No more excuses.
Even though the pandemic is still a crisis in progress, the NHL sounds confident it can put together a full season, even with an Olympic break in February.
The four-division alignment is back in play and for the Flyers, that means some stiff competition to get back to the playoffs.
In the Eastern Conference, the reinstated Metropolitan Division says goodbye to Boston and Buffalo and welcomes back Carolina and Columbus.
Four teams out of eight will make it to the postseason and from here, it looks like the New York Islanders, Carolina and Washington have the first three spots pretty much locked up.
Could it come down to the Flyers and Pittsburgh battling for the final spot?
Over in the Northeast Division, Tampa Bay appears to be a lock, with challenges from Boston, Toronto and Florida. Stanley Cup finalist Montreal could break into that quartet.
The Islanders lost consistent scorer Jordan Eberle in the Seattle expansion draft and traded top-four defenseman Nick Leddy to Detroit, so those moves could leave a few holes.
Carolina continues to improve. Coach Rod Brind’Amour has a loaded lineup on offense, led by Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov. .
The Caps haven’t won a playoff series since taking the Stanley Cup in 2018. They still have Alex Ovechkin and a cast of solid players such as defenseman John Carlson. A lot could hinge on goalie Ilya Samsonov.
Obviously, a lot of the Flyers’ fortunes depend on goaltender Carter Hart. If he regains his form of two seasons ago, the Flyers could push the Penguins out of the picture. Clearly, the Flyers have to improve in last year’s horrendous last-place finish in goals allowed. Pittsburgh has to start the season without the injured Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Malkin, which could give the Flyers an early edge.
Tampa Bay has every reason to believe it can “three-peat,’’ something which hasn’t been done since the New York Islanders won four straight in the early ‘80s. When you have a goaltender as good as Andrei Vasilevskiy, the odds are in your favor.
The Bruins’ top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak shows no sign of slowing down. Florida looks like the biggest threat to the top two. The Panthers came on strong last season, led by recently re-signed Aleksander Barkov. On paper, Toronto has plenty of firepower but the Leafs might have too much money tied up in their star forwards.
Things look pretty open in the wild west.
If goaltender Philipp Grubauer hadn’t chosen to go UFA and sign with Seattle, the Colorado Avalanche might be prohibitive favorites in the Central Division. The Avs are still formidale. Nashville could be a challenger, as could the Craig Berube-led St. Louis Blues. After that, Dallas, Winnipeg and Winnipeg could all make a bid.
In the Pacific, Vegas has the most balance. After that, Edmonton could make some noise. Don’t be surprised if Seattle forces its way into the picture, while Los Angeles should be improved.
If everything goes according to form, Tampa Bay and Colorado could meet in the Stanley Cup Final. Let’s go with the Avalanche just for a refreshing change.