It appears that every decade in the modern NHL, there must be one season that has its schedule drastically altered. Unfortunately, this year it’s not just a brutal battle between the league and the player union, but instead a global pandemic that has affected every inch of everyone’s lives to the point of never-ending anxiety. Just that thing.
The 2020-21 regular season will have around 50 to 60 games for each team, as reported earlier this week. A distinct number has not been yet finalized, since the NHL and NHLPA are still trying to agree on the economics of the new shortened season. Since that conversation appears to be moving at a glacial pace, details of the scheduling of games and travel has been mapped out in advance.
We already knew what the potential divisions could look like, with the Philadelphia Flyers landing in the middle of the “Eastern Division” that features some top competition like the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals, while they can beat up on the New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres. The only problem is that with the shortened season, a variety of unfamiliar effects will be present. Will they benefit the Flyers into Stanley Cup contention? Or will the effects put the entire city of Philadelphia within their depressing intimacy with disappointment?
Health and Wellness
The Flyers were able to keep a relatively clean bill of health last season. It was evident that no significant injuries to key forwards played a massive role in letting the team get their eventual postseason play-in bye — that they didn’t know existed at the time — and let them sustain some of that success this summer.
As with every new season though, teams can run into some injury troubles that can shatter every fan’s dream of a deep playoff run. One little tweaked hamstring can send a shockwave of broken hearts. Since the Flyers were the lucky ones last season, it might be fair to expect some of the same in the new year. Of course it’s impossible to tell, but with Claude Giroux, Ivan Provorov, Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes and Travis Konecny barely missing any games in their recent seasons, I feel confident saying that they won’t run into that unfortunate scenario.
The added benefit of a shortened season and even a maximum amount of playoff games, adding up to somewhere in the 80-game range — basically a normal regular season — can only increase the likelihood of some key players keeping their normal momentum into the postseason. Although we are depending on whether they get there in the first place.
Trade Deadline Possibilities
Whether the Flyers are buying or selling at this season’s trade deadline — please god, let it be the former — there will be an interesting change due to the shortened season. With the NBA reportedly targeting March 25 as their deadline, roughly four months after their season’s start, we can make an educated guess that the NHL will have theirs somewhere around the middle of April, if the season does start on the rumored Jan. 15 date. Taking into consideration the variance of season lengths and where the deadlines are normally, I would be confident in that guess.
That means a player on an expiring contract on a rebuilding team, will have just over 30 games to demonstrate their value to get picked up for a playoff run. That’s not a whole lot of time to determine a player’s fit or even capability to play on your team.
If the Flyers’ past deadlines tell us anything, it’s that GM Chuck Fletcher doesn’t like doing a whole lot to change his roster. Only adding the likes of Nate Thompson or Derek Grant, Fletcher hasn’t really flexed his mid-season trade muscle for a playoff run. But with the shortened season, to buy low on some pending free agents that have themselves in a shooting percentage rut or has just not been the right fit.
The limited time a player has on their team this season can really benefit any buyers if those players aren’t playing like their average selves. Unfortunately, the abbreviated season is a double-edged sword and the Flyers can find themselves at the bottom, selling off any assets they have.
The Worst Scenario
Instead of trying to fight off the pessimism, I am going to full embrace it like a long-lost shirt that I thought was gone forever. Enveloping myself in the afflicting cloud of melancholy, the Flyers could suffer in every possible way from a shortened season.
Philadelphia should be considered a lock to make the postseason in the new year, but as we all know, hockey is a sport of pain and percentages. One puck bounce can bring celebration or despair; it just matters what net it eventually goes in. Teams have gone on historically poor shooting seasons, the opposing netminder only letting a sliver of a fraction of the pucks shot towards them go and turn the crease a shade of purple from the goal light.
It doesn’t even have to be on offense. Carter Hart is amazing and I don’t expect him to turn into a black and orange pumpkin next season, but it’s possible. Any goaltender can suddenly become extremely average and let a couple of ugly goals in, leading to a streak of sub-.900 save percentage games and next thing you know the team is trying to stay afloat next to the pitiful Devils. Nothing is impossible, in the most hurtful way.
Let’s just hope that the Flyers can take advantage of the shortened season, while every other team lets all the bad stuff happen to them. Obviously.