Alain Vigneault

PHT Morning Skate: Beware the bumbling Rumble Bees

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? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Return to play/NHL Playoffs

• Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other officials have expressed some willingness to work with the NHL in the hub city process. Will it be enough, though? Ben Kuzma looks at it from Vancouver’s perspective. [The Province]

• On Wednesday, PHT looked at how the top four teams in the East and West will approach the Round Robin for Seeding. Here’s another chance to check out the article that inspired those posts. [NBC Sports Boston]

Brad Richardson shares his experience being exposed — but seemingly not infected — with COVID-19. The story ends with some optimism about Richardson getting extra time to heal because of the pandemic pause. [Arizona Republic]

Awards talk, Rumble Bees, and other hockey links

• You see, John Carlson wants the Norris Trophy. But he doesn’t need it. I feel like the Rolling Stones should write a song about that feeling. [The Hockey News]

• Carlson missed out on a chance to score 90 points, a rare feat for a defenseman. In David Pastrnak‘s case, he lost a chance to reach 50 goals and 100 points. Which missed milestone bugs him the most? [Bruins Daily]

• Could Mike Sullivan sneak up on Alain Vigneault for the Jack Adams Award? Hopefully Sullivan doesn’t startle Vigneault in the process, right? [NBC Sports Philadelphia]

• Islanders goalie Ilya Sorokin remains stuck in a “holding pattern” regarding whether he can join the team from Russia or not. Sorokin’s agent Daniel Milstein explained that frustrating situation. [AMNY]

• Ally Koss went in-depth with Brady Hackmeister on the process behind designing the Henderson Silver Knights’ logo. They discuss how the design breaks with but also evokes design choices related to the AHL affiliate’s parent team, the Vegas Golden Knights. [Hockey By Design]

• Chris Peters tells the story of the Battle Creek Rumble Bees of the Federal Prospects Hockey League. Peters describes the FPHL as “the lowest rung of professional hockey in the U.S.,” so does that make the 1-45-2(!) Rumble Bees the lowest rung of the lowest rung? I’ll need to start doing some counting on my fingers, let me get back to you. (That said, Rumble Bees is a great team name.) [ESPN]

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.

Season on Ice: Flyers want to continue Stanley Cup pursuit

PHILADELPHIA — Gritty is the home school teacher the world needs right now. The furry Flyers mascot offers an education of sorts each weekday on Instagram with “ Gritty’s 1/4 Hour of Power,” and his top student one day this week was forward Joel Farabee.

Gritty played charades with Farabee and the muted mascot held up signs for his pupil to read on the subject of bees. Example: “In Ancient Egypt, people paid their taxes with honey.”

But would extra honey count against the salary cap?

Farabee and the Flyers may have been brushing up on a second-round postseason scouting report instead of getting a science lesson this week had the season not been suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Flyers were the toast of the NHL in early March — they were happy to raise a glass to their prosperity — because of a hot streak that turned them into a postseason threat.

Just how far the Flyers could have gone will never be known – though a proposed plan involves bringing teams back in a few empty NHL buildings to complete some, if not all, of the remaining regular-season games before opening the playoffs – so the slim chance remains they can pick up where they left off March 12, at 89 points (41-21-7) and rising.

But good health and momentum can be tricky to rediscover after a lengthy layoff and there’s no promise better days would be ahead for the Flyers, or any other team, should the season potentially resume in July.

“There’s no doubt that we were playing our best hockey of the season at the time,” coach Alain Vigneault said Wednesday. “Our team was in a good place. It will be all our jobs, from coaches to management to players, to get back to that good spot that we were in.”

Vigneault made all the right moves for the Flyers in his first season on the bench, leading them on a nine-game winning streak that ended in a 2-0 loss to the Boston Bruins on March 10, their last game of the suspended season. Carter Hart, just 21, played every bit like the franchise goalie the Flyers expected. And homegrown talent such as Scott Laughton, Travis Sanheim, Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny — drafted amid a franchise rebuild — all turned a team with modest expectations into an Eastern Conference contender.

The Flyers scored an average of 4.33 goals per game and allowed an average of 1.89 during their nine-game streak and hadn’t lost consecutive games since an 0-3-1 stretch from Dec. 31–Jan. 4. The Flyers are 39-0-3 this season when they are tied or leading after two periods.

“Once we get back at it, I’m very confident with the focus of our group that we’ll be at the same page as everybody else and it’s going to be our job to work hard, work smart and do the right thing and get back to where we were,” Vigneault said.

Over the last month, Vigneault, who coached two teams in the Final, retreated to Florida and kept busy on the golf course before he eventually drove home to Gatineau in western Quebec, Canada. Vigneault has seen and heard the devastating effects the COVID-19 disease has on his loved ones. His girlfriend, Monica Cotton, is an emergency nurse at Ottawa Hospital and his sister Nicole Vigneault works for Quebec Health, both doing to their part to help those in need.

The Flyers coach, though, has been helpless like so many others when it comes to communication and contact with senior parents.

