For the Philadelphia Flyers, the 2020-21 season has come to an end. They capped off the campaign with a 4-2 win over the New Jersey Devils and now turn their attention towards a potential franchise-altering offseason that looms ahead. This offseason will be filled with unique challenges, and general manager Chuck Fletcher is tasked with navigating the expansion draft, filling holes on defence, and freshening up a forward core that seems to have gone stale.
While the Flyers have already played their last game of 2020-21, there is still plenty for the team’s fans to be excited for, as the NHL playoffs roll around. The playoffs are always exciting, especially when your favourite team is playing. But with the Flyers watching from the sidelines, there’s a chance for fans to have a summer fling with a new team and experience playoff hockey through a different set of eyes.
It isn’t always easy to choose who to root for in the playoffs, but for Flyers fans, there are a few choices that stand out above the rest.
The Florida Panthers
One of only two teams in the postseason with multiple former Flyers, the Florida Panthers are the team to root for if you’re hoping to see the team’s alumni lift the Stanley Cup.
Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is “the one that got away” for the Flyers, having been traded far too early in his career. A fan favorite while wearing the orange and black, he is now one of the most decorated NHL goalies of all time, boasting two Vezina Trophies, as well as two First All-Star Team selections. He has had ups and downs in Florida, struggling to live up to his gargantuan contract, but he performed well enough during the season and will likely be handed the reins in the postseason.
Manning the blue line for the Panthers is Radko Gudas, a big-bodied bruiser, and another former Flyer. For those who enjoy the physical aspects of the game, Gudas is the player for you. The physical defender led the NHL with a staggering 250 hits this season, one of only three players to eclipse the 200 mark. When he’s able to keep his emotions in check, he’s an extremely fun player to watch, and definitely someone to keep an eye on in what will likely be a very physical first-round matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
On top of being the home of two relatively high-profile former Flyers, the Panthers are also underdogs heading into the postseason. They only managed to make the playoffs twice in the 10 seasons prior to this one, and haven’t made it out of the first round since 1996, a year where they took an unlikely trip to the Stanley Cup Final. Despite the fact that they finished above the Lightning in the standings this season, they will still be facing off against the defending champions right off the bat.
Of the last 10 Stanley Cup winning teams, eight of them have carried former Flyers on their roster. For fans that love an underdog story, and hope to see former Flyers like Bobrovsky and Gudas win a Cup, the Panthers are the perfect team to continue this trend.
The Toronto Maple Leafs
For decades, the Toronto faithful have been waiting for the Maple Leafs to end their Stanley Cup drought and bring the trophy back to Canada for the first time since 1993, and to Toronto for the first time since 1967 (before the Flyers joined the league). It would be extremely ironic and almost cruel for the team to win this year, unable to lift the Cup in front of their fans, and likely unable to host a proper parade. Fate is often cruel, yet a win this year would still be one for the memory books.
With a roster full of veterans in search of the first Stanley Cup, a Maple Leafs victory would be full of magical moments. Players like Joe Thornton, Jason Spezza, and Nick Foligno have had long careers, but have yet to emerge victorious in the postseason. Another veteran chasing his first Stanley Cup with the Leafs is Wayne Simmonds, a Flyers’ alumnus, and fan favorite. Simmonds was much beloved during his eight-year tenure in Philadelphia, and it was difficult to watch him move on from the team, even though it was ultimately the right move. Watching him deliver grit, intensity, and leadership in the playoffs will no doubt be fun to watch, and it would ultimately be bittersweet to watch him lift the Stanley Cup.
Technically, Simmonds isn’t the only former Flyer with the Maple Leafs. While he never laced up the skates for the Flyers, Dave Hakstol spent parts of four seasons behind the bench in Philadelphia. A controversial figure among fans, he now serves as assistant coach of the Maple Leafs. For those who enjoyed watching Hakstol-coached Flyers teams, his presence serves as another reason to root for the Leafs.
The Washington Capitals
Alright, I’ll admit that this one is a bit of a hard sell. After all, the Capitals share a division with the Flyers, and through years of intense and physical meetings, there isn’t much love between these two teams. But, if you can look past the rivalry, there are two key reasons why Flyers fans may want to root for the Capitals.
One of those reasons is Michael Raffl who was traded to Washington at the trade deadline in April. He played in 504 games for the Flyers, good for the 35th most in franchise history. The Austrian winger suited up for more games in the orange and black than the likes of Ron Hextall, Bernie Parent, Eric Lindros, and Mike Richards, among others. He served as a Swiss Army knife for the team, able to move up and down the lineup to play wherever he was needed most. He put his body on the line time and time again for the Flyers, and has earned a chance at playoff success. Raffl also has the potential to make history this year. If the Capitals do come out on top, he will become the first Austrian-born player to win the Stanley Cup.
The other reason that Flyers fans may want to root for the Capitals is a petty one. Being situated in the MassMutual East Division, the Caps will need to vanquish both the Boston Bruins and likely the Pittsburgh Penguins if they are to go on a deep playoff run. The Penguins, having come into the league with the Flyers are public enemy number one for the team’s fans. As for the Bruins, it would be almost therapeutic to watch them exit the playoffs early after they thrashed the Flyers in nearly every meeting in the 2020-21 season.
There Are Plenty of Options
For Flyers fans in search of a team to back in the postseason, there are plenty of options. If the Panthers, Maple Leafs, and Capitals aren’t right for you, there are teams like the Colorado Avalanche who play an extremely fast-paced game and carry both a former Flyer in Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and a Pennsylvania native in Brandon Saad on their roster.
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The Minnesota Wild are similar to the Panthers, yet to taste playoff success, and having two former Flyers on their roster. Ryan Hartman and Cam Talbot both had brief tenures as Flyers, but were likable nonetheless.
For those that want to look towards the team’s future, rather than at past players, the Nashville Predators or Carolina Hurricanes might be right for you. The Flyers are in desperate need of a top defenceman, and have reportedly engaged in extensive trade talks with the Predators over both Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm (from ‘Carter’s Struggles, Trade Rumors, NHL/ESPN Deal’, Snow the Goalie: A Flyers Podcast – 11/03/21). As for the Hurricanes, their top defender, Dougie Hamilton is set to enter free agency and could be an option for the defence-hungry Flyers. For a fan, turning your attention to these two teams for the playoffs could give you a taste of what the future could hold in Philadelphia.