Perhaps the most eyebrow-lifting comment to come out of four hours of Flyers’ Zoom calls on Tuesday originated from coach Alain Vigneault.
Discussing why his cadre of young players – with the exception of Joel Farabee – didn’t make progress this season (some may have taken a step back), the coach said it might have had something to do with training and travel limitations due to COVID.
Vigneault, a native of Canada, came right out and called his young north-of-the-border contingent out on this matter.
A group, by the way, which includes goaltender Carter Hart, Travis Konecny and a handful of other regulars.
The coach seemed to imply he would like to see these players stick around the United States/Philadelphia for parts (or all) of this summer to make sure they get to September’s training camp in peak condition.
Why? Because there are still a lot of health restrictions remaining in place in Canada. Gym time, ice availability? Tough to get.
“The difference between Joel Farabee, an American who stayed in the States and was able to train, and our Canadian players, all the ones that went back to Canada (couldn’t exactly do that),’’ Vigneault said during a Tuesday wrapup Zoom call from the Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J. “If I look at all the other players (aside from veterans Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier) that went to Canada, they struggled.
“Whether it’s because of lack of training possibilities, lack of skating possibilities. One of my questions when meeting with the players this afternoon is ‘what are you doing this summer?’ If things stay the way they are right now in Canada, they’re going to have to make some adjustments to their summer plans. This is just our team. I can’t reflect throughout the rest of the NHL, but on our team, the Canadian players that went back to Canada had a challenging time.’’
That would include Hart, who posted terrible numbers after two promising seasons.
Both Vigneault and Fletcher preached patience when it comes to Hart’s future. He’s still only 22 and might only need some technical adjustments to get back on track.
“My level of confidence in Carter is very high,’’ Vigneault said. “ He’s a good young man. He probably went through the first time in his life, his career, adversity. You have to go through adversity to get better and to grow. He’s gone through that.
“He’s playing the toughest position in hockey. He had only played a small sample, a couple of games his first year. Last year, played and had a good season. He was real good at home, improved on the road, then we went into the bubble. He played well for us there. This year, he got off to a good start and then it became challenging. He faced some adversity. I think that adversity is good. It’s going to make him better.’’
But is that enough to make the Flyers a serious contender?
“He’s still a very young player playing a real tough position,’’ Vigneault said. “With the right mindset, the right attitude and the right work ethic moving forward, he’s got all the capabilities to become a real solid goaltender. Now he’s got to go out and prove it.’’
Added Fletcher: “I think Carter’s no different than a lot of 22- year-old individuals. Every walk of life, whether you are in college, working or in sports, he’s a young man that’s finding his way. We’ve asked a lot out of Carter. He’s a precocious talent. He’s climbed the ladder very quickly. This year didn’t go the way he had hoped, the way we had all hoped, but there’s a lot of talent there.’’
Hart has few doubts he can pull off a comeback.
“I think for me, I have to believe in myself,’’ he said. “I believe I can be a top goaltender in this league. Looking forward to a great offseason of training.’’
Being single, Hart might have had a bit more of a challenge than other players during the pandemic.
“It was a challenge for everybody,’’ Hart responded. “Some guys were affected more than others. To me, it was a little bit difficult this year when you live alone and you just go back and forth to the rink and the apartment everyday.
“Near the end, things were a lot better. I was hanging out with the boys a lot more.’’
There could be a silver lining to all this adversity.
“Going forward, this is only going to help me with my career,’’ he said. “I’m looking forward to having a clean slate next year.’’
Sean Couturier’s contract runs out at the end of next season. He says he wants to stay a Flyer.
“I obviously love it here in Philly,’’ he said. “It’s a great city. The organization’s been awesome to me since I’ve gotten here. So I’d love to stay. But it’s part of the game, part of the business, and we’ll see what happens. I still have another year to play.’’
>JVR expansion worries?
James van Riemsdyk says when he signed his five-year contract with the Flyers two years ago there was a possibility he might be claimed in the 2021 expansion draft by Seattle.
Like Couturier, he wants to stay in Philly but it’s out of his control.
“I knew when I signed my contract the expansion situation was coming,’’ JVR said. “When you don’t have any sort of protection in your contract, there are always possibilities like that. Ultimately it will work out the way it’s supposed to work out. I’ve loved my time here. I’m taking it one year at a time and going from there.’’