2020 NHL playoffs: Flyers, Stanley Cup predictions

2020 NHL playoffs: Flyers, Stanley Cup predictions

This weekend officially kicked off the 2020 race to the Stanley Cup. After months of waiting and uncertainty, we are now shifting gears to hockey nearly around the clock and that’s a dream in itself.

Before the Flyers embark on their playoff journey, NBC Sports Philadelphia's Brooke Destra, Katie Emmer, Joe Fordyce and Jordan Hall give their predictions for the team and who wins it all.

Destra

I have waited my whole life to feel this confident about a Flyers team. If you’ve been watching throughout the season, especially following the NHL All-Star break, you could tell that this team was destined for more than another year of disappointment. 

This goes back to the offseason when general manager Chuck Fletcher made some roster additions. He didn’t need to go out and get a big-time free agent, but rather evaluated the needs of the current roster and found a way to complement it. Without the addition of Kevin Hayes, Sean Couturier wouldn’t have been able to flourish as the 1C he is. Without Matt Niskanen, Ivan Provorov wouldn’t have been able to get guidance from a true veteran defenseman and find his game that is wise beyond his years once more. No additions would have led to another season of falling short of expectations and now the bar is set for the ultimate test — the Stanley Cup. 

When we first evaluated the team’s potential before the beginning of the season, I believed winning a single playoff round would have been enough for fans. It would showcase growth and promise for seasons to come. Yeah, that’s not the mentality anymore. 

This is it. This is the year the Flyers win it all. Claude Giroux will finally get to raise that beautiful Stanley Cup over his head and the drought in Philadelphia will be over after 45 years of waiting. The cards have been dealt in the Flyers’ favor and they have the power to control their fate. I see the Flyers winning in six games against the Golden Knights. 

This isn’t optimism anymore, this is certainty. 

Emmer

This Flyers team certainly has a different vibe than years past. From its solid depth at forward to its drastically improved special teams, to having arguably the strongest goaltending duo in the NHL —it has a healthy chance of taking a deep playoff run in 2020.

That being said, it’s still tough to predict where the Flyers end up ... after all, this is the Stanley Cup Playoffs we’re talking about. It’s such an equal playing field. With healthy rosters returning that wouldn’t have been the case originally and the lack of ice time for players throughout the pause for the majority of four months or more, it’ll certainly be interesting who comes out of the gates the strongest.

I’m optimistic about the Flyers’ chances. Why not have fun and say they pass the Penguins in the first round in six? Then I’ll say they go on to beat out the Capitals in seven and the Lightning in six to make it all the way to the Final to face the Avalanche, where they’ll win in seven and Giroux (and the city of Philadelphia) will finally get that Stanley Cup they’ve been waiting 45 years for.

Another bold prediction? Kevin Hayes goes off in the playoffs and wins the Conn Smythe.

Fordyce

The Flyers will benefit from playing three games in the round robin, where they can only improve their seeding. They can’t finish lower than fourth but can get as high as the top seed entering the playoffs. I’m going to go out on a limb and make a prediction that we will see a different Shayne Gostisbehere when the games resume. During the regular season, we saw a version of Gostisbehere that appeared to have no confidence on the ice. For Ghost, confidence is key and maybe more than any player I’ve ever seen.

In the scrimmage with the Penguins, Ghost looked like a different player. On the final play that won the game, Ghost took what was there. He reversed the puck back to Scott Laughton to play give- and-go with Travis Konecny that led to the winning shot from Laughton. When Ghost lacks confidence, he may try to force a play on the other side of the ice. It was good to see his assertive play on the ice and I’m betting on a resurgence from Gostisbehere.

In the Stanley Cup Final, I’m going to say the Tampa Bay Lightning will beat the Colorado Avalanche. The Lightning have some revenge to exact after a first-round exit last season, despite having the best record. With their roster of scorers that seems to never end, their lethal power play and Andrei Vasilevsky between the pipes, the Lightning are well positioned to win the Cup. The Avalanche have had the best road record in the NHL and the top goal differential in the Western Conference, so I see them making it through the Edmonton bubble but eventually falling to the Lightning.

