Maybe the NHL will resume its suspended season. Maybe it won’t.
Maybe Canada’s strict quarantine rules for getting non-Canadian residents across the border will trigger too much chaos, causing the NHL to use only American arenas if it returns. Maybe it won’t.
Maybe the NHL will realize it should scrap the regular season and return with just the playoffs. Maybe it won’t.
As you can see, there is nothing but uncertainty surrounding the NHL in a coronavirus world. No one knows the answers yet. Not Gary Bettman, the NHL’s commissioner. Not deputy commissioner Bill Daly. Not any of the players, coaches, or general managers.
The answers will come only after the coronavirus is deemed under control.
But just for the fun of it, let’s say the league returns and skips the rest of the regular season and goes directly to the Stanley Cup playoffs. Let’s also assume that the teams are ranked by points percentage and that 16 teams make the playoffs. I’m not fond of this setup, but, hey, play along with me.
That would mean the Flyers would face the Pittsburgh Penguins in a delicious first-round matchup.
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Never mind that fans aren’t expected to be able to attend games.
A Flyers-Penguins playoff matchup would still be great theater -- even though it would be odd not having a screaming crowd as part of the atmosphere. TV ratings would be astronomical.
It seems like eons ago, but the Flyers and Penguins met three times this season. The Flyers were 1-1-1, and the teams did not play their March 29 game, scheduled at the Wells Fargo Center, because the season was suspended by the coronavirus.
To get you ready for the possible playoff matchup and to jog your memory, here is how the series went:
Penguins 7, Flyers 1: The Flyers weren’t yet close to the form that saw them emerge as the NHL’s hottest team when the season was paused, winning nine of their last 10. This game was played in Pittsburgh on Oct. 29, long before the Flyers had grasped the system implemented by their new coaching staff, long before they had four lines and six defensemen playing as one cohesive unit, long before Carter Hart became one of the league’s most dependable goalies.
Flyers killer Sidney Crosby and Dominik Kahun each had a goal and a pair of assists for the Pens, who built a 4-0 first-period lead and coasted. Brian Elliott allowed six goals on 28 shots for the Flyers, and Hart relieved him early in the third period. Oskar Lindblom scored the Flyers’ goal.
Flyers 3, Penguins 0: Nearly three months after their embarrassing loss in Pittsburgh, the host Flyers played a strong defensive game and paid back the Penguins. Elliott (19 saves) was flawless, and Jake Voracek, James van Riemsdyk, and Justin Braun (empty-netter) scored for the Flyers in the Jan. 21 game. Crosby was minus-2.
Before this game, the Flyers were nine points behind the Penguins. When the season was suspended March 12, the Flyers (41-21-7) were three points ahead of Pittsburgh (40-23-6).
Penguins 4, Flyers 3 (OT): Trailing 3-1, the Flyers got goals from Tyler Pitlick and Scott Laughton to force overtime and salvage a point. Crosby won it 55 seconds into OT, giving him 43 goals and 105 points in 70 career games against the Flyers.
Elliott, who started all three games against the Penguins, stopped 16 of 20 shots. The Flyers allowed only a combined 39 shots over their last two games against Pittsburgh.
Overall, the Flyers are seventh in the NHL in goals per game (3.29) this season, while the Penguins are 10th (3.20). The Flyers are tied for seventh in goals allowed per game (2.77), and Pittsburgh is tied for 11th (2.84). Both teams are almost identical on special teams.
So what did we learn from the three games between the teams? That they are virtually even, and the Flyers’ fortunes depend on how well they can contain Crosby. Simple as that.
Sean Couturier vs. Sidney Crosby would be must-see TV. Let’s hope we get to see it.
The NHL may move its draft to early June, and a decision could be finalized this week.
Because of extenuating circumstances, the league this year is reverting to the old way of determining who gets a chance at the No. 1 overall pick in the draft lottery. Only the bottom five teams will have that chance, meaning the lottery winner can’t move up more than four slots.
This is being done because if the draft is held before the regular season ends and the current format was used, there would have been a slight chance that the team that won the lottery could also have won the Stanley Cup. That wouldn’t have looked too good.
Bottom line: Detroit, the NHL’s worst team, will have a 57% chance of getting the No. 1 overall pick (hello, Alexis Lafreniere) in this year’s draft lottery.
Based on ranking teams by points percentage, the Flyers would have the 26th overall pick in the first round.
Tuesday: On this date in 1974, Dave Schultz set the tone by pummeling Dale Rolfe in an early fight, and Gary Dornhoefer scored the winning goal as the Flyers outlasted the visiting Rangers, 4-3, in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup semifinals.
Wednesday: Alumni game between the Flyers and Rangers at Citizens Bank Park from Dec. 31, 2011. Shown on NBC Sports Philadelphia at 8 p.m. Eric Lindros returns and Bernie Parent stops a breakaway.
Thursday: On this date in 2000, the Flyers’ Andy Delmore became the first NHL rookie defenseman to register a hat trick in a playoff game as Philadelphia whipped the Penguins, 6-3.
Saturday: On this date in 1974, Bobby Clarke scored an iconic goal -- some believe it was the most important in franchise history -- to beat Boston in overtime, 3-2, and even the Stanley Cup Final series at one win apiece. It was the Flyers’ second-ever win in Boston, and it showed Philly it could compete with the favored Bruins.
What do you think the Flyers do with Brian Elliott after this year? And if he goes, who would most likely be Carter Hart’s backup?
(@Thrilliam13) via Twitter
Answer: Thanks for the question, “Thrill.” I think they will try to re-sign Elliott to a reasonable one-year deal. He has been better than his numbers (2.87 GAA, .899 save percentage) suggest -- they look unimpressive because of a handful of rough outings. Elliott has played well and has been a good mentor to Hart.
If they can’t come to terms, Corey Crawford, Thomas Greiss, and Cam Talbot are among free-agent possibilities. The salary demands, of course, will be key.