Flyers

Picking the best hub city for Flyers in NHL's 24-team Stanley Cup Playoffs plan

Picking the best hub city for Flyers in NHL's 24-team Stanley Cup Playoffs plan

Going End to End today are NBC Sports Philadelphia's Brooke Destra, Katie Emmer, Taryn Hatcher, Joe Fordyce and Jordan Hall.

The topic: Picking the best hub city for the Flyers in the NHL's 24-team Stanley Cup Playoffs plan.

Destra

This is honestly quite an interesting debate because while fans won’t be in attendance, location will still greatly play a factor in how teams perform based on a number of reasons.

Right off the bat, while some of the West Coast locations could work on paper because of the amount of hotels and facilities close to the arenas that could host a conference during the playoffs, you have to consider the ice. Outdoor temperature always affects rinks, but imagine having playoff hockey in Las Vegas late July with 102-degree weather. 

With the amount of players constantly on the ice, more wear and tear bound to happen because of the high levels of games at a single hub location, in addition to the heat levels — it just seems like a bad recipe. 

Two viable options that make the most sense would be Toronto and Pittsburgh. Both locations would be much more manageable weather-wise, have ample number of local facilities for training and, since they are tourist spots, hotels would be able to put up players, staff and whoever else needed to pull this off successfully. 

The Flyers haven’t been in Toronto for the playoffs since 2004 for the Eastern Conference semifinals — a series that they won in six games, but struggled away from home ice. 

Pittsburgh is a spot the Flyers know well and can be used to their advantage. Their overall record on the road against the Penguins is 58-67-22 and while it’s not the best, the Flyers have had the edge in the playoffs, winning four of the seven matchups between the two teams.

Obviously individual records between the Leafs and Penguins aren’t a huge factor, considering there’s no guarantee the teams would even meet — but having that as a reference for the Flyers’ success at those arenas seemed important to note. 

Either way, playoff hockey — the best kind of hockey — is being discussed and I’m sure the league is going to pull through and make the best choices for their players and fans.

Emmer

I understand there won’t be much of a home-ice advantage without fans in attendance but please, anything but Pittsburgh. I could see how there could be an argument of how the Flyers could possibly be more comfortable in battling in playoff hockey in a setting such as PPG Paints Arena, but there’s just a sense of discomfort I have with the thought of the Flyers having to spend such a lengthy amount of time in the home city of their biggest rival.

With that, I’m going with Columbus, only if that cannon is buried in some storage closet underground far away somewhere. I think Nationwide Arena would be one of the best spots on this list for the Eastern Conference hub city. More specifically, it would be most ideal for the Flyers as it would be the closest option in the country to Philadelphia besides Pittsburgh.  

Hatcher

Before I go picking a city here, there’s a really important issue to address. Out of an abundance of concern for everyone’s health (and understandably so), the Canadian-U.S. border is still closed. Which means that if you’re a non-Canadian, you can enter Canada, but only if you’re healthy and have a work visa. That includes most NHL players and team personnel who are not from Canada but are employed by a Canadian hockey club. Even so, those people with visas must quarantine for 14 days, which makes me wonder how a Canadian hub city would work considering the current guidelines and the number of teams that would hold their camps in the United States. I may just be missing something here, but border barriers still seem to be an issue. 

Operating under the assumption that current guidelines continue, it seems the best way to go would be two cities in the United States (I guess?).

For the East, I’d like to see it in Columbus. That is, if and only if, there are not thousands and thousands of Ohio State students around. From some quick research it seems OSU is aiming to announce its plans in mid-June for the fall semester, which could, and probably would overlap with the NHL’s postseason. If it opts out of in-person classes, Columbus is an ideal location.

The city has two arenas capable of hosting NHL games, Nationwide Arena and Value City, where the Buckeyes play. Both are outfitted with the necessary broadcasting equipment to be able to bring the game to the fans at home. And, while I’ve heard that geography doesn’t actually concern the player that much, it is one of the few cities in the eastern half of the United States.

Fordyce

I’m going to choose a building the Flyers are very familiar with — Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. Familiarity isn’t a bad thing, and the Flyers know Toronto well, it’s a hockey hotbed, and I’m sure the buzz will be palpable. However, with the absence of fans, the Flyers would get to play in a great hockey atmosphere, minus the raucous hostile crowd that usually awaits the orange and black for a game in Maple Leaf country.  

