Just before the first pick was made in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, league commissioner Gary Bettman targeted January as the beginning of the 2020-2021 season. It is now November, and teams are likely just a month away from the start of training camp. Uncertainty still lingers among the COVID-19 pandemic, and an official start date has yet to be named. The Philadelphia Flyers strategy is unphased, preparing for the new season to begin at the start of January.
The main question before settling to begin the 2020-2021 season is: are the Philadelphia Flyers prepared to build on their 2019-2020 success? This offseason is critical to Flyers General Manager Chuck Fletcher. First impressions go a long way in a city like Philadelphia. If the team is not prepared to grow in 2020-2021 from an Eastern Conference Semifinal appearance in 2019-2020, he’ll hear about it.
Replacing Matt Niskanen
His retirement came as a surprise to everyone, and it’s understandable in part of the current COVID-19 pandemic. Matt Niskanen retired with one more year left on his contract for $5.75mil. Since he’s been gone, Chuck Fletcher signed Erik Gustafsson to a Philadelphia Flyers contract. Defensively, the void is there. Furthermore, the intangibles that Niskanen possessed are history.
Matt Niskanen was a top-paring defenseman who played in just about every situation on the ice. He brought leadership to the locker room. Ivan Provorov, heading into his fifth season, is going to have to continue where Niskanen left off. Provorov will be what Niskanen was to him to players like Erik Gustafsson, Philippe Myers, or even Shayne Gostisbehere. Either way, Chuck Fletcher didn’t make the necessary move to replace the void Niskanen left behind once he retired.
Projecting Oskar Lindblom
It was quite a comeback story during the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Oskar Lindblom returned from battling Ewing’s sarcoma to the playoffs as the Philadelphia Flyers took on the New York Islanders. Lindblom will continue to be a delicate player to handle in a world where the NHL resumes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last season, he put together a strong start before his diagnosis. His production wasn’t a factor in the two games he played during the postseason, but the real news is that he was back playing.
Oskar Lindblom received an extension through 2022-2023 at $3mil a season. That was a signing that I commend Chuck Fletcher. With an offseason to digest his return to hockey and a training camp before next season, Lindblom will be closer to his form. It’s fair to say he could be on the third line to begin the 2020-2021 Philadelphia Flyers season. Soon after, I would expect Lindblom on the second line to produce alongside Kevin Hayes and Travis Konecny to a thirty point season.
Projecting Nolan Patrick
It’s exciting to see that Nolan Patrick can scrimmage with players like Ryan White. That’s a step in the right direction for Patrick when he wasn’t skating with the Philadelphia Flyers last season. Throughout 2019-2020, Chuck Fletcher updated on Patrick’s health, but everything was always uncertain. Even at this moment, there is still uncertainty about Patrick’s availability to begin 2020-2021. What provides a little bit of confidence is his contract extension of $874.1k through next season.
Perhaps Chuck Fletcher believes Nolan Patrick will be able to play next season. The extension he received serves as a low-risk, high-reward extension. It is a fair deal for Patrick to prove to the Philadelphia Flyers that he can return. Similar to Oskar Lindblom’s return, Patrick would provide a spark to the Flyers. If he suits up for the first game of the season, he could provide twenty points on a rebound from his neurological condition.
Available in free agency are a few players that Chuck Fletcher should have his eye on in case Nolan Patrick is not ready to play. Mikael Granlund fills all the positions that Patrick would, is a goal scorer, and put up thirty points last season. Another option, and less expensive, is Mike Hoffman. Hoffman could fill Patrick’s role as a right-wing and is coming off a sixty-point season. A value signing in comparison to those two names would be Conor Sheary, who is also still available.
A Youthful Impact
Some players who were very helpful towards the end of last season will remain in 2020-2021. Offensively, the Philadelphia Flyers may not look to free agency because they believe they have the same talent in their youth. Morgan Frost could be a player that gets recalled in case Nolan Patrick is not ready for the start of the season. Other young forwards to consider in place of Patrick are Linus Sandin, Tanner Laczynski, Wade Allison, and Connor Bunnaman.
Defensively, the Philadelphia Flyers have Mark Friedman as a potential seventh defenseman. If Shayne Gostisbehere gets traded, Friedman likely receives his shot with the Flyers. Chuck Fletcher also signed Derrick Pouliot this offseason. Perhaps Pouliot battles Yegor Zamula and Wyatte Wylie in Lehigh Valley.
If Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom return with a vengeance, the Philadelphia Flyers could be off to another rocket start in 2020-2021. Both of them coming out swinging is going to have to make up for the defense lacking a proper replacement for Matt Niskanen. At the moment, Philippe Myers has yet to sign an extension with the Flyers. The defense could potentially miss more pieces at the start of 2020-2021 at this rate. At this moment, with all the uncertainties very much alive, Philadelphia is not as good as they were in 2019-2020.
They’ve lost more than they’ve gained, which is not a good thing for any NHL franchise. It’s too early to label Nolan Patrick as a “gain,” though he signed an extension. Matt Niskanen is gone, and Philippe Myers is effectively the same. As the season draws closer, it becomes exponentially important that Myers agrees to terms with the Philadelphia Flyers. When these missing pieces are found, the Flyers can begin to talk about being on par with last season.
Photo Credit: Alex Mcintyre