This past week in the world has been surreal, to say the least. With the coronavirus officially becoming a pandemic a few days ago, a lot of life has been put on pause, and that includes the sports world. There have been a few professional athletes who have tested positive for the coronavirus, resulting in all professional and college sports leagues to be shut down, including the NHL.
As things stand right now, the league is suspended, with the possibility of the 2019-20 season resuming later on, once things blow over from this virus. However, while I am a glass-half-full type of person, there is also the reality that this could end up being the abrupt end for the 2019-20 NHL campaign. I am optimistic we will see a continuation of the current season, but if not, I still think there should be optimism in regard to the future of the Philadelphia Flyers going forward.
Yes, there was a legitimate shot that the Flyers could go on a Stanley Cup run for the 2020 playoffs (there’s talk of a new playoff format if this season does resume, and the Flyers would still make the playoffs in this scenario), but that might not happen with the status of sporting events right now. That Cup run could still be something to look ahead to though, and for sure the Flyers are becoming one of the teams that could consistently fight for the Metropolitan Division title. There are reasons to think the third Cup in franchise history is within reach.
Right Coaching and Management
Alain Vigneault (A.V.) has shown throughout his head coaching career that he can help lead teams to success. He played a significant role in both the 2011 Vancouver Canucks and 2014 New York Rangers going to the Stanley Cup Final. Both of those teams did have quite a bit of talent, but there does need to be guidance and direction.
Some coaches know how to do it consistently, while a lot of coaches that move around or are one-time coaches in the league fail to gain that success because of the lack of being a proper mentor. Joel Quenneville is one of the best coaches to ever be behind the bench in the NHL, and he finally was able to get the championships to prove it in 2010, 2013, and 2015 with the Chicago Blackhawks. He has as much success as he does because he is a good mentor and can relay his coaching guidance and wisdom well to the groups of players he works with.
A.V. is the same way wherever he has been, and since he has arrived in Philadelphia, this has been no exception. He has been able to give great guidance to his players, and they are using his philosophies to bring out the best players within themselves.
Vigneault has been criticized in the past while with other organizations that younger, developing players have a difficult time growing under his system. While that may have possibly been true for these other teams, that has been far from the case while behind the bench of the Flyers.
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21-year-old goalie Carter Hart has a record this season of 24-13. He was a brick wall for the team during their recent nine-game winning streak, playing in seven of those contests. This team has tried to find a goalie for the longest time to be a leader between the pipes, and it looks like the Flyers finally have their man. Vigneault has helped ease Hart into that role as the No. 1 goalie at such a young age.
The young defense has been growing as well, and A.V. can be traced as one of the components for why guys like Travis Sanheim, Robert Hagg, and Philippe Myers have produced on the ice greatly this season.
It is not just Vigneault, though. I think general manager Chuck Fletcher has done a pretty good job since being hired last season, and others agree with this sentiment.
He brought in guys like former Rangers forward Kevin Hayes, former Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen, and former San Jose Sharks defenseman Justin Braun. They are all veterans with leadership skills both through their on-ice production and through how they carry themselves off the ice. Niskanen and Braun have also both found their way to the Stanley Cup Final before, with Niskanen winning it with the Washington Capitals back in 2018.
Fletcher has brought a lot of significant pieces to organizations he’s worked for. He famously lured top free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to the Minnesota Wild while he was GM there, and also brought in other players through drafting such as Nick Leddy, Jason Zucker, Alex Tuch, and Mikael Granlund among others. He was not able to win a Cup while in Minnesota, but his teams made the playoffs six out of the nine years he was there.
Both Fletcher and Vigneault have had their fair shares of accomplishments throughout their careers, but they just have never ended up walking away with the ultimate prize. If they continue executing their growth and building philosophies, I think the Flyers will continue to establish stability and be one of the top teams in the Metro for many years to come.
Proper Leaders at the Helm
Culture is something that a team must have if they want to overcome obstacles and accomplish franchise goals, like winning a championship. There is quite a bit of evidence throughout the league of teams who do not have the best locker room, either with players blaming one another or simply not fighting for each other on the ice. The Flyers have a solid leadership core in place, and they have a close locker room.
As I mentioned in a previous article, I think A.V. does play a role in developing this brotherhood culture, but I think the veterans also have factored into this as well. Homegrown guys like captain Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier are prime examples of working hard and starting from the bottom in order to get to where they are today in the organization. The younger talent who are trying to make names for themselves can look to these guys and use their examples to become better players themselves.
Giroux and Couturier lead by example, and that is why they are well-respected players around the league. Having a duo like them in the locker room, along with first-year Flyer Hayes and guys like Jakub Voracek and James van Riemsdyk can go a long way for the younger players. They see through the hard work and exercises that these guys do what it takes to make it big time and be able to stay there.
Niskanen and Braun were brought in to be defensive mentors, but even younger guys on defense are stepping up to the plate to lead themselves, such as Ivan Provorov. The 23-year-old leads through the stat sheet:
- 2016-17: 6 goals and 24 assists in 82 games
- 2017-18: 17 goals and 24 assists in 82 games
- 2018-19: 7 goals and 19 assists in 82 games
- 2019-20: 13 goals and 23 assists in 69 games
Travis Konecny is another younger guy who has taken the reins and ran with it as one of the top scorers on the team at just the age of 23. Through 66 games this season, he has notched 24 goals and 37 assists for 61 points. That is a new career-high for him in both assists (12 more than his prior career-high last season) and in points. His goal total is 24, which ties his career-high from the past two years as well. If the season was still going on, no doubt he would have a new career-high in goals too.
Joel Farabee and Morgan Frost have also been able to find themselves having early success in the NHL too. They have a great locker room to look to for support when they suit up in Orange and Black.
There is also no doubt whatsoever that when, not if, but when, Oskar Lindblom beats cancer that he is going to continue to be another young face added to the puzzle of a Flyers team currently on the rise. He was a younger leader on the ice, but now he is being a leader off of it with his courage and determination.
Overall, there are leaders throughout this locker room, and that will to fight for one another is something that cannot be broken.
Standpoint for Now
It will be determined the fate for the rest of the 2019-20 regular season for the Flyers and the rest of the NHL, as well as whether the postseason is even in the realm of possibility. However, even if the 2019-20 hockey season is over, Flyers fans can be proud of the hard work and dedication that has been shown not only by the players but with management as well.
The team is proving that they can hang with the best of the best and were giving the Capitals a run for their money this season when it came to who would be the kingpin running the show in the Metro Division. That progress is only going to continue. Hockey along with the rest of professional sports might be on hold for right now, but when hockey returns, expect the Flyers to continue their path towards hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Everyone stay healthy out there and be careful.