The question now becomes not whether the Flyers will or won’t make it to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in four years.
It’s more about if goaltender Samuel Ersson has the right stuff to get them there.
Based upon his somewhat brief body of work, Ersson would appear to have the physical skills to keep the Flyers in contention over the final 32 games of the regular season, resuming next Tuesday at the Florida Panthers.
Because he’s still a rookie, Ersson still hasn’t played enough to demonstrate whether he has the mental/emotional stamina to keep his fine record going until mid-April.
Everyone on the Flyers — from general manager Daniel Briere to coach John Tortorella to all the players — believe the young Swede has both of those boxes checked.
One thing everyone else seems to know is Ersson believes in himself. Self-confidence is such a big part of professional sports. Especially at the goaltender position in hockey. A netminder has to hit the ice thinking he can, and will, stop every shot that night.
Ersson has that quality.
When training camp back in September began, the competition for the role of backup to Carter Hart seemed fairly wide open.
There was Ersson, who impressed people last season with a 6-3-0 mark on a team which finished with a hide-your-eyes minus-55 goals differential.
Then there were NHL vet Cal Petersen, picked up in the Ivan Provorov trade, and another rookie, Felix Sandstrom.
Ersson impressed all the coaches and scouts the most and the Flyers are pleased with the outcome. He’s now a strong candidate for the NHL’s Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) and before the team took its current five-loss dip, Ersson’s numbers were even more impressive than his 12-9-3, 2.60 goals-against average (now) would indicate.
It appears Petersen will be the No. 2 goalie but Ersson looks to be getting the majority of the workload.
The Flyers have only four more back-to-backs on the schedule. Barring a real tail-off in Ersson’s performance, it wouldn’t be a stretch to predict he will play somewhere between 25 and 28 of the remaining games.
With the issue of Hart’s legal issues clouding his future in professional hockey, the onus now falls on Ersson to make his mark. He has a lot of believers.
>NHL back in the Olympic Games
The National Hockey League and the NHL Players’ Association made it official on Friday by declaring their intended participation in both the 2026 and 2030 Winter Olympics.
It’s the first time the NHL will participate in the Games since 2014 at Sochi, Russia and the sixth time overall, a slate which includes Nagano, Japan (1998), Salt Lake City (2002), Turin, Italy (2006), Vancouver, Canada (2010) and Sochi.
At the NHL All-Star Game in Toronto, the NHL and NHLPA agreed to the major principles of an agreement to play.
The 2026 Games will be played in Milano-Cortina, Italy from Feb. 6-22, 2026. The host for the 2030 Olympic Winter Games is expected to be chosen later this year by the International Olympic Committee. Currently, a location in the French Alps appears to be the odds-on favorite.
At a news conference in Toronto, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed the agreement.
“The international composition of National Hockey League roster is unparalleled,” Bettman said. “NHL players take great pride in representing their countries. We are pleased that today, after intense collaborative efforts with the NHL Players’ Association and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), we can formally announce that NHL players will participate in both the 2026 and 2030 Olympic tournaments.”
In related international hockey news, the NHL and the NHLPA also announced a new 2025 NHL 4 Nations Face-off Tournament.
The proposed event, which will include the United States, Canada, Sweden and Finland, will take place next February during a break (Feb. 12-20) in the 2024-25 schedule. There will be practice sessions on Feb. 10 and Feb. 11.
According to the NHL, each team will be comprised of 23 NHL players (20 skaters, three goaltenders) selected by each National Association: USA Hockey, Hockey Canada, the Finnish Ice Hockey Association and the Swedish Ice Hockey Association.
Players must be under contract for the 2024-25 season and on an NHL roster as of Dec. 2, 2024. The first six players of each team will be announced this summer.
This tournament sounds vaguely similar to Rendez-vous ’87, a mid-season event which took place in Quebec City, Canada back in 1987. It pitted the NHL against Russia. It was a major success, with exciting games, sellout crowds and a lot of good publicity.
However, Russia won’t be here for this one. . .for obvious reasons.