Hall

There's definitely a feel to these Flyers. It's a fun, likeable, hard-working, well-coached group with plenty of ingredients. Sometimes in sports, you can sense when a team has something brewing.

The 2019-20 club has a conceivable shot at a playoff run, which should be exciting for a fan base that has been patient over the previous seven seasons, a stretch in which it has seen stagnancy, three playoff berths and no series victories.

The Flyers are in a promising spot and a lot of people deserve credit. It's no longer just about the future.

With that being said, my concerns about their Cup chances arise because of a possible second-round matchup against either the Lightning or Bruins, and then maybe having to beat one of those clubs in the East Final. It's not an easy road.

A big step forward and productive Flyers season ends in a long second-round series after a first-round victory.

For the Stanley Cup Final, I'm going to stick with what I had at the beginning of the season: Lightning over the Blues.

As for a bold prediction, how about Travis Sanheim leading Flyers defensemen in scoring for the tournament? That's bold enough, right?

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2019-20 Flyers season grades: Matt Niskanen

2019-20 Flyers season grades: Matt Niskanen

The 2019-20 NHL regular season has concluded and the next time the puck drops will officially kick off the race to the Stanley Cup. The Flyers are hungry and ready to battle it out, but that is thanks to the hard work from back in October. 

In an End to End series, NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Brooke Destra, Katie Emmer, Joe Fordyce and Jordan Hall will be grading players based on individual performances. 

Today we will be looking at Matt Niskanen.

Destra

I’m not going to lie — I fell under the category of not fully understanding the trade for Niskanen during the offseason in a one-for-one deal, sending former Flyer Radko Gudas to the Capitals. At the time, the most appealing aspects about the deal were recognizing the level of veteran experience Niskanen was going to bring to the blue line and his extensive résumé when it came to the playoffs. 

Now, with his first regular season as a Flyer officially at an end, it’s safe to say he was an absolute steal. Way to win a trade, Chuck Fletcher. 

Not only did he post 33 points (eight goals, 25 assists), making him the second-best defenseman in points on the team, but he elevated his partner Ivan Provorov to new heights in his career as well. The duo built such powerful chemistry on the ice and Niskanen provided the skill set needed to help Provorov hone in on his talent.  

There couldn’t have been a better fit for the Flyers and Provorov. Whatever Niskanen’s next steps are in the NHL, let’s hope he wants to stay in Philadelphia for a little while longer. 

A+ for Niskanen — not bad for his 13th season in the league. 

Emmer

The Flyers went from averaging the third-most goals against per game (3.41) and a minus-37 goal differential in 2018-19 to then tying for the seventh-fewest goals against in the league and drawing a plus-36 goal differential this season. A major key for that success was Niskanen.

Niskanen had a lasting impact throughout the regular season on special teams. Most notably, the penalty kill, which he helped improve from 78.5 percent in 2018-19 (26th in NHL) to 81.8 percent (11th in NHL). His power play minutes were also impressive as the four goals scored on the man advantage were the highest in his career.

He brought leadership to the blue line and the dressing room and was a steady presence the Flyers and his defensive partner Provorov depended on throughout the regular season.

I give Niskanen an A.

Fordyce 

Niskanen, an experienced Stanley Cup-winning defenseman, came to the Flyers via trade for Gudas from the Capitals last offseason. His addition to the team added a veteran leader to the roster as well as a possible mentor for some of the Flyers' young defensemen. In his first season with the Flyers, he did both admirably.

Niskanen’s presence on that top defense pair with Provorov allowed Provorov to open up his game more and become a better overall player. Niskanen is a smart defenseman who is rarely out of position, and this allows Provorov as his defensive partner to freelance a bit more, which is one of the strengths of his game. Niskanen also has great puck skills from the point, getting pucks toward the net by pass or shot and creating opportunities. 

No-brainer, Niskanen gets an A.

