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It’s Philadelphia Flyers day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Philadelphia Flyers.

2017-18
42–26–14, 98 pts. (3rd in the Metropolitan Division, 6th in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Lost in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins, first round

IN
James van Riemsdyk
Christian Folin

OUT
Valtteri Filppula
Colin McDonald
Brandon Manning
Petr Mrazek
Matt Read

RE-SIGNED
Samuel Morin
Alex Lyon
Robert Hagg

It was a bumpy ride as the Flyers returned to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after a year off in 2017. The end of November saw the team holding an 8-10-7 record as they were in the middle of a 10-game losing streak. “Fire Hakstol” chants rang throughout Wells Fargo Center, but general manager Ron Hextall was preaching patience and stuck by his head coach. That losing streak was then followed by seven wins in eight games and strong months in January and February that helped put them into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

The season ended in disappointment after a first-round exit at the hands of their rivals in Pittsburgh, but there were a lot of bright spots that were encouraging signs moving forward.

[Breakthrough: Travis Konecny | Under Pressure: JvR | 3 Questions]

Nolan Patrick, the No. 2 overall pick in 2017, had a strong rookie season with 13 goals and 30 points. Travis Konecny potted 24 goals and Scott Laughton and Jordan Weal saw extended ice time. That coupled with a 100-point season from Claude Giroux, an 85-point campaign from Jake Voracek, a 31-goal year from Sean Couturier and more steps forward for young blue liners Shayne Gostisbehere (65 points) and Ivan Provorov (17 goals, 24:09 TOI) set a nice foundation for 2018-19.

The addition of James van Riemsdyk could mean bye-bye to Wayne Simmonds. Or an extension. Who knows? Ask Hextall. But JvR’s addition gives the offense a boost and will aid their power play (JvR scored 11 PPGs in 2017-18).

Petr Mrazek is gone, so it’s Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, who are both UFAs next summer, in goal again, with Carter Hart looming as the ‘tender of the future.

The Flyers have cap space to add a piece, if needed, and a highly-rated prospect pool. In a tough Metropolitan Division, they’ll need to get more from their youth and continue relying on their veterans in order to navigate an 82-game slate and find themselves as one of the lucky 16 teams playing in mid-April.

Prospect Pool

Joel Farabee, LW, 18, Boston University (NCAA) — 2018 first-round pick

Known for his two-way play, Farabee enters his freshman year with the Terriers coming off a productive season with the U.S. National Team Development Program. He scored 33 goals and recorded 76 points with the U-18s and posted 40 points in 26 games during their season in the USHL. While serving as captain for the Americans at the U-18 Worlds, he scored four goals eight points in seven games. So you can see why the Flyers were happy to get him 14th overall in June.

“He disguises whether it’s a shot or a pass,” Hextall said after development camp in July. “He’s got really quick hands. A lot of guys will come down, the goalie knows where they’re going to shoot, so you see goalies make a save and go, ‘That was quick.’ It really wasn’t because they read the puck off the stick blade. The puck is really hard to react to. Joel hides things. If he’s going to shoot the puck, he’ll turn his hands real quick, bang and let it go. Or he’ll open up for a shot and he’ll pass the puck. A lot of top guys in the league, you wonder why they score or how that pass went through … they’re showing hands to the defenseman, to the goalie. Joel is one of those guys.”

Carter Hart, G, 19, Everett Silvertips (WHL) — 2016 second-round pick

The 2017-18 WHL Player and Goalie of the Year was also the first player in CHL history to win the junior hockey goaltender of the year twice. He had a remarkable season with 41 wins, a 1.60 goals against average, seven shutouts and a .947 save percentage with the Silvertips. In the middle of that, he backstopped Canada to gold at the World Junior Championship with a 1.81 GAA and .930 SV% in six games. He’ll have a shot to get some time in the NHL, but he’ll likely be in AHL Lehigh Valley to get some seasoning as the Flyers figure out their goaltending situation for the future.

Morgan Frost, C, 19, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) — 2017 first-round pick

Also getting a shot to stick with the big club is Frost, who put up 112-points last season. He’s doubled his goal output in junior in each of the last two seasons and his point total has jumped from 27 to 62 to 112 since 2015-16. He has playmaking ability and is a possibility to fill the third line center role. But Hextall has made it sounds like Frost is a little lower on the depth chart at the moment and like Hart, could see himself furthering his development in the AHL this season.

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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, NHLPA agree on protocols to resume season

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The NHL and NHL Players’ Association agreed Sunday on protocols to resume the season, a major step toward the return of hockey this summer.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press there was an agreement on protocols for training camps and games and the sides are still negotiating an extension of the collective bargaining agreement, which is crucial to the process.

A person with knowledge of the situation said the return-to-play protocols would only go into effect if each side votes to approve the full package of the CBA extension and return-to-play agreement. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because CBA talks are still ongoing.

To complete a return, two-thirds of the league’s board of governors and majorities of the players’ executive committee and full membership must vote in favor.

If everything is ratified, it will end a pandemic-forced shutdown that began in mid-March. Games would resume in late July or early August with 24 teams taking part in an expanded playoffs, finishing with the Stanley Cup being awarded in October.

The agreement was first reported by TSN.

The 47 pages of protocols outline the health and safety measures the league and players agreed to after several weeks of negotiations. Any player has until 5 p.m. EDT on Tuesday to notify his team if he’s choosing to opt out of participating in training camp and games.

For those playing, each team is limited to 30 skaters and an unlimited amount of goaltenders for camp and total roster of up to 31 players for games. Each team is limited to 52 personnel in its game city, a group that must include two trainers, a doctor and compliance officer in addition players, coaches and management.

They are expected to be quarantined from the general public during play at least for the qualifying and first two traditional playoff rounds. Family members will be permitted to join when play is moved to one city for the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final.

