While the Flyers’ round robin games are mere weeks away, and they’ll have a first round Stanley Cup playoffs opponent set after that, we’re taking a look at the players that could make the difference come playoff time.
From the man between the pipes to the men behind the bench, the Flyers have a few X-Factors that are bound to have huge impacts on just how far the team plays into the summer.
Carter Hart, though just 21-years-old, has already stabilized the Flyers’ crease since arriving partway through the 2018-19 campaign. Since arriving he’s basically made camp in the Flyers’ net and hasn’t looked back.
After breaking camp as the No. 1 netminder Hart played to a .914 save percentage and a 2.42 goals-against average in 43 games. Hart turned in 4.47 goals saved above average per Hockeyreference, a marked improvement over any other recent performances from Flyers netminders (Brian Elliott was -8.02).
Is there room for improvement with the young goaltender sure —and these will be his first taste of Stanley Cup playoff action— but he’s also capable of turning in sublime performances on a nightly basis that qualify as “stealing games,” which is paramount in any long playoff run.
Hart has won at virtually every level in his career thus far, and if he can handle the moment —one he’s been patiently waiting for his whole life— he’s on the very short list of dynamic factors the Flyers boast come tournament time.
James van Riemsdyk has always been a streaky scorer, and an injury shortened year fell right in line with three multi-goal games in 2019-20 that accounted for bulk of his scoring.
With the Flyers’ top six relatively set with Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek, Travis Konecny, and Kevin Hayes occupying slots, that leaves just one for JVR, Joel Farabee, or even Scott Laughton jumping up to play wing.
JVR has feasted in the past against the likes of opponents’ bottom six, and would add scoring punch to the Flyers’ bottom six should he fall in on the third line with guys like Laughton, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, and potentially Derek Grant.
The Stanley Cup playoffs are a grueling marathon, and you’d be hard pressed to find a true Cup contender that doesn’t have depth and scoring in all four lines in a deep playoff run.
Having a weapon like JVR able to slide around the lineup gives a ton of versatility and a scoring threat that can carry a team in a game that just might tilt the series in the Flyers’ favor.
Revamped bottom six
Speaking of depth, how far the Flyers have come in that department.
Derek Grant (five points in seven games following trade) helped solidify the team down the middle as a bottom six center. That combined with the emergence of Aube-Kubel’s growth and scoring touch and the season-long performance of Michael Raffl and Tyler Pitlick give the lineup scoring threats from each and every line and possible combination that Alain Vigneault could throw out there.
Adding JVR to the mix with Laughton or Farabee playing up in the top six gives the Flyers a true scoring option to pair with possession players already occupying the bottom six and then there’s veteran center Nate Thompson to fill in should there be an injury or a performance issue somewhere along the way.
The Flyers have created great and useful depth in the last year through a variety of means, and it’s only going to be a benefit for them come playoff time.
Despite what you may have heard, Shayne Gostisbehere is just a season removed from a 37-point campaign in 2018-19 that wasn’t quite his previous output (65 points in 2017-18), but still productive all the same.
Injuries and inconsistency have plagued the defenseman in the last few years, but a seasoned coaching staff has a weapon in their back pocket in the 27-year-old.
Robert Hagg supplanted Ghost in the lineup this season and turned in good results in the eyes of the coaching staff enough to stick. Though still far from a stats darling, Hagg did clean up some of his game enough to warrant the position while and obviously still ailing Gostisbehere took a backseat —and had another surgery in the process during the season pause.
But we’ve all seen Hagg’s game for years now and he’s ultimately the weak link in what otherwise is a solid defensive group for the Flyers. Though Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers are facing their first heavy workload in the postseason, and the pressure will be on to perform, there’s still a much likelier chance that Hagg ends up being a candidate to watch from the press box due to poor performance.
Say the Flyers are fine defensively relying on their top two pairs —and Justin Braun— but have issues scoring, the coaching staff could insert Gostisbehere to theoretically provide instant offense. And even if it isn’t instant offense, it’s still miles ahead of what Hagg could ever provide in that space and would give the Flyers another power play weapon at the very least.
Alain Vigneault is a finalist for the Jack Adams Trophy for good reason, but the rest of the coaching staff surrounding him —including Michel Therrien and Mike Yeo— give the Flyers the most experienced staff in the league.
AV is no stranger to oddities in NHL seasons, having been on staffs during both lockouts in the past few years, and the paused 2019-20 season will certainly rank amount the strangest.
Having already turned the Flyers around in his first training camp with the club, he has a chance to reinforce what his group can accomplish with training camp 2.0 and surely will be able to keep the team focused after the long layoff in part thanks to his tremendous coaching experience and resume.
The Flyers’ coaching staff is miles ahead of where it was a year ago, and not only is the head boss a part of that but the entire staff that includes Therrien and Yeo, both with plenty of head coaching experience in their own right. Together they’ve been able to identify problem areas on the team and get results to push them into the playoff picture.
With their experience and the players’ having already bought in, that gives the Flyers another important factor to rely on if and when things get tough in the playoffs.
*Statistics unless otherwise noted via nhl.com, naturalstattrick.com, and hockeyreference.com