While the idea of playing in a place like Pittsburgh and winning in enemy territory on the Penguins' ice sounds appealing, there are plenty of factors already at play here, namely getting back in game shape, trying to recapture the momentum the Flyers had before the NHL pause, as well as health concerns. The last thing Alain Vigneault and company need is for the arena they’re playing in to become another character in what is already the most complicated script the NHL has ever written.  

Hall

It's important to note that the Eastern Conference's tournament could be held in a Western Conference city, so the 10 cities under consideration — Chicago, Columbus, Ohio, Dallas, Edmonton, Alberta, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver, British Columbia — are all possibilities for the Flyers.

Picking the best city for the Flyers, let's go with Pittsburgh. There's a familiarity with the trip and PPG Paints Arena, where the Flyers are 14-4-4 in 22 regular-season games. With no fans, the idea of winning in Pittsburgh could be a fun source of motivation for the Flyers, even providing an underdog type of feel. The Flyers have always seemed to relish the opportunity of playing and winning in Pittsburgh.

"The ideal hub city is a place where there’s enough room for players to have a life, they’re not going to be sent back to their hotel rooms and stay there 24/7 when they’re not practicing and playing, but it’s going to be a contained environment and it’s going to be a secure environment," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said last Friday. "It’s going to give the players some opportunity for some entertainment and some freedom, but within a contained environment."

From that perspective, Pittsburgh might not be the most attractive city among the 10. But from a hockey standpoint, it feels like a good fit for the Flyers.

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2019-20 Flyers season grades: Kevin Hayes

2019-20 Flyers season grades: Kevin Hayes

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 Kevin Hayes. 

Destra

Man oh man am I thrilled to be giving Hayes the grade he’s getting today. This time last year, Flyers fans were beyond the point of disappointment at the signing of the center — it’s safe to say things have taken a turn for the best. The Hayes signing was instantly justified before the 2019-20 season was even in full swing because of the news about Nolan Patrick and his migraine disorder. Had he not been brought in, the lines down the middle would have been very weak. 

Hayes didn’t miss a single one of the 69 games the Flyers played this season. During that time, he racked up an impressive 41 points (23 goals, 18 assists). He also had a career best in shorthanded goals (four) and game-winning goals (five). 

On top of the player he has been on the ice, Hayes has also helped the Flyers in many other ways. He’s a big personality and jumped into a leadership role almost instantly. I’d say he exceeded expectations on the first year of his contract. 

A+ … not bad for a former ref

Emmer

Kevin “I used to ref” Hayes brought a lot of excitement in his first year with the orange and black.

Because of the shortened season, Hayes recorded 23 goals in under 70 games, just two markers short of his career high. His 200-foot style that was anticipated in the preseason thrived in many ways throughout the year, especially on the penalty kill.

Last season, the Flyers' PK ranked 26th in the league, operating at 78.5 percent. This season, the PK ranked 11th at 81.8 percent — Hayes had a lot to do with it. He also led the team with four shorthanded goals — the most in his career.

Offensively, you could argue his consistency could have been stronger. He had a stretch in early November during which he went 10 games without a point and another six-game drought in early February, but when he did end up making it on the score sheet, he was a game-changer. The Flyers were 19-0-1 when Hayes scored a goal during the regular season; he was a spark plug out there. He loved big-game situations, as well — five game-winning goals can attest to that.

Away from his skill, Hayes brought energy, fun off the ice and extremely creative nicknames (very important). 

A- for Hayes.

Fordyce 

Hayes began his Flyers tenure with a big contract and big expectations. Last offseason, Hayes signed a seven-year, $50 million deal, which raised some eyebrows. At that time, Hayes had eclipsed the 20-goal plateau only one time in his career. However, through 69 games this season he had 23 goals, just two short of his career high, and he almost certainly would have bested that if the Flyers had played a full 82 games. 

Hayes delivered the full package to a team that desperately needed that when it signed him after trading for his contractual rights ahead of free agency. His two-way game is his most valuable asset and this season we’ve seen Hayes single-handedly kill penalties by keeping possession of the puck. It’s one thing to sign a big-time deal, it’s another to deliver on the expectations set forth by said deal. Additionally, Hayes is an invaluable member of the team in terms of locker room chemistry.

