2020 NHL playoffs: 5 questions on Flyers' chances in 24-team tournament


When the 2019-20 NHL campaign was suspended March 12 because of the coronavirus outbreak, the Flyers were on pace to have their best regular season in nine years. Per Hockey-Reference.com, the Flyers, with 13 games remaining, were projected to finish with 104 to 105 points, which would have been their most since 2010-11, when they had 106.

As the Flyers went 19-6-1 since Jan. 8, a stretch in which they were tied with the Bruins for the NHL's most points at 39, excitement had started generating about the club's chances for a postseason run. The Flyers missed the playoffs during a tumultuous 2018-19 season for the organization and have not won a series since 2011-12, so the buzz was felt from fans about this team as it started gaining steam down the stretch.

If things continue to go as planned for the NHL, the Flyers will get a chance to finish what they started in this resurgent 2019-20 season. But the outlook will undeniably be different for the Flyers compared to if the season had finished normally and the playoffs were held in traditional fashion. The Flyers, along with everyone else, have gone 90-plus days without playing a game or having a competitive practice.

"I think the biggest challenge will be just getting everybody back in the mindset," Flyers head of strength and conditioning Chris Osmond said last week on NBC Sports Philadelphia's Flyers Talk podcast. "Because we were shut down so quick, we had two full months of basically just offseason. Now, there's kind of a lead-up, but it's going to happen quick if it happens.

"You get these small-group trainings in Phase 2, but it's all voluntary, so we may not get guys even here; they may skate elsewhere. Then you're going to go into that three-week or whatever it is training camp and then, bang, you're in the playoffs. It's not like you're going to play a lot of exhibition games and those types of things and kind of ease into the year; you're going straight into playoff hockey.

"And it's going to be weird without fans. This is new for everybody. I'm interested to see how that's going to look. It's going to be different, that's for sure."

Let's break down five big questions surrounding the Flyers' chances in the 24-team tournament:

1. What kind of production from Hayes, JVR?

The importance of Kevin Hayes goes far beyond offensive statistics. His disruptive size, puck-protection skills and penalty kill strengths have put the Flyers in the driver's seat much more this season instead of letting the opposition take it to them.

But when Hayes is scoring, the Flyers go to another level. They were 19-0-1 when the 6-foot-5 center scored a goal.

A similar theme rung true with James van Riemsdyk as the Flyers went 22-5-0 during games in which he recorded a point.

Both forwards were streaky scorers at times during the regular season. When the streaks were good ones and those two were providing another wave of offense, the Flyers were awfully tough to beat.

If Hayes is coupling playmaking with his 200-foot game and van Riemsdyk goes on one of his goal-scoring sprees, the Flyers will make a serious run.

2. How important is the Vigneault factor?

Extremely important. The aspect of coaching will be one of the biggest difference-makers in this 24-team tournament.

With no fans in attendance and the unusual conditions following a lengthy layoff, a head coach could sway a series.

Which coach can find the best ways to motivate his team? Which coach will get his team to simplify its approach, stay focused on playing a smart game and its preferred style when the circumstances may lend to players trying to do too much or make the home run play?

Alain Vigneault's track record is a plus for the Flyers. He has gone to the Stanley Cup Final twice and has taken his teams past the first round eight times.

More importantly, though, in Year 1 with the Flyers, he has shown he knows the intricacies of refocusing his club following a loss. During the 19-6-1 spurt from Jan. 8, the Flyers never lost consecutive games.

Vigneault is big on film and system detail. An example came in mid-January when the Flyers laid an egg with a 4-1 loss at home to the Canadiens a day after beating the defending champion Blues in St. Louis. Prior to the next morning skate, Vigneault had his team watch video from the victory over the Blues to remind it of the way in which it wants to play; the Flyers then beat the Kings that night, 4-1, and dominated the Penguins the next game, 3-0, before their bye week.

3. Will Hart make or break the Flyers' run?

Many feel Carter Hart will be the Flyers' X-factor. While the 21-year-old goalie can certainly carry the Flyers, he won't break their chances by not being lights out.

The Flyers can score some goals. They put up 3.29 per game, seventh most in the NHL, and scored a league-leading 3.59 since Jan. 1.

As long as Hart is solid and gives them a chance (which he did most starts), the Flyers should be fine. Hart had to make 30 or more saves only seven times this season and when he allowed three goals or fewer, the Flyers went 23-7-3.

4. Who will be the Flyers' sixth defenseman?

What became a good problem for Vigneault was deciding who would be the odd man out on defense.

Depth on the back end at the NHL level is a luxury and the Flyers started to enjoy that down the stretch. The Flyers' sixth and final spot on the blue line will come down to Robert Hagg, Philippe Myers and Shayne Gostisbehere.

After suffering a fractured patella in his right knee before the stoppage, Myers is healthy and will be a guy to watch. The 23-year-old will be playing in his first Stanley Cup Playoffs. When Myers is confident and clicking, he stands out. At times, though, the rookie can press and be hard on himself.

It will be interesting to see how Myers and the Flyers fare in the round robin. It could dictate how Vigneault shapes his defensive pairs in the first round.

Regardless, Myers and Gostisbehere aren't your typical sixth blueliners; they have a chance to make a noticeable impact.

5. Could the Flyers see the return of Patrick?

Everyone wants to see Nolan Patrick (migraine disorder) feeling back to himself and playing the game he loves.

While this hiatus has allowed him more time in his recovery, he would still need to be cleared for contact practices when the Flyers open their training camp July 10. The 21-year-old center was trending in a positive direction but had not gotten to that point before the suspension.

Say the 24-team tournament begins Aug. 1, it will be over 480 days since Patrick played an NHL game. It's hard to foresee the Flyers wanting to throw Patrick in there after that much time.

The best-case scenario feels like Patrick would be cleared to play and gets a round-robin game for a trial run of sorts. We'll have to wait and see what his status is come training camp.

But the Flyers might go with what they had working before the pause and focus on next season with Patrick, which is not a bad course of action at all for both sides.

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