Kevin Hayes

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.”

Long-term outlook for Philadelphia Flyers

Long-term outlook for Flyers Provorov Couturier Konecny
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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 long-term outlook for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

When you look at the Flyers’ core, you should take a moment to appreciate the cleanup job Ron Hextall accomplished. The current regime took the baton and got off to a good run post-Ron, but give credit where it’s due. Hextall inherited a mess.

Now, sure, there are some risks.

One could see how the combination of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Kevin Hayes, and James van Riemsdyk could age poorly, and quickly. Concerns about the Flyers becoming the “next Kings/Sharks” are somewhat justified.

Yet … a lot of those risks are mitigated. Giroux’s contract ends after 2021-22, and there’s a strong chance he’ll still be worth the near-$8.3M. JVR and Voracek are both 30, but the terms could be worse. Same goes for Hayes; yes, it’s risky, but he won’t turn 28 until May 8. Chuck Fletcher (and Hextall) is guilty of some gambles, but not at the “slap the deed of your house on the poker stack” level.

Most importantly, nice to outright fantastic bargains give the Flyers leeway to roll the dice. After last season’s hiccup, Ivan Provorov looks like a gem, and a steal at $6.75M. Travis Konecny isn’t far behind at $5M, and both contracts run through 2024-25.

The Flyers really feasted on a deal with Sean Couturier, and the only bummer (for them, not Couturier’s accountant) is that a raise is coming from that $4.33M after 2021-22.

There’s a lot to like about the Flyers’ core, especially if the aging elements don’t rapidly go rotten.

Long-term needs for Flyers

Pondering the long-term needs of the Flyers, it’s clear the team needs some answers.

To start: how much is it going to cost to truly add Carter Hart to the core? The 21-year-old’s entry-level contract expires after 2020-21. Would it be better to lock him down as soon as possible, or see how he performs during a contract year? What kind of money and term would make sense for an extension?

While much of the Hart conundrums boil down to “good problems to have,” the Flyers need to find out about the future for players dealing with health issues. Beyond a frightening situation for Oskar Lindblom, Philly could use some insight on Nolan Patrick and Shayne Gostisbehere.

The latter found himself in trade rumors, yet “Ghost Bear” wasn’t exactly healthy. You don’t necessarily want to sell low on a player who can at least generate offense, and is still reasonably young (26) and generally cheap ($4.5M AAV through 2022-23).

Depth resonates as a need for the Flyers, at least if some of the above situations don’t work out.

Beyond depth, I also wonder: while the Flyers boast a strong core, can they really hang among the best of the best?

Long-term strengths for Flyers

Even as players graduate to regular or semi-regular NHL duty, the Flyers continue to hunt down strong draft prospects. Cam York, Morgan Frost, and Bobby Brink help the Flyers place eighth in Scott Wheeler’s prospect rankings (sub required), for example.

Could those players provide that extra “oomph” for this franchise?

It’s an enticing thought, especially as Travis Sanheim bolsters the bigger names, while Frost, Joel Farabee, and others attempt to make impressions.

The Flyers have a nice mix of veteran stars, budding younger stars like Provorov and Konecny, and those aforementioned intriguing prospects. Hart also made encouraging steps toward being that long lost goalie.

There are reasons to be optimistic about this team’s chances of being competitive for some time. What a difference a year makes, eh?

MORE ON THE FLYERS:
Breaking down their 2019-20 season
Biggest surprises and disappointments

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: Brodie leads Flames to OT win; sizzling Flyers win seventh straight

Sean Monahan #23, T.J. Brodie #7 and Johnny Gaudreau #13 of the Calgary Flames celebrate
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Three Stars

1) Ivan Provorov, Philadelphia Flyers

Wins on the road have been tough to come by for the Flyers this season, but they earned two points in a 5-2 victory against the division-leading Washington Capitals Wednesday. Provorov had a goal and an assist as the surging Flyers picked up their seventh straight win and moved to within one point of the Capitals for the Metro Division lead. Provorov and the rest of the Flyers defensive group have recorded an NHL-best 43 goals this season. The 23-year-old blueliner scored 6:36 into the final period to give the Flyers a 4-2 lead and wrap up the critical inter-division victory.