Hayes gets an A.

Hall

During his first regular season with the Flyers, Hayes more than lived up to the hype and pressure of signing a seven-year, $50 million deal in this city.

While we tend to fixate on offensive production in this game, especially for higher-paid players, Hayes had an immeasurable impact on the Flyers in the locker room, which can be just as important as any statistic.

But statistically speaking, he also did plenty of good things. Not only did the 28-year-old center make the Flyers tougher to play against, but he was also on pace to break his career high of 25 goals (he finished with 23 in 69 games) and did wonders for the team's penalty kill. In fact, Hayes scored four shorthanded goals, the same number the Flyers put up as a team in 2018-19 over a full 82-game season.

An A- for Hayes because his impact has already been felt in a multitude of ways.

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Will Flyers re-sign Justin Braun, Derek Grant when NHL free agency rolls around?

Will Flyers re-sign Justin Braun, Derek Grant when NHL free agency rolls around?

July 1 came and went rather quietly in the hockey world. Annually, the day is filled with players signing new contracts and joining new teams as the free agency period officially opens.

This year, that was obviously not the case. As the NHL and NHLPA continue to work toward a resumption and eventual conclusion of the 2019-20 season, the entry draft and free agency must wait.

According to a report by TSN's Bob McKenzie, both sides are looking at Nov. 1 being the new July 1.

The offseason will be different and challenging considering the times. The salary cap floor, which typically climbs each year, is expected to remain flat at $81.5 million. In an excellent article published Wednesday, TSN's Frank Seravalli highlighted the key questions and challenges facing free agency, while outlining his top 50 pending unrestricted free agents.

On Seravalli's list were two current Flyers: Justin Braun at No. 19 and Derek Grant at No. 41. Will the Flyers re-sign them? With the league's return-to-play 24-team tournament still to be held, a lot can change from now until Nov. 1, but let's break down the Flyers' outlook for both of these players.

Braun

The case for Braun is interesting and the chances of the Flyers re-signing the experienced defenseman feel like 50-50. Braun, a stay-at-home blueliner who specializes in killing plays, helped stabilize the Flyers on the back end and improved their goal-prevention efforts (which were a major problem last season).

However, the Flyers will be cognizant of his age. Braun is 33 years old and made $3.8 million this season. At the current stage of his career, what will Braun be eyeing for his next deal? One would think he'd have to look for a cheaper price if he wants more years on his new contract, something that can be attractive to a veteran player eyeing job security.

The Flyers, though, have solid youth and depth at his position, along with a nice stable of blue-line prospects in the system. Understandably, for those reasons the Flyers might be wary of dedicating years to an older defenseman.

If Braun is willing to be pretty flexible in his terms, the Flyers shouldn't be opposed to bringing him back. He has made them better in 2019-20. But if push comes to shove a bit, especially in a tighter offseason, the Flyers may have to say thank you and move forward with their youngsters or another option.

Grant

The initial impression of the Grant trade deadline acquisition was good rental for cheap.

What made Grant such a cost-effective move by general manager Chuck Fletcher? Grant, 29 years old at the time, could help the playoff-hungry Flyers down the stretch with only a $700,000 cap hit and no years left on his contract.

Grant made such a positive impact in his seven-game regular-season audition with the Flyers that they'll absolutely consider re-signing him. The 6-foot-3, 206-pound center also delivered a timely career year of 15 goals and 25 points between his time with the Ducks and Flyers, setting himself up for a nice pay increase.

Grant should be appealing to bring back for the Flyers because he can play down the middle and on the wing; his ability to move around makes him less likely to block a Flyers prospect at a specific position. If Nolan Patrick (migraine disorder) is healthy in 2020-21 and the Flyers are deeper at center, Grant can help on the wing. If Patrick's situation remains uncertain and the Flyers lack depth, Grant can bolster things by playing his natural position.

The 24-team tournament could really factor into the Grant equation. If the 30-year-old has an influential tourney and the Flyers go on a run, he could win over the club. He's a quality bottom-six guy who won't require a hefty contract that severely handcuffs the Flyers next season or down the line.

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