At the beginning of last season, the Flyers played in four different countries over the span of 13 days, a stretch that started with an exhibition game in Lausanne, Switzerland.
For the entirety of the 2020-21 regular season, the Flyers won't leave the Northeast.
The Flyers are getting closer to the start of an unprecedented season with significant adjustments required because of the coronavirus outbreak. The Flyers will be one of eight teams in a realigned East Division. The club's shortened schedule was released Wednesday, a 56-game slate covering 116 days and featuring seven teams.
"I’m really pleased with our schedule," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said Wednesday in a video interview. "Obviously, we’re in an incredibly difficult division. It was very difficult last season and certainly isn’t any easier this season. The quality of the competition will be high, that’s exciting. Every game will be difficult.
"In terms of schedule construction, it’s better than I anticipated. We only have eight back-to-backs, we obviously don’t change time zones. In terms of our division, I don’t think any of us can have any complaints. I’m sure we’ll have the fewest air miles flown. There’s going to be more recovery time than I think I anticipated."
Let's get into five takeaways after Fletcher's media availability ahead of the Jan. 3 start to training camp.
1. Perspective on Patrick
It has not been an easy road for Nolan Patrick, who is aiming to participate in his first Flyers training camp practice since September 2018. After missing all of last training camp and the 2019-20 season with a migraine disorder, Patrick has made progress. There's optimism for the 22-year-old center's status as Flyers players undergo their pre-camp physical examinations on Jan. 3, which is around when the team will learn if Patrick is cleared for contact.
The Flyers did not add a forward during the flat-cap offseason. There's a good chance nobody will remember that if the Flyers get Patrick and Oskar Lindblom back in the fold and they're making an impact the way the club believes those two can when they're healthy.
"Nolan, I watched him skate today; he’s an amazingly talented young man," Fletcher said. "He looked great, feels good. We’ll wait for the doctors to meet with him for the preseason physical. Life is unpredictable, we saw that last year. I certainly can’t make predictions on anybody, but I think we’re in a good shape going into camp and we’re excited to get these two players back."
There's no denying Patrick's talent when watching him skate. We saw it last training camp when he would do solo work with skills coach Angelo Ricci. You leave impressed and envisioning him back in the Flyers' lineup.
But as great as it is for the club and its fans to see his talent, that obviously is not the doubt regarding his ability to help the Flyers. We'll have to see what's next for Patrick come January, when important next steps to his return could be made. Once Patrick was diagnosed with the migraine disorder back in September 2019, there was going to be a multistep process to his return and he has made positive steps, which should rightfully yield optimism.
When Patrick may be cleared, could the Flyers be conservative with bringing him back into games?
"I guess we’ll have to wait and see how things are going with Patty and how he feels," Fletcher said. "I don’t know that you take it slowly. I mean, if anything, everybody’s basically on the same page right now. Nobody’s in midseason shape. In some ways, this might be the best time to reintroduce players back in. I know he hasn’t played in a while, but there are seven teams that haven’t had games since last March. It’s going to be a different start for a lot of players and a lot of teams."
2. Lindblom's rebuild
Speaking of a talented young forward vying to be a regular contributor again, the 24-year-old Lindblom is doing well, Fletcher and head coach Alain Vigneault said.
Lindblom was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma last December. In July, he completed his radiation treatments at Pennsylvania Hospital and was deemed without evidence of cancer. In September, he inspirationally returned to the Flyers' lineup in the second round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Prior to his diagnosis, Lindblom was tied for the 2019-20 team lead in goals with 11 and was projected to finish with 30.
"He’s doing really well," Fletcher said. "Obviously, he was cleared to return to play in the bubble and he played two games in there. Since that time, he’s had a tremendous offseason. He’s been able to rebuild his body, if you will, and regain some of the muscle mass he lost during his treatments last spring and summer. He’s in a really good shape physically."
Lindblom recently received news that he has remained cancer-free.
"All of our players will get their preseason physicals in early January and at that point, we’ll find out if there are any issues," Fletcher said. "We’re anticipating no problems at this point. Oskar looks good."
3. Provorov's new sidekick
A big storyline entering training camp is the competition for who will take Matt Niskanen's top-pair spot alongside Ivan Provorov.
Philippe Myers and Travis Sanheim are clear-cut candidates. Myers, who turns 24 years old in January and has bubbling upside, will be asked to play a much larger role. The 24-year-old Sanheim is only getting better. Both played together down the stretch and showed plenty of promise.
"I really like Sanheim and Myers together," Fletcher said. "I think they have great chemistry, I like the way they complement each other, I like the way they play the game and I like that they're both continuing to evolve and develop into really good National Hockey League defensemen. But ultimately that will be up to A.V. and his coaching staff to decide. My conversations with A.V., I think we’re open-minded to anything. We could have different pairings depending on the time of the game, the score of the game, a lot of it's going to depend on health and how players are performing."
Fletcher said he believes Myers has the ability to eat up some of Niskanen's penalty-kill duties.
"Phil did not kill a lot last year for us," Fletcher said. "That’s a role I think he can excel at as he gains experience in the league. We’re excited about Phil’s future and I think there’s opportunity for Phil to take on a bigger role, regardless of the pair that he’s in."
4. Any moves on the horizon?
Fletcher said he anticipates the club's current group making up the roster heading into the season.
"We’re not entertaining any free-agent signings at this point in time," Fletcher said. "You never know on trades. It’s been relatively quiet, at least on our front. I think October was a pretty busy month, a lot of communication; things have seemed to quiet down since then. We like our team, we like our group and I like the fact that we have a little bit of cap space to make adjustments as we may need to in-season."
The Flyers signed defenseman Erik Gustafsson to a one-year deal and like their in-house prospects providing depth at forward.
"Let’s see what we have in camp," Fletcher said. "Let’s see how some of these players perform and get into the season. I’m sure there will be surprises, both positive and negative that we have to deal with. We should have the ability to do those things in a proactive manner if need be once the season starts."
5. The taxi squad
In the 2020-21 season, teams will be allowed to loan a minimum of four and a maximum of six players to their "taxi squad," as the league is calling it, a group that will be permitted to travel and practice with the team.
Such players will be available to play but must be recalled and placed on the roster before the game, and no later than 5 p.m. ET the day of the game.
"The taxi squad’s basically going to be our top recalled players that will physically be in our own little bubble here in Voorhees with us," Fletcher said. "It will depend on performance in training camp, obviously the health of our roster and where we may need to fill. I think we anticipate having a 23-player roster this year; we have enough cap flexibility to easily carry 23, so we’ll build the taxi squad around those 23, in terms of performance in camp and health of our club. Obviously we’ll carry a third goalie (on the roster or taxi squad) and we’ll have to make other decisions as we see fit."
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