2) Rickard Rakell, Anaheim Ducks

Rakell needed every second of overtime to lead the Ducks to a 4-3 victory against the Colorado Avalanche. The Swedish forward fired a wrist shot from the top of the right circle and notched his first goal since January 31 with 1.2 seconds remaining in OT. Rakell also assisted on Brendan Guhle’s marker which gave Anaheim a 2-1 lead at 13:40 of the opening period.

3) TJ Brodie, Calgary Flames

With less than 11 seconds remaining in overtime, Brodie fired a wrist shot from the slot to propel the Calgary Flames to a 3-2 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Sean Monahan couldn’t finish a feed from Johnny Gaudreau prior to the game-winning goal, but never gave up on the play. He collected the rebound, skated around the net and found an open Brodie in between the circles. The Flames erased a two-goal third-period deficit with goals from Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk to force the extra session. Calgary sits in third place in the Pacific and trails the Vegas Golden Knights by five points for first place in the division.

Highlights of the Night

Derek Grant masterfully kicked a puck over to Kevin Hayes to help the Flyers take a one-goal lead in the second period.

Nick Foligno delivered a perfect saucer pass to Gustav Nyquist when the Blue Jackets opened up a two-goal lead on the Flames.

Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog feathered a wrist shot from the right circle to even the score at 2-2 late in the first period.

Blooper of the night

Coyotes forward Carl Soderberg ends up with credit for this fluky power-play goal.

Push for the Playoffs

Notable injury

James van Riemsdyk blocked a shot and will be sidelined for the foreseeable future with a broken right hand.

Stat of the Night

Scores

Philadelphia Flyers 5, Washington Capitals 2

Calgary Flames 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2 (OT)

Anaheim Ducks 4, Colorado Avalanche 3 (OT)

Arizona Coyotes 4, Vancouver Canucks 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.

Streaking Flyers closing in on Metro lead

Travis Konecny #11 of the Philadelphia Flyers scores a goal
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The Philadelphia Flyers moved within one point of the top spot in the Metropolitan Division with a 5-2 win against the Washington Capitals Wednesday.

Kevin Hayes and Ivan Provorov each had a goal and an assist as the Flyers won their seventh straight game. Brian Elliott made 25 saves and picked up his second win this season against the Capitals. Travis Konecny, Tyler Pitlick and Scott Laughton also scored for Philadelphia.

James van Riemsdyk left in the first period after blocking a shot with his right hand and did not return

“I’m not sure the severity of it,” Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault told reporters after the win. “There are different breaks but he took that shot right on the tip there. I’ll find out tomorrow (Thursday) for how long.”

Lars Eller and Garnet Hathaway scored, but Washington fell for the second time in the previous three games. Four points separate the top three teams in the Metro and a slump could cost the Capitals, Flyers or Pittsburgh Penguins home-ice advantage in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Provorov sealed the victory for the Flyers with a wicked wrist shot that sailed past the glove of Braden Holtby in the third period. Jakub Voracek patiently waited at the blueline until the young defenseman was able to join the rush and gave the Flyers a 4-2 lead. Philadelphia leads the NHL with 43 goals scored by defensemen this season.

The Flyers took a 3-1 lead in the second period with consecutive goals by Konecny and Hayes.

Konecny converted on the power play shortly after one of his attempts was waived off following a video review. Provorov took a shot from the point that Holtby couldn’t control and Konecny buried the rebound.

Hayes expanded the Flyers lead when Derek Grant wisely kicked a fluttering puck toward the other side of the crease for the tall center to finish. It was the 23rd goal and 40th point of the season for Hayes, his first with Philadelphia after signing a lucrative seven-year deal this summer.

Eller opened the scoring for Washington with a skillful backhand-forehand combination at 14:09 of the first period. Richard Panik and Carl Hagelin assisted on the play.

Hathaway helped the Capitals cut the Flyers’ deficit to 3-2 with a bar-down wrister from just above the crease in the second period.


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.

The Buzzer: Toffoli, others hot after NHL trade deadline

Toffoli hot after NHL trade deadline the buzzer
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Three Stars

1. Anton Khudobin/Roope Hintz, Dallas Stars

With a plethora of games on Tuesday’s dockets, let’s consolidate some of the stars picks as combos.