All team and league employees plus hotel, restaurant and arena staff coming in contact with players will be tested daily in the two ”hub” cities.

One player’s positive coronavirus test result is not expected to shut down play entirely. The league has said it would isolate any player or staff member who tests positive, acknowledging an outbreak would threaten the remainder of the season.

”The players will be pretty well-protected from being exposed,” Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson said during a conference call in June. ”It’s going to be a completely different way for you all and us watching hockey and being around a team because players will be really well protected throughout the process.”

The protocols include a provision for Commissioner Gary Bettman in consultation with NHLPA executive director Don Fehr to postpone, delay or cancel games in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Assuming the protocols are approved, teams are expected to open training camps July 13 before traveling to the two hub cities for games. Players have been able to skate and train off-ice in voluntary, small-group workouts since June 8 – nearly three months after hockey was halted March 12 with 189 regular-season games remaining.

Returning for the playoffs is seen as a stirring victory for the NHL, which like other top leagues faced the prospect of losing millions more without the television revenue tied to the postseason. There were deep concerns about canceling the rest of the season and word of positive tests didn’t help: 26 players since June 8, in addition to almost a dozen before that.

Boston defenseman Matt Grzelcyk called the positive test results ”eye-opening” but expected. A few players expressed concerns in recent weeks about the uncertainty surrounding a return.

”We have obviously a unique situation right now,” Montreal goaltender Carey Price said. ”The NHL and the NHLPA are trying to make the best of a very difficult situation. Moving forward I’d like to play, but we have a lot of questions that need to be answered and a lot of scenarios that need to be covered.”

If the protocols and an CBA extension cover those scenarios for enough owners and players, there will be a path forward to hand out the Stanley Cup. Only twice since 1893 has the Cup not been awarded: in 1919, when the final couldn’t be completed because of the Spanish flu pandemic, and 2005 when the season was wiped out by a lockout.

Seven hockey players suspended in Belarus match-fixing case

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ZURICH — Seven ice hockey players have been suspended during an investigation into match-fixing in the Belarus league.

The players — five from Belarus and two from Russia — told a domestic investigation they were paid to help arrange the outcome of a game in November, the International Ice Hockey Federation said on Friday.

“During the investigation, each of the players also admitted that they had agreed to exert an unlawful influence on the outcome of the game in exchange for illegal remuneration,” the governing body said in a statement.

The IIHF said its disciplinary board had taken over the case “for further review and sanctioning.”

The case involves Dynamo Molodechno’ losing to Mogilyov 6-5 in a Belarus Extraliga game.

The players have been suspended from taking part in any competition organized by the IIHF or its member federations.

PHT Morning Skate: NHL vs. viruses; Flat salary cap pain = Avs’ gain?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit for the PHT Morning Skate? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Lafreniere, COVID-19 hockey concerns, and how Avs may benefit from a flat salary cap

• Rank Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen among those expressing some misgivings about playing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. [TSN]

• Breaking: Alexis Lafreniere is not a defenseman. In all seriousness, a look at some Maple Leafs possibilities … which might be complicated at No. 1 because of that positional point. Maybe? [Pension Plan Puppets]

• Speaking of those Maple Leafs, Buds fans are not pleased about the idea of a possible flat, $81.5M salary cap. There are teams who might take advantage of this situation, though. Here’s why the Avalanche could be one of those teams. [Mile High Hockey]

• A look back at the NHL’s “rivalries” with viruses. Does the history of the NHL’s dealing with such issues — even the Mumps — be a cause for concern amid COVID-19 outbreaks? [Arctic Ice Hockey]

• Earlier this week, PHT selected the best landing spots for Alexis Lafreniere. What about getting even more specific? Andrew Berkshire shared his picks for some of the lines that would benefit most from adding the consensus No. 1 pick to their left side. [Sportsnet]

Other hockey links

• Sean Gentille put together an oral history for the Jean Claude Van Damme masterpiece “Sudden Death.” If you haven’t heard of the candidate for “so-bad-it’s-good” designation, how about the elevator pitch: “Die Hard at a hockey game.” [The Athletic (sub required)]

• On face value, this article focuses most on Rudy Gobert and Novak Djokovic and athletes feeling invulnerable to COVID-19. But it’s a really good read for hockey fans, players, and executives as cautionary tales with a return-to-play picking up steam. [The Score]

• Joe Pelletier of Greatest Hockey Legends wonders why the bar is set so high for goalies to get into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Not an awful point when you consider that they play the most important position in the sport, and all. I wouldn’t mind Ron Hextall making a future cut, to name just one worthy goalie. [Greatest Hockey Legends]

• Five crossovers between hockey and Todd McFarlane. Yes, the “Spawn” guy. [PuckJunk]

• Taking a run at putting together the Sabres’ roster during the upcoming offseason. It gets elaborate, including potential trades. Yes, this scenario includes trading away Rasmus Ristolainen. Don’t they all? [Die by the Blade]

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.

Our Line Starts podcast: NHL, NHLPA nearing agreement; hub cities, Olympics, CBA

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Liam McHugh, Keith Jones, and Patrick Sharp react to the reports that the NHL and NHLPA are nearing the completion of a massive agreement that would not only cover this year’s Return to Play protocols, but also serve as an extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The guys discuss Edmonton and Toronto emerging as hub city favorites, as well as what it would mean for the NHL to return to the Olympics. Plus, a breakdown of the Qualifying Round series in both conferences.

Start-4:45 Edmonton, Toronto new hub city frontrunners
4:45-8:45 NHL, NHLPA nearing CBA extension, including Olympic participation
8:45-13:00 Other return to play details
14:00-23:00 Eastern Conference Qualifying Round preview
23:50-End Western Conference Qualifying Round preview

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports