With it being a month now since the season was put on hold, it becomes more and more apparent that the 2019-2020 NHL season will be completely cancelled. There has been a lot of discussion about possibly resuming the regular season to finish up the playoff race, but that seems to have been completely scrapped. We’ve now reached the point where they’re contemplating how to trim the season to give every team the same number of games played to determine playoff matchups. Honestly, I don’t think that’s likely to happen with all the uncertainty still lingering. Even if they were able to put on the playoffs, it would push back next year and the winner would always have a stigma around them given the shortened season. At this point, I think it’s best to just cut our losses and head into the offseason. With that in mind, I want to take a look back at the 2019-2020 Flyers, because man, this team was fun to watch.
I was reluctantly confident about this season, if that makes any sense. I was happy with the signing of Kevin Hayes, despite thinking he was a little overpaid. He was set to slide in and be a great 2nd line center regardless of who was put next to him. I was also super excited about the development of Carter Hart and how he was going to contribute to the Flyers’ success moving forward. Everyone knows the Flyers haven’t had a stud goalie since Pelle Lindbergh, and it looks like Carter Hart is poised to fill that role. Finally, the trio of coaches hired was a welcome change from what we as Philadelphia fans had grown accustomed to. It’s always been hiring someone who used to play for the Flyers or used to be an assistant coach for the team, and this was completely different. I expected this team to make the playoffs, but I expected one of the wild card slots, if that. My experience as a Philly fan, however, made me think this team could easily blow it and we’re stuck with another 14th overall draft pick.
For the 2019 part of the season, I was pretty much proven right. The Flyers weren’t bad, but the rest of the Metro was dominated by the Caps, Penguins, and Islanders, relegating the Flyers to a wild card spot. At home, the Flyers were solid and everything I wished the team could be. On the road, they were terrible. Carter Hart would get shelled here and there, and even get pulled a few times. In 2019, the Flyers were playing pretty much right into the narrative that I had already established. They weren’t terrible enough to get a really solid draft pick, and they weren’t good enough to give anyone hope for a long playoff run. They were just kind of…meh.
Then 2020 started and the Flyers seemed to become an entirely different team as a whole. Don’t get me wrong, guys like Travis Konecny and Sean Couturier had been consistent all year, but they seemed to turn on a switch come 2020. TK kept inching closer to being a point per game player and proving me right calling him the next Brad Marchand. Sean Couturier was making a case to win the Selke Trophy, and was the favorite amongst most analysts before the pause. Kevin Hayes centering TK and Scott Laughton was putting up great numbers and looked like he was going to finish with a career high in goals and points. Claude Giroux, despite a slow start to the year, was starting to pick up his point production reminiscent of his 102 point season a few years ago, and reminding people that he’s the most underrated player in the league. That’s right, I said it.
What made the 2020 Flyers so exciting, though, was the depth. As I wrote in my very first blog for the Morning Skate, everyone on the team was responsible for the overall success, instead of being carried by a few players. They didn’t have that one superstar player that was well over a PPG and getting Hart Trophy buzz, and I think most fans were fine with that because that just embodies the city of Philadelphia. Instead, all four lines would chip in as needed offensively, and the defense would help shut down the opposing team in front of Hart. When one guy cooled off, another heated up, and it seemed like the Flyers could go out and score 4 goals whenever they wanted. Meanwhile, Carter Hart was playing like a Vezina finalist, especially at home. A full year of his 2020 play could legitimately put him in the Vezina conversation.
This team seemed different from prior teams and closely resembled what most fans who also like football remember about the 2017 Eagles. This Flyers team was so close with each other and they were having a blast playing hockey together. Hayes, in particular, has commented numerous times about how this was one of the closest teams he’s ever been a part of, and the product really showed on the ice. In February and into March, they were the hottest team in the league. A memorable nine-game win streak helped propel them into first place for the first time since I was in 8th grade (for reference, I graduated college a year ago). Sure, first place lasted 18 minutes (Rangers, you just had to win in regulation…), but just getting there meant so much to fans who had become accustomed to mediocrity. Statisticians listed the Flyers as having the highest probability to win the Stanley Cup, and the hype was real.
Then the season was paused. You could see it coming once teams pledged to play without fans, but you were praying it wouldn’t happen. It was a “not now, not like this” kind of feeling. There’s the feeling of having your team’s season end early, but then there’s the feeling of “they really could’ve done it” and that’s what still really stings about this. It’s going to be tough to get over the loss of this season, but it’s something we have to accept and we’ll hope for an even better team next year. Will we always wonder what could have been? Absolutely. I will forever believe this team could have made a deep playoff run, but we’ll never know for sure. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with my Flyers awards picks.
Selke Trophy – Sean Couturier
Bobby Clarke Tropy (Team MVP) – Sean Couturier
Barry Ashbee Trophy (Best Defenseman) – Ivan Provorov
Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy (Most Improved) – Travis Konecny
Yanick Dupre Class Guy Award – Scott Laughton
Gene Hart Memorial Award (Most Heart) – Oskar Lindblom