Quick Hits: September 16, 2020
1) Flyers goaltender Carter Hart will speak via teleconference this afternoon with members of the Flyers media. One of the few unquestioned successes of the Flyers' playoff run was Hart's play.
He wasn't infallible. He wan't without experiencing adversity in the playoff. Overall, though, the Flyers' 22-year-old netminder was a huge reason why the team came within a single win of the Eastern Conference Final.
Hart was under siege in the majority of the games he played in the playoffs, and usually found ways to give the Flyers a chance to win. Despite giving up four goals in Gams 6 of the Islanders series, Hart more or less ended of stealing that game for Philadelphia. His overall .926 save percentage (still second-best among all goalies competing in the playoffs this year) and the eye-popping volume of medium-to-high danger chances he erased were a crucial factor in why the Flyers got as far as they did.
There should be no question going forward if Hart, who won a pair of potential elimination games, is up to the challenge of playing in the playoffs. He stepped up when his team was getting outchanced and there was no margin for error. He showed he can handle it.
2) As things stand right now, one of the biggest challenges for the Flyers this offseason is figuring out their third-line center plan for next season. Do they cross their fingers, hope Nolan Patrick's health issues are resolved enough to play hockey and, furthermore, that he gets back on track in his NHL-level development, which basically stagnated from year one to year two?
Does the organization focus heavily on Morgan Frost adding more muscle during the offseason and then showing a quick jump-off when camp is eventually held and the 2020-21 season eventually starts? Alternatively, do they experiment with on a wing (or as a wing who moves to the middle for left side draws), to perhaps simplify some some of the two-way adjustments that gave him trouble at times as a rookie? Personally, I'd like to see him push for a full-time NHL spot in 2020-21, even if it's primarily on a wing. However, the development plan still seems to be with Frost as a full-time center.
Do they, for lack of other proven options, reinstall Scott Laughton as the C3 rather than having him play left wing? Could Claude Giroux periodically occupy the 3C rather than LW1 spot, as Alain Vigneault briefly tried during the playoffs? Do they trade for a top nine center? Do they try to work out some cap space creation and then sign a non-marquee but proven free agent such as former Wild/Predators center Mikael Granlund, with whom Chuck Fletcher is very familiar?
I have no idea right now what direction things will go. But my personal preference is to NOT have to cross fingers on Patrick's health.
3) Speaking of Nolan Patrick, a healthy and productive return to the NHL would be an excellent outcome over the course of the 2020-21 season. Right now, it's exceptionally hard to determine what the REALISTIC expectation is for the very near future because the timetable for the NHL season itself is in flux and he hasn't been in a game or bonafide practice (i.e., not in a no-contact jersey, not as a stand-in "fourth pair defenseman" just to get in some skating and passing and be a little more involved) since the next-to-last road game of the 2018-19 season.
I think it's important to be careful to avoid doing too much projection on his future based on hearsay. I's all too easy to make assumptions on an athlete's desire to compete based mainly on outward appearances. Making assumptions such as "He's OK to play golf, but doesn't seem to truly want to play hockey" are unfair and dangerous.
Even before his health issues in the spring and summer of 2019 through the season, Patrick could be a hard player for outsiders to get to know. He wasn't surly, but also wasn't particularly friendly or eager to talk. He isn't the most media-savvy of athletes, and tended not to make much eye-contact or speak clearly. But that's OK. A player, especially a young one, doesn't have to fill the audio recorders with colorful soundbites or provide good pull-out quotes for digital/print. He just has to perform on the ice, be a good teammate, be coachable and answer basic questions when called upon.
Over the past year, Patrick has done a few interviews. He never offered much detail on his situation but that, too, is his prerogative. I imagine that not knowing himself exactly what was going on and when/if he'd get better was hard to put into words and frustrating to deal with 24/7. I don't hold the infrequency and lack of expansive of his public communications against him.
Truth is, very few people genuinely know the full extent of what Patrick went through from the spring of 2018 through this summer. I only know a small fraction of it, and certainly not enough to comment with any authority on it.
If he's able to get back on the ice and play, there's an opportunity for a fresh start. I don't think a change of scenery is needed, hockey wise. Patrick wasn't really around the team enough this past season for the coaching staff -- most of which was new to the team -- to build a rapport. So it'd be a completely blank canvas in that regard if and when he returns, which I consider a positive.
