Yes, it was picturesque. With the snowy Sierra Nevada Mountains in the background. With Lake Tahoe a slap shot away from the rink on a pristine golf course, and passing-by boats displaying Flyers or Boston Bruins flags.
The Flyers never should have played Sunday night in Nevada against Boston. Never should have played Thursday against the New York Rangers at the Wells Fargo Center. But the NHL, for some reason, mandated that they return to the ice.
Missing four games because of the COVID-19 protocol was enough. That was the league’s message. It was time for the Flyers to get back on the ice — even though they had six regulars on the COVID list who were unable to play.
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Shame on the NHL for making the Flyers return last week.
The league wouldn’t say it, but it obviously wanted them to play a game as a warm-up before the NHL had one of its showcase, made-for-TV outdoor games over the weekend.
Play a tune-up against the Rangers so you will be ready for the bright lights and will be able to show viewers how great our game can be. That seemed to be the NHL’s logic.
The league also ignored this logic: Take five of your top nine forwards out of the lineup and, well, you were giving viewers an inferior product.
More importantly, you weren’t being fair to the Flyers.
Three other teams — Minnesota, Buffalo and New Jersey — returned last week after missing games because of COVID-19 protocol. None had as many players sidelined when they returned as the Flyers. And those teams were all given more time to recover than the Flyers, who played for the first time in 11 days when they faced the Rangers. When the others returned, Minnesota played its first game in 14 days, Buffalo played its first in 15 days, and New Jersey played its first in 16 days.
“The COVID situation is a wild card, but that is why we have a taxi squad,” Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, said when asked why the Flyers weren’t permitted to stay sidelined until more players returned.
The Flyers didn’t complain about being told to play. If this was the Ed Snider regime, there would have been an uproar.
“At the end of the day, my view is, if the NHL thinks this can help the game and they ask us to be part of it, help the game and help grow the love of hockey, then I’m in,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “Hockey and the NHL have been very good to me, to the players. So if this is what we need to do to enhance and sell the game, then that’s what we have to do.’'
His players talked about returning to their roots by playing outdoors, and said it was an experience they would remember for the rest of their lives.
I get all that. But I truly wonder if the players and the coaching staff were just spouting the NHL’s company line; wonder if, deep down, they were furious that the league had turned its back on them.
There’s no guarantee, of course, that the Flyers would have beaten the Rangers or Bruins if the games had been postponed and played later in the season. The point is, the league needed to use common sense on the issue.
It showed it didn’t have any.
As it turned out, the Flyers — who lost to the Rangers in a shootout, 3-2, and were manhandled by the Bruins, 7-3 — picked up one out of a possible four points in the two games that should have been postponed.
If they miss the playoffs by a point or two, well, let the fury begin.
One more thing: I asked Daly if the affected teams had input on whether a game should be postponed because of COVID-19. He said it was solely the NHL’s decision.
It was a decision that was flat-out wrong.
Things to know
Rangers superstar Artemi Panarin probably won’t face the Flyers after taking a leave of absence following an alleged assault.
NHL drops the puck as the Flyers fall to the Bruins in an outdoor game. Ed Barkowitz was there.
Beyond the glitz and hype of the outdoor game, don’t judge the Flyers until their real team is on the ice. My column.
Enjoy Yong Kim’s great photo gallery from the Flyers’ outdoor game in Lake Tahoe.
The Bruins keep bringing out the worst in the Flyers, who have lost all five games to the B’s this season.
Inspired by the Carson Wentz deal, Ed Barkowitz wrote a great piece on the best and worst trades in Philly history. Read all about Bernie Parent, Steve Carlton, Ryne Sandberg and others.
Finding help on defense
The Flyers are allowing 3.27 goals per game, which is 24th in the 31-team NHL, and they obviously miss the retired Matt Niskanen.
Last year, they allowed just 2.77 goals per game, so they are allowing a half-goal more per contest this season.
That had Bud Levetzky (@BudLevetsky) asking on Twitter if there was someone out there the Flyers could acquire to fill Niskanen’s void.
It’s a bit early, but trade talks will escalate as we get closer to the April 12 deadline.
Nashville’s Mattias Ekholm, 30, is probably the most interesting veteran defenseman who might be on the market and would fit with the Flyers. The Sweden native is sidelined with a lower-body injury, but is getting closer to returning.
The shot-blocking, 6-foot-4, 215-pound Ekholm can be a first- or second-pairing defender, has a team-friendly contract ($3.75 million for this season and next season), and is a steadying player the Flyers need on the back end. In his 10 years with Nashville, he has averaged 21 minutes, 28 seconds of ice time.
The negatives: He’s left-handed — the Flyers would prefer a righty — and his acquisition might play havoc with the team’s protection plans for the expansion draft. It would probably take a high draft pick and a quality prospect to acquire Ekholm.
Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic lists the Flyers, Boston, Winnipeg, and Washington as the best potential fits if Ekholm becomes available.
Wednesday: Flyers vs. Rangers, 7 p.m. (NBCSN)
Saturday: Flyers at Buffalo, 1 p.m. (NBCSP)
Sunday: Flyers at Buffalo, 3 p.m. (NBCSP)
March 2: Flyers at Pittsburgh, 7 p.m. (NBCSP)
March 4: Flyers at Pittsburgh, 7 p.m. (NBCSP)
From the mailbag
Question: Is it time to play Brian Elliott more, or give Carter Hart a chance to find his game? — from Rick Taylor (@rickeysticks80) via Twitter
Answer: Thanks for the question, Rick. In a limited role, Elliott has played much better than Hart, and it would not hurt if Hart watched a few games and reset things. It also wouldn’t hurt if the players in front of Hart gave him more support. Teams are spending too much time in the Flyers’ end and getting off an inordinate number of shots.
Send questions by email or on Twitter (@broadstbull), and they could be answered in a future edition.