It was odd sitting around a Tampa hotel Thursday afternoon, just down the street from where the Flyers were supposed to play the Lightning that night.
It was odd because the close-knit Flyers were hanging out and heading to lunch like on any typical afternoon on the road.
If you didn’t know better, it was business as usual. Have a good lunch, go to a team meeting, catch a nap, and then head to the arena for what would have been an intriguing matchup.
But the players were well aware that something was in the works and that their (revival) season was about to dramatically change. For all 31 NHL teams.
“We’re just waiting,” right winger Jake Voracek said at the time, “to see what the league does. We know as much as you do.”
About 90 minutes later, the NHL suspended the season because of the coronavirus outbreak. No one knows when or if the season will resume.
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Will Stanley Cup pursuit continue?
The health of everyone, of course, is the No. 1 priority.
But for the Flyers and their fans, the shutdown could not have come at a worse time. The team was peaking. The Wells Fargo Center was percolating with excitement. A Stanley Cup playoff run seemed possible.
Tuesday would have brought another stiff challenge — and another game with a playoff feel — as St. Louis came to town. It would have been the first time Blues coach Craig Berube came “home” — he had spent 18 years with the Flyers organization as a coach or player — since leading St. Louis to its first Stanley Cup last June.
That game will likely never be played, unless it’s held without fans.
On Sunday night, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the cancellation or postponement of all events with 50 people or more for the next eight weeks. That means if the NHL returns before then, it would probably play in empty arenas.
If the league waits eight weeks and returns May 10 — eight weeks from Sunday’s announcement — that would basically force the NHL to cancel the rest of the regular season and, in all likelihood, alter the Stanley Cup playoffs so they don’t end in late July. Or later.
In light of the CDC’s announcement, the NHL might want to change its playoff format to shorten the postseason.
This is one of countless possibilities in an ever-evolving situation: Make it like it was in the old days, with the top four teams in each conference qualifying for the playoffs. There would be best-of-seven quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals.
Each series would last about two weeks, meaning the season could end in late June.
If you ranked the teams by points percentage, the first round in each conference would look like this:
Top-seeded Boston (.714) vs. fourth-seeded Flyers (.645)
Second-seeded Tampa Bay (.657) vs. third-seeded Washington (.652)
The Flyers went 2-1 against the Bruins this season.
Top-seeded St. Louis (.662) vs. fourth-seeded Dallas (.594)
Second-seeded Colorado (.657) vs. third-seeded Vegas (.606)
Stay tuned. The situation is fluid and changing by the day and, in some cases, by the minute.
Things to know
Flyers and Phillies fans who traveled to Florida are thrown a curveball by the coronavirus.
NHL Players Association chief says practices might start soon. Was he being too optimistic?
Mike Sielski’s column on the Flyers’ shot at a Cup being in jeopardy because of a vile little bug.
If the season resumes and injured defenseman Phil Myers is able to return, he has an outside chance to lead NHL rookies in plus-minus ratings. Myers is tied for second among rookies at plus-17, behind the Rangers’ Adam Fox (plus-22).
Since 1990, the Flyers have had just four defensemen make the NHL’s all-rookie team: Shayne Gostisbehere (2015-16), Joni Pitkanen (2003-04), Janne Niinimaa (1996-97), and Chris Therien (1994-95).
The NHL’s top rookie defensemen this season have been Colorado’s Cale Makar (50 points, plus-12), Vancouver’s Quinn Hughes (53 points, minus-10), and Fox (42 points, plus-22).
Myers has 16 points. He was expected to miss the rest of the regular season because of a fractured patella in his right knee, but the NHL’s pause might allow him to play some more regular-season games.
Joel Farabee (21 points in 52 games) and Nic Aube-Kubel (15 points in 36 games) have been the Flyers’ leading rookie point producers.
April 8: Scheduled start of NHL playoffs before the season was suspended.
June 26-27: NHL draft in Montreal. No word yet on if the dates will be changed.
From the mailbag
Has the break because of COVID-19 done anything for the timeline of Nolan Patrick? Do you think he might be ready to play if they start the playoffs on time? — @jason_dober via Twitter
Answer: Thanks for the question, Jason. As of last week, Patrick, who has been battling a migraine disorder all season, was skating with the team but said his situation was status quo. No setbacks, but no progress, either. That means if they started the playoffs on time on April 8, which now seems like a long shot, he almost definitely won’t be ready to play. If they started around, say, June 1, he might have a shot.
Send questions by email or on Twitter (@broadstbull), and they could be answered in a future edition.