Veterans in any sport are there to lead, through the best of times as well as the toughest. When the NHL returns from hiatus due to Covid-19, it will present a situation that there is no veteran handbook. Nobody has ever seen the situation that awaits the players when they report to their bubble city in preparation for the resumption of the season, but it will certainly test the leadership of the Flyers veterans.
As a whole, the Flyers have a nice mixture of both youth and veteran leadership and I think it has shown in the way this season has played out. Before the pause, the Flyers had a disastrous road trip around the holidays but this served as the turning point for the team, as opposed to their downfall. That’s how you know they have solid pieces in place and it begins with the coach on down. Alain Vigneault is a coach who has been through it all (aside from a pandemic). Vigneault took both the Canucks and Rangers to Stanley Cup Final appearances, but eventually fell out of favor with both of those franchises. He’s been around and that will help.
Take Carter Hart. This is a player who was labeled the future of the franchise before even stepping on the ice. In his first season, he came up to the Flyers but then missed games due to injury. Now in his second season, a pandemic, the likes of which nobody could have ever expected, has made what will be his first playoffs as a starting goaltender a sort of survival of the fittest (or healthiest). Enter Brian Elliott, a player who has been on multiple teams, has been a starter, a backup, a playoff starter, and has dealt with multiple injuries. He has also never dealt with a pandemic, but Elliott is no stranger to adversity and it’s one of the main reasons you sign players like him.
This is the time for the leaders to step up. Claude Giroux, one of the best captains statistically in team history, must be the leader his team needs. Defenseman Matt Niskanen was brought in for his veteran leadership, and that will surely be tested. Sean Couturier, while still a young guy, has experience way beyond his years. These are the players that need to take the team on their back, pave the way for the immediate future and for years to come.
The other aspect of these unchartered waters is the future. Think about this, if the Flyers enter this restart, and do well, the experience gained by this situation could galvanize this group going forward. Next season, if normal Stanley Cup Playoffs were to take place, it would seem like a breeze compared to what is awaiting NHL teams this summer. While everyone focuses on the now, and rightfully so, as teams embark on this unprecedented journey, the groups of players who experience this restart will deal with adversity that has never been experienced in sports. It will be exciting to watch and will be a challenge for even the most seasoned captains, but I, for one, am confident that the Flyers leadership will be there to meet the challenge.
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