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After bounce-back year, Flyers need to keep Giroux at wing

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After a down year in 2016-17, Claude Giroux had a renaissance of sorts this past season when the Flyers moved him from center to wing, a decision that resulted in putting together what was arguably the best single season performance his career. He led the league with 68 assists, was second in the scoring race behind only Connor McDavid, become just the sixth player in the past seven seasons to top the 100-point mark.

He was a legitimate MVP contender (he finished fourth in the voting; he was second on my ballot) for a Flyers team that made a return to the playoffs.

With Giroux seemingly back to being an elite scorer, a strong nucleus of young players led by Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, Nolan Patrick, and (perhaps most importantly) goaltender Carter Hart, as well as the return of top-line goal-scorer James van Riemsdyk in free agency, the Flyers look like a team that could be a major player in the Eastern Conference in the coming seasons.

Earlier this month NBC Philadelphia’s John Boruk made the argument (read it here) that moving Giroux back to center could be the Flyers’ best move in an effort to balance the lineup, and that it is something the team’s brass might even be considering. Whether or not the Flyers have actually considered it or are considering it, let’s just entertain the possibility because …. well … it’s July 23 and there’s no better time like the present to discuss hypothetical line combinations for the upcoming season.

It is a compelling argument that is centered around Giroux’s return to center giving the team a depth-chart down the middle of Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Patrick, while also giving Travis Konecny what would most likely be a guaranteed spot as a top-six winger.

Decent points.

Here is the counterpoint.

By moving Giroux back to center the Flyers would be breaking up what was by far the best element of their 2017-18 team, which was the duo of Giroux and Couturier on the top line. After years of being a shutdown center that excelled defensively with decent-but-not-great offense, Couturier finally got an opportunity to play top-line minutes alongside a world-class winger and saw his offensive production skyrocket, shattering all of his previous career bests across the board. He was a monster and the duo was as dominant as any other forward pairing in the league.

It was the first time Giroux and Couturier saw extended time on a line together and the results were everything the Flyers could have hoped for. When the two were on the ice together during 5-on-5 play the Flyers controlled more than 55 percent of the shot attempts and outscored teams by an incredible 70-40 margin. Splitting that up would seem to be counterproductive to making your team better because, well, if you had a top-line that dominates possession and outscores the opponents by 30 goals over the course of a season you are probably going to win a lot of hockey games as a result.

Not only would the Flyers be breaking up what was one of the best duos in the league, it would put Couturier back into a spot where he may not be able to excel as much offensively. It is probably not a coincidence that Couturier’s offense surged from a 35-40 point level to the 76-point level he was at this past season with a little increased ice time and top-line wingers next to him. And it’s not like he was riding a wave of unsustainable percentages. His shooting percentage was similar to his career averages, and while the shooting percentage of his linemates surged, that was probably the result of him setting up Claude Giroux on a regular basis instead of a revolving door of second-and third-line wingers.

The other thing keeping Giroux on the wing accomplishes: It gives the Flyers an opportunity to give Patrick an increased role and turn him loose a little bit.

The No. 2 overall pick in 2017, Patrick began to get an increased role in the second half of his rookie campaign and gradually saw his production start to take off.

Over the last 30 games of the regular season he scored at what would have been a 50-point pace over 82 games (a very impressive pace a 19-year-old rookie). Even though the final scoring line did not show it, he was also one of the Flyers’ most consistent and dangerous players in their first-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. His performance as a young, emerging talent was very similar to the way a young Giroux began to show his potential in the 2009 playoffs while serving as an understudy on a Flyers team that had established veterans like Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.

With Giroux, Coutuerier, Patrick, van Riemsdyk, Jakub Voracek, and either Konecny, Wayne Simmonds the Flyers would have one of the league’s best top-six forward groupings in the league, while still having Scott Laughton and either Simmonds or Konecny to form the foundation of what could still be a strong third-line. That seems to be more worthwhile to the Flyers than spreading the wealth down the middle and reducing the roles for Couturier and Patrick, both of whom could be impact players in first-and second-line roles.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Blackhawks-Oilers stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

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NBC’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Wednesday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Blackhawks and Oilers. Coverage begins at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Blackhawks-Oilers Game 3 stream at 10:30 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Connor McDavid scored his first career playoff hat trick, including two goals in the game’s opening five minutes, to lead the Oilers to a 6-3 win over Chicago in Game 2. McDavid scored with all three of his shots on goal. Edmonton scored twice in each period and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had three assists to even up the series.