“My parents are 84 and 86. They are both in a senior residence. They’ve both been isolated since Day One,” Vigneault said. “My mom’s having a little bit more of a challenging time there mentally in the past few months. My dad is still sharp as he can be. There’s no doubt him going through this by himself, he’s very lonely.”

Vigneault said he’s talked to only five Flyers since the season ended and leaves Chris Osmond and Dan Warnke, the team’s strength and conditioning coaches, to keep tabs on the roster.

“Everybody is trying to stay safe. At the same time, when the season starts again, we want to be as ready as we can,” Vigneault said.

When that might be, no one really knows.

But with Philadelphia at 45 years and counting without a Stanley Cup, what’s a few more months?

“I am very confident that we can get something together that’s going to be very efficient for the players, very efficient to get our team ready,” Vigneault said. “Hopefully that’s what happens.”

Philadelphia Flyers: Biggest surprises, disappointments

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for Philadelphia Flyers.

Vigneault and overall front office among very positive surprises for Flyers

Like many, I wondered if Alain Vigneault was really the right hire for the Flyers.

While I was impressed with Vigneault during his time with the Canucks, his latter Rangers years inspired fears that he was behind the times. Leaning so much on the likes of Tanner Glass? Not great.

There were some similar fears with GM Chuck Fletcher coming in pretty recently. Was this just going to be a team full of rehashes? Would a fairly talented foundation end up being wobbly at the top?

So far … nope, things have gone really well. It sure sounds like the Flyers are taking a progressive approach. Consider Vigneault’s comments about the analytics approach back in December, via The Athletic’s Charlie O’Connor (sub required).

“In the past, (analytics) were more used by the general manager,” Vigneault said. “Chuck has made it really open, and I’m going to those guys (in the analytics department), and we’re exchanging information. They were part of our meetings this summer. So it’s an area that I think our hockey people are using more and more now.”

Vigneault used such information to pull goalies aggressively, and seemed to be making generally wise lineup decisions.

In general, the front office has been one of the season’s most promising surprises for the Flyers.

Konecny leading the team in scoring ranks among the bigger surprises for the Flyers

From the eye test alone, you could tell that Travis Konecny possesses brilliant talent. Still, it’s not a given that a player will also translate potential to production.

With that in mind, Konency’s rise is an even more pleasant surprise for the Flyers.

Despite being pandemic-limited to 66 games played, Konecny tied his career-high of 24 goals (from the two previous seasons, curiously). Konecny pushed his point total to a career-high of 61 points, seizing the opportunity of getting a big bump in ice time.

While you can nitpick a bit (a 17 shooting percentage is a touch high), it sure seems like the Flyers have a star on their hands.

Some other big situations worked out, too.

Matt Niskanen enjoyed a nice rebound year. More importantly, Ivan Provorov rebounded as well. Carter Hart continued his trajectory up the ranks of the NHL’s most promising goalies. There was a lot to like for the Flyers in 2019-20, right down to a hot finish.

Slightly disappointing season for Giroux

In the grand scheme of things, Claude Giroux remains a very good player. Giroux pumped out solid possession stats, as usual. Take, for instance, this sturdy-looking RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey:

It’s fair to say that Giroux’s point totals (53 in 69 games) were modest by his lofty standards. Chalk it up to a substantial drop in ice time (21:27 TOI average last season vs. 18:59 in 2019-20), or maybe unusually quiet power play production, but Giroux’s playmaking plummeted. He actually scored almost as many goals (21 vs. 22) in fewer games, yet his .46 assist per game average ranked as his lowest since 2009-10.

I wouldn’t be too concerned overall, though at 32, there is slight worry about Father Time messing things up.

Frustrating health luck for Flyers

Injuries strike just about every team (even the Washington Capitals every now and then).

Still, the Flyers had to weather some unexpected health issues that make you wonder if this team could have been even better.

Most frighteningly, Oskar Lindblom saw his season end after he was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer. Obviously, his health stands as a far larger concern than wins and losses.

Nolan Patrick experienced his own struggles as his 2019-20 campaign was derailed by migraine issues. It’s unclear if Patrick will be able to alleviate such issues in the long term, but at minimum, it sidelined him this season.

Overall, the good surprises outweighed on-ice disappointments for the Flyers. Most of all, here’s hoping for positive news regarding Lindblom’s health.

MORE ON THE FLYERS:
Looking at their 2019-20 season

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Koivu unsure about retirement; Underestimating Vigneault

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

Hockey world continues to help out with COVID-19, and figure out what’s next

• Count Helene Elliott as the latest person to argue that the NHL should cancel its regular season — and now. Beyond the logistical concerns Elliott brings up, there’s one point that should be most crucial. Doing so would provide refunds for ticket-holding fans. You’d assume … just about all of them have more important things to spend their money on than games that might take place. (Los Angeles Times)

• One factor that doesn’t come up a lot, but should also be considered: a return to action could involve a heightened risk of injuries. Diana C. Nearhos’ story broaches that subject, and there’s also a funny bit about how Braydon Coburn thought that the Peloton bike he bought his wife would eventually just gather dust. “Those words have come back to haunt me,” Coburn said. (Tampa Bay Times)