Hall

What an acquisition by Fletcher. In the Gudas-Niskanen swap, the only other hit for the Flyers was salary related — obviously taking on Niskanen's $5.75 million cap hit as well as retaining 30 percent of Gudas' $3.35 million cap hit.

Niskanen made the trade unquestionably worth it for his new club.

Not only did the 33-year-old Stanley Cup champion significantly improve the Flyers at 5-on-5, on the power play and the penalty kill, but he also did wonders for the rebound of Provorov, a 23-year-old who had far too much on his shoulders last season.

Niskanen's winning pedigree has rubbed off on everyone. With eight goals and 25 assists, he also had a chance to crack 40 points for the second time in his well-established career before the regular season was cut short because of the coronavirus outbreak.

A well-deserved A for Niskanen.

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More Flyers grades

2019-20 Flyers season grades: Scott Laughton

2019-20 Flyers season grades: Scott Laughton

The 2019-20 NHL regular season has concluded and the next time the puck drops will officially kick off the race to the Stanley Cup. The Flyers are hungry and ready to battle it out, but that is thanks to the hard work from back in October. 

In an End to End series, NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Brooke Destra, Katie Emmer, Joe Fordyce and Jordan Hall will be grading players based on individual performances.

Today we will be looking at Scott Laughton.

Destra

Laughton is an under-the-radar player that the Flyers are lucky to have. While he did miss a handful of games in the early weeks of the 2019-20 season because of a broken finger, he remained a vital asset upon returning. 

Through 49 games, Laughton tallied 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists). The 13 goals were a career best and considering he missed 20 games and there were still 13 left to play, chances are, he would’ve continued adding on to that. 

There has been continuous growth in Laughton’s play over the past three seasons, with his puck handling, work in the neutral zone and work on the penalty kill — his speciality. The Flyers have truly struck gold in the amount of depth they have on the roster and if Laughton continues to progress in the coming years, he’ll be the core of it all. 

I’ll give Laughton an A — overall, a great season. 

Emmer

Laughton had one of his best seasons in a Flyers uniform.

A guy that can play center and wing, he was a major key to the improved depth. In 49 games, he set personal milestones, scoring a career-high 13 goals and recording a career-high plus-13.

What needs to be recognized is the way he bounced back from adversity this season. Despite suffering two separate injuries, the 26-year-old continued to remain a solid role player for the Flyers, moving up and down the lineup when needed and stepping up in a major way on the Flyers' improved penalty kill, where he recorded over 83 minutes of ice time. Some more point production could have been expected out of the Flyers' 2012 first-round pick, but he certainly improved in his role this season.

Laughton gets a B+.

Fordyce 

There are a number of reasons why Laughton deserves this grade, but I’ll start with the most obvious. Despite multiple injuries this season, Laughton was still able to post a career-high 13 goals in 49 games. Even more impressive is that Laughton did this all while playing different places up and down the Flyers' lineup.

Laughton has become a Swiss army knife for the Flyers, playing wherever he is needed and doing so admirably. On any given night, Laughton can be a top-six forward but doesn’t get down on nights when he plays lower in the lineup. Not only that but Laughton has an uncanny ability to elevate the play of others when playing alongside them. Laughton has been one of the most consistent players in the Flyers' lineup and has proven that again this season, posting a plus-13 rating. When No. 21 is in the lineup, you always know what you’re going to get. 

Laughton gets an A.

Hall

Laughton has been one of the Flyers' most consistent forwards over the past two seasons.

He's always skating hard, always forechecking, always killing penalties and he's got some offensive strengths, to boot.

After putting up career highs in goals (12), assists (20), games (82) and ice time per game (14:51) during 2018-19, Laughton topped his personal best in markers by scoring 13 despite playing 33 fewer games this season. The 26-year-old, who has played center and winger for the Flyers, was also a career-best plus-13.

Laughton dealt with two unfortunate injuries (broken right index finger, groin), missing 20 of the Flyers' 69 games, so let's go with a real solid B+ for the underrated forward who made up for lost time.

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More Flyers grades