After finishing the regular season with the league’s best power play (29.5%), the Oilers have continued to impress on the man advantage. Connor McDavid scored on the power play in Game 2 to take their PP up to 44.4% in this series (4/9).

Even without fans, the Oilers continued to sell raffle tickets for their 50/50 draw. In Game 2, the total pot grew to more than $3.2 million, reportedly a new world record for a raffle. One lucky fan took home the jackpot of $1,629,722.50.

WHAT: Chicago Blackhawks vs. Edmonton Oilers
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Wednesday, August 5, 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Brendan Burke, AJ Mleczko, Pierre McGuire
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Blackhawks-Oilers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks (Series tied 1-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Blackhawks 6, Oilers 4 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Oilers 6, Blackhawks 3 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN (Livestream)
Friday, Aug. 7: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 6:45 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8: Blackhawks vs. Oilers*, TBD

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Latest NHL players to leave bubbles: Capitals’ Eller, Canucks’ Ferland

Lars Eller Micheal Ferland leave NHL bubbles
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Whether it be injuries or the expected birth of children, NHL players are occasionally needing to leave the bubbles in Edmonton and/or Toronto. In the latest cases, Lars Eller (Washington Capitals) and Micheal Ferland (Vancouver Canucks) had to leave their respective NHL bubbles.

Capitals’ Eller leaves bubble because of expected birth of child

As noted, the Capitals announced that Lars Eller left the bubble as planned for the expected birth of his second child. This may not be the only Capitals player who will need to leave, as the Washington Post’s Samantha Pell reports that Carl Hagelin‘s family is expecting a child in September.

Obviously, the Capitals would need to perform well for that September situation to come into play.

On the other hand, they’ll wave goodbye to Eller for a while. The Capitals announced that Eller will go through quarantine protocols when he returns to Toronto.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Overall, it’s difficult to guess how much time Eller might miss. The Capitals have two more round-robin games on their schedule:

Thursday, Aug. 6: Capitals vs. Flyers, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 9:
Bruins vs. Capitals, TBD

After that, the Capitals jump into the First Round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs after an opponent is determined by re-seeding. Eller ranks as one of the Capitals’ more underrated players. He averaged a career-high 17:01 time on ice in 2019-20, contributing nice offense to go with stellar two-way play.

Along with Eller and possibly Hagelin, Blues forward Ivan Barbashev also left the bubble expecting the birth of a child. You see, NHL families tend to plan for August and to an extent September as usually a convenient time for “team-building.”

Ferland unfit to play in remaining Canucks series vs. Wild

Following a brutal 2019-20 season from a health standpoint, Micheal Ferland suffered another setback.

The Canucks announced that Ferland is “unfit to play” for the remainder of the team’s 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier series against the Wild. It’s unclear when Ferland got hurt, but it likely didn’t help that he followed a season ravaged by concussions by fighting Marcus Foligno in Game 1:

Ferland also was fined, not suspended, for spearing Luke Kunin.

Yet, as eventful as Ferland’s reps have been during the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, it’s fair to wonder how much of a loss he would be. Ferland only managed to appear in 14 regular season games for the Canucks in 2019-20. Ferland can be a useful power forward when healthy, but it almost feels wiser to grade him as an “Incomplete” for his debut Canucks season.

Again, Vancouver ruled him out for at least this best-of-five series against the Wild.

(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild 3, Canucks 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Canucks 4, Wild 3 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks vs. Wild, 2:30 p.m. ET (live look-in coverage on NBCSN)
Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks vs. Wild*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Wild vs. Canucks*, TBD

MORE:
• 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Presidents’ Trophy winning Bruins lose chance at East’s top seed

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The Bruins’ loss Wednesday to the Lightning in their round-robin game gave us a little clarity into their future.

They remain on zero points through two games with one to go (Sunday vs. Washington). That means the 2019-2020 Presidents’ Trophy winners can finish no better than the No. 3 seed in the First Round of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Tyler Johnson‘s goal with 1:27 to go broke a 2-2 tie and helped Tampa to another victory. For Jon Cooper’s charges, that means the No. 1 seed remains up for grabs between them, the Capitals, and the Flyers. In their favor is the fact that they control their own destiny after taking maximum points through two games. A win over Philadelphia on Saturday would wrap up the top spot in the conference.

