(If the season wasn’t interrupted)
The owners of Phull Plate love hockey; we play it, one of us coaches and our NHL 20 club team is beastly. However, some of us support teams that just happen to be bitter rivals. So, when Ben (Flyers fan) asked me (Penguins fan) to write a post about how the Flyers would have won the cup before the COVID-19 outbreak, I was obviously bursting with excitement. Although, reading through his notes on why the Flyers would have won, I can’t say I disagreed with his facts and assessments, which will all be laid out in the following paragraphs. I will try to keep my comments to myself, no promises.
The NHL is totally different from the days of Scott Stevens’s huge hits and Donald Brashear’s vicious haymakers. Heck, the NHL in 2010 doesn’t even look the same to how it looks now, in 2020. Teams are always coming up with new setups, strategies and philosophies; juniors are being taught in different ways, coached up to focus on different areas than the previous decade. However, looking past all of that to what similarities we can find that connect past Stanley Cup winners we find culture/coaching, depth/health, goaltending and getting hot at the right time. These four categories, when combined, create a prime opportunity for a team to make a deep playoff run or even win the Stanley Cup.
We need to only go back one year to the 2018-19 St. Louis Blues to see a key example of a Stanley Cup winning team with a formidable “ferda boys” culture. It is easy to notice the glaring similarities between them and the 2019-2020 Flyers. Terrible starts, new coaches, drastic roster changes, leadership changes, etc. These types of adversity can make or break the culture of teams and if that happens, you better start getting ready for the draft. We all know what happens next, coaches fired, marquee player trades, firing of management, etc. In contrast, if the culture of a team survives such adversity, the team can start to demonstrate remarkable cohesion and improvement. The 2017-2018 Blues didn’t even make the playoffs and the beginning of the 2018-2019 season saw them start off at the bottom of the league. Then, they went through some necessary changes and a strong close-knit culture emerged and the Blues started playing for each other. The Flyers have a very similar story; they did not qualify for playoffs in 2018-2019 and started the 2019-2020 season off horribly with huge losses like the one to the Penguins (losing 7-1 on 10/29, you know I had to highlight that). The Flyers knew they had to make some changes if they had a chance to win the Cup. So, they made moves in the offseason and mid-season with the signings of Kevin Hayes, Matt Niskanen, Nate Thompson and Derek Grant. They also limited responsibility for Gostisbehere, while riding the play of young studs like Farabee, Konecny and Sanheim. Yet, all of these moves and players had the ability to form a winning culture, they needed a leader. The Flyers biggest and most important change may have come at the position of head coach when they chose Alain Vigneault. Alain knows how to win; he has done it season after season. He seems to be the perfect fit for a team bursting at the seams with young talent and a handful of skilled veterans (Giroux, Voracek, Couturier, etc), as the Flyers were playing with extreme cohesion and commitment. I must also mention the circumstances of Oskar Lindblom who was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma at the beginning of the season while he was leading the Flyers stat sheet. He is yet another promising young talent for the Flyers but was shut down for the rest of the season once he was diagnosed. Naturally, this fortified the culture of the 2019-2020 Flyers. They had something more to play for, a sick teammate that everyone loved, now gave them extra motivation to win for Lindblom. Through this impenetrable culture the Flyers have looked more like a family than a team.
Along with culture, the Flyers have shown incredible depth and health throughout the 2019-2020 season. Let’s comb through the stats. In 2018-2019 the Blues had 10 players with over 30 points and 14 with over 25 points, that is incredible production from top to bottom. With 69 games played the Flyers have 8 players with over 30 points and 10 with over 25 points. Therefore, in the remaining 13 games it is far to assume that this year’s Flyers will end up very close to the point distribution of the 2018-2019 Blues. It is important to note that the Flyers have 4 players with 53 or more points through 69 games:
1. Konecny – 66GP, 61PTS
2. Couturier – 69GP, 59PTS
3. Voracek – 69GP, 56PTS
4. Giroux – 69GP, 53PTS
So, not only are they getting production from all four lines of offense and plenty from their offensive skilled defensemen, their top players are still racking it up; leading to their third ranked goal differential of plus 36 in the Eastern Conference. These amazing stats are only possible if you’re on the rink, right? Which bring us to the amazing health of the 2019-2020 Flyers; of the flyers 14 top point producers, 11 of them played in at least 62 of 69 games (Farabee played in the AHL during the first portion of the season). Also, 6 of those 11 players played in ALL 69 games. No one plays 60+ NHL games without some sort of injury that would present the option of missing a few games. That remarkable durability of the Flyers showcases the want they want to play, win and go for the Stanley Cup.
You can’t talk about the Flyers without bringing up their possibly league-changing goaltender, Carter Hart. Everybody knows the criticism Hart received early in his career, and early in the 2019-2020 season. Jordan Binnington, from the cup winning Blues, didn’t exactly have a standout beginning to his career either. Goalies heat up and cool off, that isn’t news. The key is, which goalie will get hot at the right time. Hart has certainly demonstrated through is Junior career that he battles; the bigger the moment, the better he plays. If Hart can pull a 2018-2019 version of Binnington’s performance, his stats would look something like this: 26 games with a record of 16-10, a 2.46 Goals Against Average and a .914 Save Percentage. Carter Hart is more than capable of going on that kind of run. In the 2020 season, despite a slower start, Hart played 43 games for a 24-13-0-3 record; with a 2.42 GAA and a .914 Save %. I’m no mathematician, but I’m pretty sure there’s a correlation there.
Everybody knows the Flyers were the hottest team in the NHL following the new year, including closing a sweep on the 2017-2018 Stanley Cup Champ Capitals. Vegas had the Flyers favorited to win before the pause in the season. They were hot at the right time ready to roll into the playoffs and take the Cup. Now, with the pause of the season, their fate may have been altered. It may be time for Gritty to step in and save the world, save the season and claim the Stanley Cup.
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