Strictly from a hockey development point of view, his offensive game really didn't progress much from year one to year two before he missed last season. His defensive game, which was decent for a 19-year-old rookie NHL center, took some overall forward steps in year two. Was he at future Selke Trophy winner Sean Couturier's defensive level as a rookie or a second-year player? No, but Couturier isn't a fair standard to judge against because he was above-average defensively by veteran standards, even from his very first day in the NHL.
Offensively, there was a bit more of a comparative basis for early-career Couturier vs. Patrick's first two years. Both would go on offensive runs that lasted about 8 to 12 games -- where you could see a vision of how the finished product might look with consistency -- and then have prolonged droughts. If anything, Patrick's hot stretches popped more than early-career Couturier's because Patrick has a bit more flash in his game when he's playing with confidence.
Taking strictly the bottom line numbers, Patrick scored a combined 26 goals and 61 points in 145 games over his first two NHL seasons (0.42 points per game), while Couturier -- who later had back-to-back seasons with 30+ goals and 76 points -- had a combined 17 goals and 42 points in 123 games (0.34 points per game).
I cite these numbers not to try to Patrick to Couturier's but only as a reminder than even an early first-round pick who goes straight to the NHL may need a number of years to come into his own. Patrick wasn't the second coming of Jason Bonsignore. He was just coming along a little slower than hoped. How much impact missing all of last season will have, hockey wise, is hard to say.
It's unfair to judge Patrick against players whom Ron Hextall chose to bypass with the second overall pick in 2017. He can only be judged fairly on his own merits. Patrick was not a unanimous top 2 pick internally, but context is needed. This was based on the rapid Draft-year rise of a defense prospect vs. Patrick's injury-affected Draft year. It was never a belief that Patrick did not projected as a fine NHL center who offensive and two-way upside as well as good size.
To me, the health concerns are what's paramount here. We can't even get a read -- or the beginnings of a read -- on where he'll be hockey-wise -- until such a time comes that he and his doctors feel comfortable that he can play without fear for his quality of life when he takes off his skates and leaves the rink. I'm not worried about whether the Flyers should have picked Miro Heiskanen or Cal Makar or Elias Pettersson. They didn't. They picked Patrick.
Until there's a timetable for camp and then a season, we don't even know when any Flyers will be on the ice together again. Thereafter, we don't know when Patrick would be a full participant at practices, available for a few tuneup games and then realistically ready to be green-lighted for NHL regular season games. Given all these uncertainties, I don't think it's wise to make Patrick part of Plan A this offseason. To me, though, that's a matter of pragmatism and not a judgment of the hockey player or the person.
4) Speedy recovery wishes go out once again to Flyers Warriors defenseman Joe Seher, who has undergone a couple of surgeries and, yesterday, had to have his big toe amputated following a freak household injury. An Army veteran (multi-generation), a husband, a father and a genuinely good guy, Joe still has a long recovery road ahead of him. The medical bills are high, and he cannot return to work for awhile.
As I have discussed in past blogs and articles, the Flyers Warriors are exceptionally close-knit, on and off the ice, and are deeply intertwined with the Flyers Alumni Association and the Philadelphia Flyers' amateur and youth hockey branch, with Brad Marsh as their head coach and Rob Baer as assistant coach. Flyers Warriors teammatees, led by Kyle Melnick-Hoffman, organized a Go Fund Me campaign
to assist Joe and the Seher family.
The initial fundraising goal has been met but further assistance ins needed. The Flyers Alumni Association, at the behest of Marsh and Bob Kelly, have made a $2,500 donation to the fund, and a variety of individual Flyers Alumni (including John LeClair, Tim Kerr and others) have made contributions of their own. However, the revised fundraising goal for Joe and his family is still roughly $5,250 short of its goal.
Any and all contributions are greatly appreciated by Joe Seher, his family, the Flyers Warriors and the Flyers Alumni. I enjoyed getting to know Joe a bit during the USA Hockey Warriors Classic tournament in Las Vegas last October -- I sat next to him in a team meeting before the second day of competition and spent some time talking to him during the Flyers Warriors team Christmas party at the Marsh home this past December. I have full confidence that, at some point, he's going to out patrolling the blueline again for the Flyers Warriors. He's a genuine warrior at heart.