Just a little more than a week away from the start of training camp, the Philadelphia Flyers and Kevin Hayes are about to be back together for the first time since the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs. The 2019-2020 campaign offered a unique experience of bubble hockey following a shortened regular season due to the COVID19 pandemic. Now, the Flyers are preparing for the latest wrinkle in the pandemic era of the NHL. After the teams within the league were realigned, Philadelphia will have to play each division opponent eight times through a fifty-six game season. Nothing about the 2020-2021 season is “normal.”
Flyers’ forward, Kevin Hayes, will be arriving back in Philadelphia on Saturday, ready to skate by Sunday. He acknowledged that for the Flyers to get back on pace, they’ll have to build off of their momentum from the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs.
“We started playing really good in the bubble and then played against two good defensive teams. We fell one game short to the Islanders. Anytime you play in games that are very important and every player needs to be invested in, it can only help in the long run.”Kevin Hayes; 12/22/2020
In 2020-2021, Philadelphia will play every division opponent enough times to simulate a seven-game series. Though the schedule won’t allow the Flyers to play those opponents in a row like a playoff series, they’ll have a better feel for many potential playoff matchups before the postseason. At a point during the 2020 NHL Eastern Conference Semifinals, it seemed as if Philadelphia could pull off the improbable, completing a comeback against the New York Islanders. The structure of the 2020-2021 regular season schedule curates tighter playoff contests. Now, the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres are invited into the inter-division rival field.
“Playing the same team over and over again, eight times, there’s bound to be bad blood. There’s bound to be some big hits and bit plays. There’s a lot of chance for some bad blood to turn over into the next game. Obviously, we’re going to get used to each other, system-wise. Come the third or fourth time we play each other, everyone is going to know every player on the ice and the ins and outs of the systems they run.”Kevin Hayes; 12/22/2020
With a short season on the horizon, it is more critical than ever to get out to a fast start. Stringing together wins early on is important because, as Hayes mentioned, teams will get used to one another. Wins will be tougher to come by as the season moves along. The Flyers will be relying on a new face to fill in a crucial role. After the retirement of Matt Niskanen, the Erik Gustafsson signing has a spotlight cast upon it.
“He’s a great player. He’s known for his offensive game. Johnny Gaudreau was telling me that he plays a good defensive game as well. I think he’s going to fit in real well with our team.”Kevin Hayes; 12/22/2020
Hayes provided unbiased insight from Gustafsson’s former teammate. A compliment from Gaudreau about the skills of Gustafsson is ensuring. The void that needs to be filled is the mental toughness. Niskanen was a leader in Philadelphia. In a season where the Flyers will play divisional opponents eight times each, their mental fortitude will be pushed to the limit.
“Our core group there, they all lead differently but they do a great job and in a great manner. I try to help and do the same thing. We still have older guys that lead the way and young guys that want to learn from that. We have young guys that believe in year one and want to do more and produce more in year two. Should be a good combination.”Kevin Hayes; 12/22/2020
If there was ever a season where intangibles are key, it’s 2020-2021. The NHL offseason was simultaneously abbreviated and accelerated. Now, Philadelphia has two weeks to be prepared for the opening faceoff of the regular season. Last season, the Flyers were adamant about having one of the tightest locker rooms in the league. When they hit the ice in 2020-2021, that much will be back to normal.
Photo Credit: Alex Mcintyre