Back on May 26, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made a formal announcement of the NHL’s return to play protocol. His plan highlighted three phases to get players back on the ice for the playoffs. As there may not be any formal day in place yet, pieces of information are beginning to get leaked as time goes on, such as how the teams will be reseeded following each round.
The Flyers’ Skate Zone in Voorhees, NJ has officially opened as well on Monday. Under the NHL’s plan, a limited number of players are allowed on the ice at once. The players are only allowed to practice at their own desire, and teams cannot hold ‘formal’ practices. As players begin to get back on the ice, and which players should fans be relying on to bring home a Stanley Cup?
#5- Ivan Provorov
There are two players on this list that do not come as a surprise, and Ivan Provorov is one of them. Easily being the Flyers’ most reliable defenseman, Provorov leaves an impact each time he touches the ice. The Russian Machine has been staying with his billet family in Wilkes-Barre, who live next to a private rink. His stamina should be up to speed when regular game action returns, and Provy will be much needed for that Flyers’ blue line.
Provy has played in 315 straight games, never missing the roster sheet since debuting in the NHL. This season, he has accumulated 36 points in 69 games, which was on pace to blow his career-high out of the water. He’s scored 7 times on the power play this season, five more than his career-high, and is tied with Claude Giroux for most on the team. On the flip side, the 23-year-old is a crucial penalty killer. His contribution in all three aspects of the game and all three zones will serve as one of the most important factors for Philadelphia.
#4- Kevin Hayes
Hooolllllyyywooodd! He used to ref, ya know!
Kevin Hayes has been one special addition to the team. His 23 goals and 18 assists don’t properly represent his value to the orange and black. On the penalty kill, his goal-scoring ability kicks in, with his NHL-leading four short-handed goals this season. Along with this, Hayes’ physical presence suits his 6’5, 216-pound frame, as he plays with an edge each time he touches the ice.
Off the ice, however, Hayes is a leader. He may not be the most conventional leader in terms of seriousness, but he leads by example. His goofball persona helps to bring a relaxed vibe that the Flyers’ locker room was in dire need for. Along with this, Hayes has been one of the biggest helps to the community since the break. He has teamed up with numerous businesses to help feed the needy, as well as, many essential healthcare workers in the Philadelphia area. This may not have much to do with his value on the ice, but it symbolizes the need for a leader that the Flyers needed. This is not a knock on Claude Giroux, rather how Giroux now has help in the locker room.
Hayes will be a very valuable piece heading into the restart. He will need to continue his leadership, however, he will also need to revamp his on-ice production. His 23 goals were second on the team. Playing on a team that seems to have lacked a goal scorer for years, Hayes is one of the few key contributors on the team that puts goals ahead of assists on his stat sheet. Whether he likes that or not, he’s the type of player the Flyers need: someone who is not afraid to shoot the puck and work hard around the crease.
#3- James van Riemsdyk
JVR catches a lot of slack from fans. In all honesty, he probably doesn’t live up to his 5 year, $35 million contract since he was brought back in to be a “natural goal scorer.”
Van Riemsdyk, however, sits in the top five for points for the Flyers. That may only be 40 points (19g, 21 assists), but he’s contributed for the team nonetheless. Many people are quaking to have him put up for grabs in next year’s expansion draft, but this could be the time for JVR to prove his worth. With both the Flyers and Maple Leafs, he didn’t get much of a chance to truly contribute. His early years he was a depth guy for the Flyers, and Toronto never made it out of the first round with him.
Whether Flyers’ fans agree or not, JVR is the type of guy who needs to show up for the playoffs. The teams who win Stanley Cups are teams who carry scoring depth, which JVR can provide to this team. For much of the season, he has sat on the lower lines, pairing with many middle liners. In his limited time on the ice (less than 15 minutes per game), JVR scored 19 goals- 5th among players who average under the same amount of ice time. something unique as well is JVR was +5 on the season, vaguely showing that he has improved his defensive game as well this season.
JVR suffered a broken finger on March 5th, sidelining him before the break. This will be a good time for him to regroup, and get back to contributing for the team.
#2- Claude Giroux
Here’s the other obvious on this list that was referred to earlier. The captain has had a bit of a down year in points, for his standards. This is likely because he actually has scoring help now, allowing him to take more of a well-rounded role.
Giroux broke the 20 goal mark for the eighth time in his career, finishing the season with 21 goals. Average that out to an 82 game season, and Giroux was on pace to finish with about 25 goals, and 63 total points. However, Giroux will need to switch back to his prolific playmaker role once the playoffs hit.
According to Bill Meltzer, Giroux is a playoff machine. Contrary to what some of his critics claim, Giroux has also had his share of playoff success. He has posted 65 points (24g, 41a) in 69 career playoff games to rank ninth in franchise in points and seventh in points-per-game (0.94). In the latter category, he actually ranks ahead of Clarke (0.88, 9th), Barber (0.84, 12th), Mike Richards (0.79, 13th), and Reggie Leach (0.76, 17th).
Giroux was on an offensive tear at the time of the NHL season stoppage due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the Flyers final 15 games before the pause, the team captain racked up 18 points (8g, 10a). If the Flyers want any chance at making a deep playoff run, Giroux will be the key guy to watch on both ends of the ice.
This category was too difficult to choose just Carter Hart. Brian Elliot has done his fair share this season and deserves both recognition and the chance to get a couple of playoff starts if needed.
Carter Hart has been stellar this season, there’s no doubt about that. The 21-year-old boasts a 24-14-3 record, with a 2.57 GAA and .914 save-%. Against the qualifying “playoff” teams this season, he is 14-5 as well. After the all-star break, Hart was one of the biggest factors in the Flyers’ historic run, going 9-2 with a 1.93 GAA. His goaltending will easily be the biggest reason the Flyers make any type of Stanley Cup run, as his maturity and skill is beyond his age.
However, it’s also no secret that Hart has been a bit shaky on the road this season. This will also be his first crack at the playoffs in his very young career. Hart is very strong mentally, but if the jitters get to him at any point, the Flyers have a proven goaltender waiting in the trenches.
Brian Elliott ranks in the top end of goaltenders for goalies who are regular backups (at least 15 appearances, but no more than 31- the number of appearances Elliott has). In those rankings, he sits second with 16 wins (16-7-4), along with a 2.87 GAA (10th). However, his biggest value came when the Flyers weren’t in Philadelphia, where Hart showed most of his struggles. In 21 appearances, Elliott went 12-5-2, with a 3.04 GAA. Compare this to Hart’s 3.81 GAA on the road, and Elliott proves his worth.
Along with this, the NHL vet has a proven playoff track record. In 33 playoff appearances, Elliott has a 2.32 GAA. Both goalies will likely be contributing in the playoffs, with Hart at his typical starting position. The Flyers however, are just lucky enough to have Brian Elliott as a safety cushion if things go awry.
Photo Credit: Alex Mcintyre