• Gary Bettman confirmed a lot of what’s been said about the NHL’s approach to resuming play in an interview on Fox Business Network. In particular, Bettman emphasized that the league will be “flexible and agile” when it comes to considering ways to make things as fair as possible for playoff contenders. (Write-up on Sportsnet)

• The Canucks For Kids 50/50 raffle raised almost $250K for COVID-19 relief. There’s a lot to love about the story, including this also being heartwarming for the 50/50 winners. The Canucks explained where the donations are going, and providing corresponding links for those who want to help even more. The team announced that $150K is going to Food Banks BC, KidSafe received $25K, $50K went to the Canadian Mental Health Association, and $20K went to Family Services of Greater Vancouver. Hopefully people donate even more to these worthy causes. (Canucks)

• Capitals forward Garnet Hathaway helped raise $15K for Hath’s Heroes, which helps feed first responders dealing with the pandemic. It’s one thing to salute those treating people affected, but kudos to people like Hathaway for actually helping them. (NHLPA)

General hockey links, including Koivu on topic of retirement

Mikko Koivu admits that he’s pondered “all options” regarding the question of retirement. Overall, Koivu made it sound like he hasn’t quite decided yet. PHT pondered players who might be mulling over retirement recently, Koivu included. (Pioneer Press)

• The Blues signed scrappy Sammy Blais to a two-year extension with a $1.5M AAV. (KSDK)

• John Matisz dives deep into what makes Auston Matthews such a unique sniper. There’s discussion of his outstanding release, as well as how much Matthews scores on a per-minute basis. Such stats partially explain why people were so confounded by Mike Babcock’s reluctance to load up Matthews’ ice time in past seasons. (The Score)

• Broad Street Hockey’s Brad Keffer admits to being wrong about the Flyers’ decision to hire Alain Vigneault. Like Keffer, I too weighed Vigneault’s tougher moments with the Rangers too heavily. It seems like AV possesses a pretty spry hockey mind. Not sure AV would be my Jack Adams pick, though … but he’s been a big upgrade nonetheless. (Broad Street Hockey)

• Puck Junk rates the 15th best hockey cards from 1989-90. Guy Lafleur wearing a Rangers sweater remains deeply strange. This post details some of the biggest “he played for them?” stunners, if you want more. (Puck Junk)

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.

The Buzzer: Zibanejad stars on Broadway; Blackhawks remain in playoff race

Mika Zibanejad #93 of the New York Rangers scores his fifth goal of the game in overtime
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Three Stars

1) Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers

The 26-year-old scored five times as the Rangers defeated the Washington Capitals in overtime, 6-5. Zibanejad is the first NHL player to score five goals and the game-winning goal in overtime since Sergei Fedorov on Dec. 26, 1996. The alternate captain joined Don Murdoch and Mark Pavelich as the only players in franchise history to score five times in a single game. Zibanejad established himself as a top-line NHL center last season with a breakout campaign but reached new heights this year with 38 goals and 33 assists. The Blueshirts trail the New York Islanders by two points for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race but have played one additional game.

2) Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks

Only four points separate six teams within striking distance of the wild card spots in the Western Conference. DeBrincat scored twice as the Blackhawks defeated the Edmonton Oilers 4-3 at the United Center Thursday and extended their winning streak to four games. DeBrincat lit the lamp twice in the second period as Chicago pulled away from Edmonton. Leon Draisaitl recorded two assists in his Hart Trophy campaign.

3) Alain Vigneault, Philadelphia Flyers

It takes time for an NHL coach to implement his system in his first year with a new club, but AV has quietly led the Flyers to a tie for first place in the Metropolitan Division with 15 games remaining in the season. Philadelphia has recently climbed the standings and are in position to earn home-ice advantage in the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Vigneault helped the Flyers move past an emotional win against the Capitals Wednesday and extend their winning streak to eight games with a 4-1 victory against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Highlights of the Night

Artemi Panarin delivered a sensational stretch pass as Zibanejad closed out the Capitals with the overtime winner.

Patric Hornqvist converted a spinning backhanded shot to record his first of two goals in the Penguins’ 4-2 win against the Sabres.

Patrick Kane netted his 30th of the season with this sharp-angled shot in the Blackhawks’ 4-3 win against the Oilers.

Brady Tkachuk looked off a defender before firing this short-side snipe as the Senators defeated the Islanders, 4-3.

Ivan Provorov scored for the second straight game as the Flyers tied the Capitals for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

Torey Krug launched a slap shot in overtime to propel the Bruins to their fourth straight win.

Push for the Playoffs

Stat of the Night

Scores

Pittsburgh Penguins 4, Buffalo Sabres 2

Tampa Bay Lightning 4, Montreal Canadiens 0

Boston Bruins 2, Florida Panthers 1 (OT)

New York Rangers 6. Washington Capitals 5 (OT)

Philadelphia Flyers 4, Carolina Hurricanes 1

Ottawa Senators 4, New York Islanders 3

Nashville Predators 2, Dallas Stars 0

Chicago Blackhawks 4, Edmonton Oilers 3

Los Angeles Kings 1, Toronto Maple Leafs (SO)

Minnesota Wild 3, San Jose Sharks 2


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.