The AHL officially announced the cancellation of the 2019-20 regular season and Calder Cup Playoffs on Monday. It will be the first time in the league’s history – since 1936 – that the Calder Cup will not be awarded. The Lehigh Valley Phantoms weren’t in the race for the playoffs with a 24-28-3-7 record through 62 games before the pause, but it’s always disappointing to see a season cut short; even if it was expected.
While the AHL cancelling the season is disheartening for hockey fans, it likely has little sway on the NHL’s decision moving forward. The NHL and NBA are already in a bit of a turf war for arenas – on top of dealing with the risks of returning to play with a global pandemic –, it didn’t make much sense for the AHL to finish out the ‘19-20 season. They will now focus on hopefully returning for the 2020-21 season, but that still may be up in the air depending how things progress.
The AHL season is now cancelled, but there is still hope for the NHL season to resume. If that does happen, what impact could the AHL cancellation have on the NHL and the Flyers?
Depth is one of the most important qualities that the Flyers have had in the 2019-20 NHL season. As I wrote in my article analyzing Linus Sandin’s place in next year’s lineup, the Flyers have used a total of 22 forwards this season, 18 of which played 14 or more games. The Flyers have a deep roster, and that should benefit if the season does resume.
With the AHL season cancelled, the players that have gone back and forth to Lehigh Valley this season will be able to focus on the NHL and potentially have an impact for the Flyers. Anything is possible in the playoffs with injuries, and there are a select few players that may be able to crack the roster even without any injury. The main one is Morgan Frost.
Frost is undoubtedly the most skilled player on the Phantoms, and he showed that during his stints with the Flyers this season. He scored a goal in each of his first two games, and showed flashes of what he can do throughout his 20 games with the club despite only recording seven points.
Many expected Frost to start the season with the Flyers and have a large impact this season, but that hasn’t been the case. However, that doesn’t mean that he won’t be useful if the season does resume.
The acquisitions of Derek Grant and Nate Thompson at the trade deadline gave the Flyers the luxury of having their younger players gain more experience in the AHL, or be able to fill in if there was an injury. Joel Farabee got the recall first after playing the majority of the season in the NHL, but Frost will be right behind him.
Frost has been told to stay ready in case the NHL season resumes, but “they haven’t told me anything specifically,” the forward told Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer on Monday. “I just try to stay in shape, and obviously if that were to be the case, it would be an unbelievable experience. I’d love to be back for it.”
Depending on how the NHL resumes the season, whether it be in the form of a play-in tournament, straight to the playoffs, or some sort of way to finish the regular season, depth could play a key factor. If the schedule is condensed and there are more games, coaches may elect to play matchups or swap certain role players in and out. That would certainly help the Flyers.
Along with Frost, there are a handful of other Phantoms that could get a look if the NHL season resumes. Even if they don’t get into any game action, being around a playoff-like atmosphere – or the actual playoffs – is invaluable experience.
Of the forwards on the Phantoms roster, German Rubtsov, Carsen Twarynski, Mikhail Vorobyev, Connor Bunnaman, David Kase, and maybe even Isaac Ratcliffe could join Frost as black aces – or fourth-line options – for the Flyers.
Things are a bit lighter on the defensive side of things, however.
Mark Friedman would be the one name to look at getting the call if the season resumes. The Flyers have used nine defensemen this season – even though Samuel Morin only played one game –, and Friedman was one of them.
The right-handed blueliner more than held his own in the six games he played and showed that he could be a useful defenseman in the NHL. But with the Flyers defense corps now healthy in front of him, Friedman becomes the eighth defenseman. If all remain healthy, he could get a look if Alain Vigneault wants to play matchups. It’s also extra insurance if there is an injury (or two). Robert Hagg or Shayne Gostisbehere would likely be the seventh defenseman depending on the circumstances, with Friedman right behind them.
Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon had praise for both Frost and Friedman, per Carchidi, calling Frost the Phantoms’ most skilled player, and saying Friedman was “close to turning the corner and being an NHL player.”
The AHL cancelling its season ultimately doesn’t change too much, but it could help the Flyers down the stretch if the NHL is able to come to terms on a plan to return to action. Frost, Friedman, and others could gain valuable playoff experience with the Orange and Black.