Flyers hockey is back in South Philly.
Every season provides surprises, both good and bad. What could be in store for this unprecedented 2020-21 campaign?
Let’s get you ready with our Flyers Fearless Forecast, featuring projections for how the team will finish and a random assortment of bold predictions from NBC Sports Philadelphia's Brooke Destra and Jordan Hall.
Flyers prediction/Cup prediction
This is a big season for the Flyers, folks. You can feel it in the air.
The Flyers left the 2019-20 season with unfinished business and look ready now more than ever to take the NHL by the horns. (Considering they're playing in what's easily the most talented division, that says a great deal about this team.)
A team that was close to silent in free agency still found a way to have the loudest offseason — and that's all thanks to the returns of Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom. The additions of them on the roster once more elevates the Flyers' depth from good to scary. Not to mention, they have the potential to have two first lines. They're that loaded with talent this year. The Flyers finally have the perfect mix of strong veterans and a young core.
There's no more talk about "two to three years away from being a contender." The time to win is now.
I see the Flyers finishing the season second in the East and making it to the Stanley Cup Final, where they'll face the Golden Knights. Now, I'm as superstitious as it gets, so I can't really say what I think the outcome will be — but let's hope we can have large gatherings in the summer in Philadelphia because there's a very good chance there will be a party on Broad.
Mr. back-to-back Selke
Now, this probably isn't the boldest prediction that's out there, but I'm still going to say it. National media is already buzzing positively about the Flyers — something that hasn't happened in a while — and that's only going to amplify the importance of Sean Couturier for many who don't watch this team on a daily basis.
We in Philadelphia know that Couturier is the best player when the Flyers hit the ice, but for some reason, he doesn't get the respect he deserves league-wide. While I know it's not the trophy these guys go out and play for, having a two-time Selke award winner in Philadelphia doesn't sound too bad, right?
Calling it — three shutouts
Carter Hart is about to become the goaltender that no team wants to play against. Entering his third NHL season, the 22-year-old is going to be one of the most important elements to the Flyers' success.
Through 74 regular-season games, Hart has managed only one shutout, which came in the Flyers' home opener in 2019-20 against the Devils. (Yes, technically the Global Series against the Blackhawks counted as a home game also, but you know what I mean.)
He's going to triple his career best, while doing it in a shortened season.
Hart is also going to raise hell and be a Vezina finalist. Listen, it's all about putting things out into the universe, so someone had to say it.
Bonus: I think the Flyers will have six players to score at least 15 goals. Hey, they have to be bold, right?
Flyers prediction/Cup prediction
There was a certain feel to the Flyers last season, a feeling that they had something brewing. A new coaching staff and key offseason acquisitions joined a blend of core pieces and young prospects.
It all started humming down the regular-season stretch and then the stoppage hit in March.
When the season restarted, the Flyers were not very good in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The circumstances were different (and for everybody). The Flyers scored 2.08 goals per game in 13 contests over the first and second rounds. Their All-Star winger and leading scorer did not record a goal in 16 games of the return-to-play tournament. Their defensemen were OK. A team with a system predicated on taking it to the opposition had real difficulty playing on its terms.
And the Flyers still came within one game of the Eastern Conference Final.
Couturier astutely pointed that out Tuesday.
"I think we can play with anyone," he said. "We have pretty much the same group as last year, but it's a new year, we've got to prove ourselves again. We feel we can match up against pretty much anyone. We lost in the second round, Game 7, to a pretty good Islanders team. And we don’t feel we played some good playoff hockey throughout that series and throughout the whole playoffs pretty much. We were OK and we still managed to go to Game 7 in the second round."
So the Flyers should like their chances in 2020-21. The loss of Matt Niskanen shouldn't be underestimated, but a similar group from last season is going to be supplemented by the returns of two impactful young forwards in Patrick and Lindblom.
Alain Vigneault's club matching up with the Islanders could still be worrisome. However, the Flyers will take another step this season, reaching their first Eastern Conference Final since 2010. Falling just short in that series will set up a huge 2021-22 campaign, maybe one of the club's most anticipated seasons in 20 years. Claude Giroux and Couturier will be in the final year of their respective contracts in 2021-22.
Joel Farabee is a player. He looks more confident and is primed for greater production after his rookie season. The 20-year-old winger is a quick learner, a smart player and has a scoring pedigree.
How about 15 or so goals and a top-seven scorer on the Flyers?
Breakout on the back end?
Many are bullish on Philippe Myers' upside and justifiably so. Some believe (including this reporter) that he has what it takes to play alongside Ivan Provorov on the Flyers' top pair at some point.
Is a breakout season coming?
Not just yet. Erik Gustafsson is here on a one-year deal and will handle a lot of offensive responsibilities, while Justin Braun should play greater minutes this season. The Flyers are going to ask Myers to take strides on the penalty kill and be solid at 5-on-5. Don't get me wrong, he can and will do more in 2020-21.
But in a year or so, when opportunity truly opens up, Myers could have a lot more on his plate and blossom offensively.
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