A typical NHL season ends with one champion while the rest of the teams search for answers. One team succeeds in their ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup, and the rest fail. But what if there is no Stanley Cup winner?
Do all 31 teams view the season as a wash? Like it didn’t happen? Surely not.
There are positives and negatives to take away from every single game, regardless of the outcome, and the same goes for a season – even if ends without a true winner and losers.
While the Philadelphia Flyers may not win the Stanley Cup, this season certainly wasn’t a failure.
Will there be things we miss out if the season ends? Sure.
It’s disappointing that we won’t be able to see if this team really had what it takes to make a run in the playoffs, potentially all the way to the Stanley Cup. With the way they were playing since early January, it certainly seemed possible.
It’s disappointing that we won’t be able to see if Carter Hart can take that next step and get his first career playoff win, or playoff series win, or just get some playoff experience under his belt. The same goes for Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Philippe Myers, Joel Farabee, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, and the rest of the youngsters. While a few of them played in the 2018 series against the Penguins, they were still raw and their games have developed immensely since then.
Provorov played, and played well, through a Grade 3 AC separation in his first playoff series. With two more years of experience – including an amazing season this year – who knows what he’d be able to do.
Konecny was just coming into his own in that year as well. The thought of this Travis Konecny in the playoffs is enough to get you going. Between his dangles, scoring, and chirping, it would be a sight to behold.
This was also the season that felt like it was going somewhere. Finally, after nearly a decade of mediocrity – more or less – this team had it all. And the season has come to an abrupt stop, and quite possibly, an abrupt end.
But in all of those disappointments are pleasant surprises and successes. We’re excited to see those young players in the playoffs because of what they, and others, have shown this season.
From Chuck Fletcher at the top, all the way down to the 13th forwards and seventh defensemen, the Flyers’ successes have heavily outweighed their failures this season.
Fletcher has pressed all of the right buttons this season. He made the moves in the offseason to set this team up for success.
The trades for Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun have paid dividends, Kevin Hayes has lived up to his contract thus far – and become a fan favorite –, and he picked up Tyler Pitlick for practically nothing. He also signed Provorov and Konecny in September to contracts that will soon look like steals.
During the season, Fletcher has done what he’s needed to in order to put the best lineup on the ice. He hasn’t been hesitant to send down or call up players to optimize the lineup, and he hasn’t been accused of “yo-yoing” a player. He didn’t make a big splash at the trade deadline, but he made two smart depth additions to shore up the bottom-six. He has set the tone, and the team has followed.
Fletcher also hired Alain Vigneault, who, besides deserving some love in the Jack Adams voting, has implemented a system that the team has bought in to. They were slower to start the season, but they have been picking up steam and were firing on all cylinders in January, February, and the first few weeks of March.
Sean Couturier is on pace to win the Selke Trophy. After years of getting recognition around Philadelphia for his two-way game, he’s finally getting that attention nationally as one of the best centers in the game.
Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek, who both have had their critics over the past several years, have been able to extend their primes as top-line wingers.
As mentioned above, Hayes has come in and done everything asked of him. He has given the Flyers a one-two punch down the middle with Couturier, and has provided a boost on the penalty kill. Not to mention how he’s fitting in as a fan favorite in the locker room.
I touched on Konecny above as well, but he has taken his game to the next level this season. He already matched his career-high in goals (24) in just 66 games, while putting up a new career-high of 61 points, 12 more than his point total from last season. He is still just 23 years old with his biggest years still ahead of him. The top-six winger is on his way to potentially being a top-tier goalscorer in this league.
James van Riemsdyk may be one of the most polarizing players throughout the year. As a goalscorer, he is streaky, but before breaking his hand he was on pace for another 20-goal season. Given his time on ice, he was one of the best depth scoring forwards in the league. His contract may not look great, but he’s chipping in on the ice.
One of the biggest surprises and successes of this season is Scott Laughton. After being written off by the organization and sent to the AHL a few years ago, he found his niche as a fourth-line center and worked his way up the lineup. He looked like a legitimate threat on a second line with Hayes and Konecny and has given the Flyers some much-needed scoring depth. He scored 13 goals in just 49 games this season, after a previous career-high of 12 in 82 games last year.
Morgan Frost and Joel Farabee have also shown flashes of their potential in their time with the Flyers. While they both had their struggles at times, they each have had highlight-reel goals and stretches of strong play.
Moving to the bottom six, the Flyers have had a bevy of forwards move in and out of the lineup with varying levels of success. However, no matter how they mixed and matched, the third and fourth lines were never consistently overmatched.
The veterans Michael Raffl and Tyler Pitlick have found success while playing with young players in the bottom six. Nicolas Aube-Kubel has become a full-time NHLer with the potential to move up in the lineup, and lesser-touted prospects like Connor Bunnaman held their own on the fourth line.
On the defensive front, Provorov and Niskanen have been as steady as they come on the top pair. Bringing in Niskanen gave Provorov the good veteran presence to help take his game to the next level.
Sanheim and Myers also became a formidable second pair for at least the past few weeks. The two big-bodied defensemen are skilled enough to join the rush and add some offense while making sure they don’t give up anything in their defensive game.
Braun, who some viewed as an unnecessary addition due to the Flyers’ defensive depth, has been nothing but solid on the third pair, no matter who he plays with. He has improved the penalty kill and given the defense a steadying presence.
The one of the few disappointments this season in terms of specific players is Shayne Gostisbehere. Gostisbehere has had the worst season of his career, partially due to injuries but mostly due to performance. He did play well in his return to the lineup in the Flyers’ last game, if that’s any consolation. Maybe he can play closer to his rookie-year self as a third-pair, power-play specialist – which he can now be because of the other additions.
Most importantly, as Fletcher stressed during the offseason, he has put the team together in such a way that the players are playing where they should be. The defensemen are all (usually) on their correct sides playing with a complementary partner while the forwards have had the depth to give them four strong lines.
Last, but certainly not least, is Carter Hart.
Hart overcame some early-season struggles to be one of the best goalies in the league in the second half of the season. The 21-year-old that has been labeled the franchise goalie of the future has lived up to that hype.
Knowing that the question mark in the crease has been replaced with an exclamation mark is huge for the Flyers. As they continue to add pieces and mix and match to get this team to the best they can be, they know that the goalie is the heart of their team.
All of the positives to come out of this Flyers season should not be overlooked. It is going to be disheartening to think “what could have been” if the season and playoffs are cancelled, but it’s not a lost season by any means.
If the season is over, not just suspended, it will be unlike anything we’ve seen before. There will be no teams that choked in the playoffs. There will be no triple-overtime triumph or heartbreak. There will be no Cinderella story. There will be no Stanley Cup champion.
Missing out on the feeling of playoff hockey and the chance to see the Flyers raise the Cup will be frustrating, but there is plenty to look back on and be positive about.