does get in, the arena will be empty, so no family in the stands.
Almost as bad is that uncle Bram Friedman recently opened Bro’s BBQ, a home-based business in Toronto, which is prohibited to the Flyers because it is out of the NHL’s established safe zone. So Friedman gets no baby backs, either. It’s like the Adam’s Ribs episode from M*A*S*H.
“It’s going to be pretty bizarre going back home,” Friedman said. “I keep telling my family I’m so close, but yet I’m so far. I’m in Toronto, but I can’t see my friends or my family. My uncle just started his own barbecue business. I’ve been dying to try it and I can’t even do that. It’s going to be pretty weird being home and not being able to see anybody.”
Sidney Crosby missed practice on Monday, the second in a row for a player largely considered the face of the league. No information is available on the nature of Crosby’s problem because the coach and general manager are prohibited from commenting.
Crosby left midway through Saturday’s practice, suggesting his absence isn’t related to the coronavirus. But who knows?
The NHL should be lauded for how it has handled just about every step in its return to play, except for this policy of not disclosing injuries for the rest of the season. Besides being a disservice to fans (of Pittsburgh and beyond), it’s inviting skepticism or something far worse for a league that has several partnerships with sportsbooks throughout the country.
It just looks bad.