It’s hard to truly say, but odds are the Philadelphia Flyers were headed into something special in the final stages of 2019-20 NHL season. The team was moving up the league ranks as one of the best teams this season, before the full force of COVID-19 was felt in North America.
20 days since their last game, a 2-0 loss to the Atlantic Division leading Boston Bruins, the Flyers are still in a state of unknown regarding this season. COVID-19’s impact in North America has caused for the postponement of the current regular season, as well as the NBA, MLB, and MLS who were also in different stages of their agenda.
There has been no official word from the league on if the regular season will continue, or if the season will be voided out due to health concerns and preparation for the 2020-21 season. Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher spoke to Media on Monday in a conference call and admitted he is open to whatever the league decides at this point.
“Not really [in regards to a preferred decision regarding this season],” Fletcher said. “We’re fine with anything that they put forward. To me, the more hockey the better. Whatever it ends up being, it ends up being. I’m not particularly led to anything. There’s a lot of ideas out there. A lot of creative solutions. It’s a good way to pass the time right now, but until things change and we have more information, it’s going to be hard to know what will happen.”
“With respect to our players, we haven’t given them any sort of specific direction. Most of them have returned to their off-season homes. A lot of them have the ability to work out there. I don’t think anybody is skating, obviously, at this point. I think guys are doing the best they can to stay in shape and they are all hopeful that in time we get to a better place in this world, where we’ll be able to come back and play hockey.”
The Flyers went into the break sitting second in the Metropolitan Division, one point behind leading Washington. Alain Vigneault’s team propelled themselves into playoff talks with a strong start to 2020, defeating Stanley Cup contending teams such as the St. Louis Blues, Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Washington Capitals.
Not only was this team winning, they were doing so with every player playing a vital role in every game. Carter Hart was continuing his rise as one of the top young goaltenders, winning at home and on the road. Travis Konecny and Sean Couturier were leading offensively while veterans Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux, and offseason acquisition Kevin Hayes were impacting games beyond just the scoresheet. Trade Deadline adds Derek Grant and Nate Thompson were adding experience to the lower offensive lines, allowing Vigneault to put his most dangerous weapons together.
It was a hell of a bounce back from the organization after a dismal 2018-19 season which saw them miss the playoffs and eventually hire Vigneault as head coach. There is no guarantee where this season would’ve gone, but should it end, it was a major step in the right direction for the Flyers who proved they can contend with the big boys in the NHL.
“Well, I think all season we’ve been showing a high level of resiliency,” Fletcher said. “I think it took us time to get everybody on the same page and to get playing our best hockey, which I think was predictable with the number of changes we made last off-season. I think as the season progressed, we all got on the same page from a system standpoint. Our culture grew and the expectations of the group increased. I think we’ve become a pretty good hockey team.”
“I think what I like is the buy-in, everybody is accepting of their role and try to do what they need to do to help the hockey team win, whether it’s Claude Giroux or Joel Farabee. It runs the gambit from our most experienced guys to our rookies. Everybody’s accepting of the role and doing what is asked of them and doing with a smile on his face. I think that’s why this group is so close and we were having the success that we were having at the end of the year.”
The Flyers have also been without the likes of several players this season, with some coming before the season stoppage. Defenseman Philippe Myers suffered a fractured patella in his right knee back on March 7th and was slated to miss four-to-six weeks. Winger James van Riemsdyk broke a finger blocking a shot in a 5-2 win over Washington earlier in March, while Nate Thompson sprained his knee earlier this month. Fletcher reflected on all three players and where they stand if they season resumes in due time.
“Myers is doing well,” Fletcher said. “Over three weeks now post injury, he’s doing very good. I believe he would have been cleared to play prior to the end of the regular season as originally scheduled. Thompson’s issues have resolved. He’s cleared to play. JVR’s finger is healing really well. He’s still needs a little time before that is fully healed, which is kind of what we expected when we announced the initial time frame, I believe of 4 to 6 weeks. It would have been somewhere either just as the playoffs started or with the first week of the playoffs. I think he’s still trending that way. Everybody’s doing well and feeling better. That’s all positive.”
Youngsters Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom also remain out with Patrick more-likely to play a role this season, should is return. Patrick, the third-year counterman, had been dealing with chronic migraine headache condition which forced him to miss the entire regular season so far. As for Lindblom, he continues chemotherapy in Philadelphia for Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare bone cancer the winger was diagnosed with back on Dec. 14th.
“Nolan’s returned home,” Fletcher said. “Generally speaking, he’s feeling well in terms of where he has been over the past few months. That’s hard to say what exactly it will mean when we do come back to play. He’s been trending in the right direction all along. I don’t know if that would have a positive or negative impact other than obviously, the benefit of time that he will have to continue to heal and get back.”
“Oskar’s still in the area, continuing treatments. He’s doing well.”
It seems unlikely that the regular season will resume anytime soon, and for the Flyers that means waiting until the official decision is made. The group might not be together for team practices, but Fletcher isn’t doubting the team’s ability to remain fit and focused while with their families around the continent.
“Guys take care of themselves. We have had other instances where we have had work stoppages and we’ve had shorter training camps to get ready for the season. Players have been able to manage it. These guys are tremendous athletes and they take care of themselves. I don’t know what the exact number would be [in regards to weeks of a training camp].”
“Certainly two weeks, in my opinion, would be sufficient to get guys up to speed. Obviously you have normal conditioning and you have game conditioning that may take a little time for guys to get to be where they were when the pause happened. Again, these guys are great athletes and I think that could be sufficient.