Khudobin generated 40 saves, only allowing one goal against Carolina. People made plenty of jokes about the Hurricanes actually needing to bring in David Ayers on Tuesday. After all, Alex Nedeljkovic allowed four goals on just 16 shots. It’s easy to overlook the difference Khudobin made in that game where there was a towering 40-16 SOG disadvantage. (The Hurricanes’ long tradition of dominating puck control while being let down by goaltending happened again. The Stars, meanwhile, subsist on their goaltending.)

Hintz provided a strong night of work in his own right, scoring a goal and two assists. Hintz scored the game-winning goal, and both of his assists were primary helpers.

2. Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers

Florida left many — myself included — puzzled by trading away Vincent Trocheck for a questionable return. Maybe the Panthers will benefit from a post-trade deadline bump from Bobrovsky much like Columbus did after they decided not to trade him in 2018-19?

It’s way too early to confirm or deny that. Either way, he enjoyed a strong Tuesday, stopping 37 out of 38 SOG. Both the Panthers and the Coyotes needed Tuesday’s game, but Bob made the difference.

Speaking of sticking with players despite the temptation of getting something for a pending UFA, Mike Hoffman contributed to Florida’s two goals with a goal and an assist.

3. Kevin Hayes/Travis Konecny, Philadelphia Flyers

Leafing through the options for third star was especially tough. Matthew Tkachuk, for instance, scored three points (1G, 2A) winning a battle of the pests with Brad Marchand.

An even tougher omission: the combination of Zach Sanford (2G, 1A) and Robert Thomas (1G, 2A) for the Blues. Sanford scored the GWG, and fired nine SOG. He made the difference in St. Louis squeaking by Chicago.

In this case, let’s direct you to this post, where the Blues got some attention.

Hayes (2G, 1A) also scored the game-winner for his team, while Konecny generated a goal and two assists. Both Flyers forwards generated +3 ratings apiece. Are their strong nights better than the comparable evenings for Sanford and Thomas? Your guess is a good, if not better, than mine.

Highlights of the Night

Marchand scored an impressive goal, showing his calm and skill. Then he turned on the menace in staring down Mikael Backlund, which really brought this clip up a notch:

William Nylander added to the bucket of cool between-the-legs goals in helping Toronto beat Tampa Bay. If forced to choose one video for highlight of the night, it would probably be this:

Not sure if this is a highlight of the night in the traditional sense. Regardless, this is just one big, entertaining mess between Tyler Bertuzzi and P.K. Subban. And maybe the officials?

Factoids

  • The Rangers set a franchise record with eight consecutive road wins by beating the Islanders in OT. Mika Zibanejad is on his own eight-game point streak, collecting a whopping 14 points during that span, including Tuesday’s empathic game-winner. (NHL PR)
  • The Stars have an eight-game road point streak of their own. (NHL PR)
  • The Flames beat the Bruins handily. Continuing with the theme of road warriors, Calgary’s 15-4-1 road record since Nov. 23 leads the NHL during that span. (Sportsnet Stats)
  • Tyler Toffoli keeps bridging a hot end to his Kings’ days with a hot start with the Canucks following his deadline trade. By scoring Vancouver’s OT winner, he extended his current point streak to five games (7G, 2A). Looking specifically at his time with the Canucks, Toffoli has three goals and two assists for five points in three contests.
  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins improved to an impressive 29 points in his last 21 games. (Sportsnet Stats)
  • Quinn Hughes became the first rookie to reach 50 points this season … not too shabby for a defenseman. He’s six points shy of the Canucks rookie defenseman scoring record. Hughes and Nicklas Lidstrom (1992) are the only two defensemen to reach 50 points before any other rookie during their respective first seasons. (NHL PR)
  • Jean-Gabriel Pageau didn’t win the game for the Islanders. He did make a heck of an impression during his Islanders debut following their big trade deadline investment, though. (OK, this is more of an opinion-oid, but go with it.)

Scores

CGY 5 – BOS 2
VAN 4 – MTL 3 (OT)
TOR 4 – TBL 3
NYR 4 – NYI 3 (OT)
PHI 4 – SJS 2
WSH 4 – WIN 3 (SO)
DAL 4 – CAR 1
NJD 4 – DET 1
STL 6 – CHI 5
NSH 3 – OTT 2
MIN 5 – CBJ 4
FLA 2 – ARI 1
ANA 4 – EDM 3 (OT)

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.