Now that the Flyers have raised everyone’s expectations with their inspirational 2020 playoff run, what can they do for an encore?
They won their first postseason series since 2012, defeating the Montreal Canadiens in six games, then took the New York Islanders to a Game 7 in the conference semifinals before bowing out.
With that success in mind, general manager Chuck Fletcher didn’t feel the need to make a lot of changes.
Free-agent defenseman Erik Gustafsson was brought in to replace the retiring Matt Niskanen. And since it looks like both Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom will return from long health disabilities, there was no real problem letting Tyler Pitlick and Derek Grant leave town via free agency.
Fletcher also can take heart from the way his young players responded in the playoffs. During a Monday media Zoom call, Sean Couturier noted the experience of winning a playoff series can be invaluable in trying to take another step this upcoming season, which opens on Jan. 13.
“I think when you can get into the playoffs, especially win a round, see what it takes to move on, it’s always a great experience,’’ Couturier said.
“I’m sure a lot of young guys learned from that. But I think it’s important now being in my 10th year and being in and out of the playoffs, it’s not something that’s easy to get into the playoffs and win. So I think you just have to be ready every year and every playoffs – every chance you get to help improve the team, that’s what you have to do.’’
Couturier remembers his early years with the Flyers when he started out as an 18-year-old and registered a hat trick in a playoff game against the Penguins.
The following season, during the 2012-13 lockout-shortened 48-game campaign, the Flyers got off to a slow start and didn’t even make the playoffs.
This season, with just 56 games on the docket, a good start figures to be imperative.
“I think first of all we have to get off to a good start, especially with the shortened season,’’ Couturier said. “I’ve gone through it in the lockout year.
“We had a good team, we just got off to a poor start. We couldn’t make up ground in time to make the playoffs. It’s important to get off to a good start. Get a good camp in, get ready for game one. Once you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen. That’s another part of our game where we have to take another step as the year goes on.’’
After competing in the Toronto bubble for a couple months back in the late summer, it will be a relief to at least have some semblance of normalcy again. Especially with Couturier being a new father to a baby daughter.
“I think the bubble was probably better than I expected,’’ Couturier said. “The start we had in Toronto was almost amazing (the Flyers knocked off Boston, Tampa and Washington in the round-robin tournament). There’s no complaints about that.
“At end of the day, after a week or two you get tired of being in the hotel. It’s not ideal. I’m happy that we get to play in our home rink and have somewhat of a normal schedule. Hopefully, having a new-born baby it will be better anyway. The guys with families, it’s going to be way better. This way we have somewhat of a normal life.’’
Playing eight games against each of seven other East Division teams might seem weird at times but, at worst, it should be interesting.
“In some ways, yeah, I guess because every game is more important because you’re playing within your division,’’ Couturier said. “You’re fighting for the same playoff spots, every night, basically.
“There’s probably more value to each game. It’s going to be interesting, it’s going to be fun. There are going to be some rivalries that are going to build up.’’
Having Gustafsson on board should help make up for the loss of Niskanen.
“ ‘Nisky’ is going to be missed for sure with his play and especially his leadership, off-ice, what he brought to the locker room,’’ Couturier said.
“He (Gustafsson), just from seeing him the past week, he can move the puck. He can be a great addition to our D-corps. He can have a great impact on our team.’’