The two biggest words in a sports fan’s vocabulary have to be “what if.’’
It’s all part of that wonderful culture of wondering what would have/could have been different if not for some slightly less-than-good luck circumstances.
In the case of this season’s Flyers, it’s all about dreaming what might have been if somehow they had started the season with Scott Gordon as head coach and Carter Hart as starting goaltender.
Of course, that’s just what it is, dreaming, because who would have guessed former general manager Ron Hextall would be gone by late November and head coach Dave Hakstol just a few weeks later.
By the time of Hakstol’s dismissal, the Flyers – who were eliminated from playoff contention by way of Saturday’s 4-2 loss at Carolina — were already in a 12-15-4 hole and falling behind in the playoff chase.
Some of that had to do with a crazy number of goaltender injuries (Brian Elliott, Michal Neuvirth, Anthony Stolarz), necessitating the use of Alex Lyon, Calvin Pickard and Mike McKenna.
Finally, on Dec. 17, things came to a head and Gordon was brought in to replace Hakstol.
On the same day, a much heralded 20-year-old rookie, Hart, was promoted from Lehigh Valley.
For exactly one month, there was really nothing to portend the magic that lay ahead.
The Flyers needed those four weeks to get a grip on Gordon’s system and endured a skid of 0-6-1 starting in late December.
But after a lackluster loss at New Jersey (which dropped the Flyers into last place) on Jan. 12, Hart caught fire and so did his teammates.
The Flyers would go on an eight-game winning streak, with Hart in goal for all but one of those victories, and an eventual 18-4-2 run cut a 16-point playoff deficit all the way down to three.
The rally fell short but the Flyers can only think about what would have been if Gordon had been running the show from the get-go and Hart had been ready to start from Game 1.
So what if?
After Saturday’s loss to the Hurricanes, the Flyers had a record of 25-18-4 in 47 games under Gordon.
And Hart has a record of 16-11-1.
If you project those numbers over 35 games at those winning percentages, the Flyers are probably about 12 games over .500, which puts them squarely in the playoff picture.
We bring up all these hypotheticals because if Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher should happen to take the “interim’’ tag off Gordon (keeping in mind the hot rumor is ex-Blackhawk coach Joel Quenneville as next coach) and Gordon has Hart at his disposal, it could be a very good situation for the Flyers.
All of this could have impact on what the Flyers do in the offseason in terms of trades and free agency.
Fletcher has to decide if these Flyers, when healthy (in goal at least), are potentially a 98-point team (which they were last season) or more like the potential 86 or so they are this year.
If he’s seen enough of Gordon and Hart to believe they can continue this run, he might not feel the need to make big changes, additions, etc.
Scott Laughton, who many consider the most improved player on the Flyers this season, believes most of the players are hoping Gordon returns.
“Everyone really likes playing for him,’’ Laughton said. “And everyone is on the same page. He’s so detail-oriented. He shows a lot of video and you know what you’re doing every game.’’
No one is sure which NHL team is going to win the Quenneville sweepstakes. The three-time Stanley Cup champion coach is bound to have multiple offers to choose from at season’s end.
But if he does wind up in Philadelphia, he won’t have nearly the working knowledge that Gordon has with these players.
“I think the guys like to play for him (Gordon) and I think it shows on the ice, the way we’ve been playing and the stretch we went on,’’ Laughton said. “Just from personal experience, I like him as a coach. So I would like to see him back.’’