Current East standings
Tampa Bay Lightning (2-0-0, 4 points)
Philadelphia Flyers (1-0-0, 2 points)
Washington Capitals (0-0-1, 1 point)
Boston Bruins (0-2-0, 0 points)

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Suspension coming for Goodrow?

Lightning forward Barclay Goodrow may have earned himself a hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety.

Midway through the third period, Goodrow caught Anders Bjork from the blindside and made contact with the head.

A charging minor was the call on the play. Bjork remained in the game.

How many games will Goodrow sit? One seems likely.

Ritchie really wanted his tooth

Bruins forward Nick Ritchie lost a tooth during a scrum with Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh. Once he realized he was missing a chiclet, he had to get it back. Minutes later, he went back onto the ice — while the Zamboni was doing work — to retrieve it.

He even got some help in his quest from Jaroslav Halak.

The tooth fairy must pay exceptionally well these days.

Eastern Conference round-robin schedule

Sunday, Aug. 2: Flyers 4, Bruins 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3
: Lightning 3, Capitals 2 (SO) (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Lightning 3, Bruins 2
Thursday, Aug. 6: Capitals vs. Flyers, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8: Flyers vs. Lightning, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Bruins vs. Capitals, TBD

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers in league’s Return to Play

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It’s time to focus on the NHL games, including the 2020 NHL playoffs schedule. The 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers began on Saturday, Aug. 1 in the hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto.

The top four teams in both conference will play a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The Stanley Cup Qualifiers will be best-of-5 series with the losing teams being entered into Phase 2 of the NHL Draft Lottery.

Below is a full 2020 NHL playoffs schedule of both the round-robin and the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

EASTERN CONFERENCE (Scotiabank Arena)

Round-robin [Standings, scenarios]

Sunday, Aug. 2: Flyers 4, Bruins 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3
:
Lightning 3, Capitals 2 (SO) (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5:
Lightning 3, Bruins 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6:
Capitals vs. Flyers, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8:
Flyers vs. Lightning, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9:
Bruins vs. Capitals, TBD

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens (Series tied 1-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Canadiens 3, Penguins 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Penguins 3, Canadiens 1 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8: Canadiens vs. Penguins*

(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers (CAR wins series 3-0)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Hurricanes 3, Rangers 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Hurricanes 4, Rangers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Hurricanes 4, Rangers 1 (recap)

(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers (NYI lead series 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Islanders 2, Panthers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Islanders 4, Panthers 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Panthers 3, Islanders 2 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders vs. Panthers, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 9: Panthers vs. Islanders*

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets 2, Maple Leafs 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Maple Leafs 3, Blue Jackets 0 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs*, TBD

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WESTERN CONFERENCE (Rogers Place)

Round-robin [Standings, scenarios]

Sunday, Aug. 2: Avalanche 2, Blues 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Golden Knights 4, Stars 3 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Avalanche vs. Stars, 6:30 p.m. ET – (live look-in coverage on NBCSN)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Golden Knights vs. Blues, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8: Golden Knights vs. Avalanche, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Stars vs. Blues, TBD

(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks (Series tied 1-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Blackhawks 6, Oilers 4 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Oilers 6, Blackhawks 3 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 6:45 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8: Blackhawks vs. Oilers*, TBD

(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes (ARZ leads series 2-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes 4, Predators 3 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Predators 4, Coyotes 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Coyotes 4, Predators 1 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET – (live look-in coverage on NBCSN)
Sunday, Aug. 9: Coyotes vs. Predators*, TBD

(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild 3, Canucks 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Canucks 4, Wild 3 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks vs. Wild, 2:30 p.m. ET (live look-in coverage on NBCSN)
Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks vs. Wild, 10:45 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 9: Wild vs. Canucks*, TBD

(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets (CGY leads series 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Flames 4, Jets 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Jets 3, Flames 2 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Flames 6, Jets 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Flames vs. Jets, 10:30 p.m. ET – CNBC
Saturday, Aug. 8: Jets vs. Flames*, TBD

* – if necessary

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.