As Flyers fans know well, their team was on a nice roll before the NHL had to suspend the 2019-20 season because of the coronavirus outbreak.
The unprecedented stoppage brought a halt to the Flyers' 2019-20 resurgence, a regular season that had the makings to be the organization's best in nine years.
Well, in a different way, it turns out the Flyers might get a shot to finish what they started. On Tuesday, the NHL and NHLPA announced the process to its 24-team return-to-play model.
If the league is able to reach its goal of resuming the season in hopes to award the Stanley Cup, the Flyers are in solid position for a run. Their work prior to the hiatus — winners in nine of their final 10 games and going 19-6-1 since Jan. 8 — guarantees them a bye and top-four seed.
To boot, the Flyers are much healthier now (as are most teams) compared to when the NHL suspended the season March 12. At that time, the Flyers were pushing forward without James van Riemsdyk (broken right index finger), Philippe Myers (fractured patella in right knee) and Nate Thompson (left knee sprain). All three are ready to play if/when the season picks back up.
With that noted, let's break down the Flyers' best lineup for a Game 1 scenario.
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Hard to argue with this group.
Couturier brings out the best in Giroux and Voracek, while the club's mainstay wingers know exactly how to feed off their do-it-all pivot.
This season, Voracek really started cooking when he jumped onto Couturier's wing. Since Nov. 23, just after the two were put together, Couturier put up 44 points (16 goals, 28 assists) and a plus-23 rating in 47 games, while Voracek recorded 43 points (eight goals, 35 assists) and a plus-17 mark during the stretch.
“Coots is one of the best defensive forwards putting up huge offensive numbers," Voracek said in November. “He knows what to do to make the other top lines miserable.”
Joel Farabee-Kevin Hayes-Travis Konecny
Head coach Alain Vigneault likes to accentuate the strengths of his younger players by placing them in spots where they can best show those strengths.
Down the stretch, the Flyers started putting more and more on Farabee's plate and the 20-year-old rookie proved he could handle it.
Playing with Hayes and Konecny gives Farabee a greater chance to produce offensively and build confidence. If he's not scoring, his overall game doesn't tend to slip, which makes this line such a good spot for the 2018 first-round pick.
“The thing with Joel is his game is so much more advanced than the other kids away from the puck and defensively," general manager Chuck Fletcher said in January. "He's one of our best forwards in terms of puck management and game management.”
James van Riemsdyk-Scott Laughton-Tyler Pitlick
A healthy van Riemsdyk changes the whole dynamic for the Flyers, who are 22-5-0 when he records a point.
The goal-scoring winger gives the Flyers bottom-six offensive punch, a guy who is always a threat to swing the complexion of a game with a two-goal, three-point kind of effort. Featuring that on a third line is a big-time luxury.
With more responsibility and talent around him, Laughton has had a terrific season (career-high 13 goals and plus-13 rating in only 49 games). Pitlick staying with the third unit permits him to play his natural right winger position, while Grant can play fourth-line center to keep Raffl on the wing, as well.
This third line also presents a tough-to-play-against look, a group that can win shifts and free up opportunities for the top six.
Michael Raffl-Derek Grant-Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Grant provides the Flyers a ton of flexibility. He can play third-line center or right winger if needed. After being acquired at the Feb. 24 trade deadline, Grant registered five points (one goal, four assists) in seven games with the Flyers.
With the 30-year-old Grant at center, Raffl, a reliable fourth-liner, isn't forced to play down the middle and Aube-Kubel, a 24-year-old rookie, can play in his regular right winger spot.
This makes Thompson the odd man out but good insurance for the Flyers as he has played 62 playoff games in his career.
First defensive pair
Ivan Provorov-Matt Niskanen
A no-brainer here as Provorov and Niskanen have been terrific as the Flyers' top pair.
The 23-year-old Provorov and 33-year-old Niskanen do everything for the Flyers, from even strength to the power play and penalty kill.
They'll play big minutes, per usual, in the playoffs. Niskanen's experience of 125 career postseason games and a Stanley Cup title should be a benefit to the younger blueliners.
Second defensive pair
Travis Sanheim-Philippe Myers
A healthy Myers is tough to sit, at least at the start of the playoffs. The 23-year-old had shown promise and poise alongside Sanheim as the Flyers turned it on in January. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound Myers had 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) and a plus-17 rating in 50 games this season, while he was also helping kill penalties.
It won't be surprising, though, if Vigneault gives Myers a relatively short leash in a best-of-seven series. At times, the rookie has tried to do too much and can be hard on himself.
Shayne Gostisbehere, a pretty good option to have on deck, will be ready to play. Vigneault has always liked Gostisbehere's potential in his system.
"The best and the toughest offense to defend is when you have that second wave, when you have your Ds being a part of the attack," Vigneault said in November. "He’s a smart player, he knows when it’s time for him to jump up.
"His defensive play has been fine, he’s battled, he’s competed, I like his 1-on-1s. He’s got to play to his strengths, he’s aware of that."
Third defensive pair
Robert Hagg-Justin Braun
Hagg has earned his spot in the lineup to open the playoffs. He plays a simple third-pair style, blocks shots and made the Flyers better as they climbed the standings. Post-Christmas, the 25-year-old notched 10 points (three goals, seven assists) and a plus-17 rating in 28 games.
Over a similar span, Braun was one of the team's best defensemen. Since Dec. 23, the 33-year-old veteran of 84 postseason appearances had 14 points and a plus-11 rating in 26 games.
There's no real reason why this shouldn't be the club's third pairing to begin a series.
The clear No. 1 and No. 2 for the Flyers, a tandem that worked very well during the regular season.
The Flyers will be ready to ride the 21-year-old Hart, while the 35-year-old Elliott (45 career postseason games on his résumé) is a more than dependable backup to spell the youngster when needed.
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