Fletcher Discuss Flyers Roster Ahead of Season
The Flyers season begins in just under three weeks, the schedule release on Wednesday afternoon an early Christmas present for fans. Shortly after the NHL released the schedule, Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher spoke to the media, covering a range of topics surrounding the 2020-21 roster and how the Flyers will manage things in a shortened season.
As part of the shortened season and the lack of minor-league play taking place at the same time, there could be a lot of moving parts to the “taxi squad” the team will have to keep players close in the event that a last-minute switch to the lineup is needed. Fletcher said that the Flyers plan to keep 23 players on the active roster, the maximum allowed, and to use the taxi squad to keep some of the top recalled players close by.
“The taxi squad’s basically going to be our top recalled players that will physically be in our own little bubble at Voorhees with us. It will depend on performance in training camp, obviously the health of our roster and where we may need to fill,” Fletcher said. “I think we anticipate having a 23-person roster this year. We have enough cap flexibility to easily carry 23, so we’ll build the taxi squad around those 23, in terms of performance in camp, health of our club. Obviously we’ll carry a third goalie and we’ll have to make other decisions as we see fit.”
Fletcher was also asked about the status of Oskar Lindblom and Nolan Patrick, two forwards that could be key additions to the Flyers lineup. Fletcher provided a further update on Lindblom, speaking to his offseason workout and his preparation for this season, and gave a little more context on Patrick’s situation.
“Oskar, I’ll start with him. He’s doing really well. Obviously, he was cleared to return to play in the bubble and he played two games in there. Since that time, he’s had a tremendous off-season,” Fletcher said. “He’s been able to rebuild his body, if you will, and regain some of the muscle mass he lost during his treatments last spring and summer. He’s in really good shape physically. All of our players will get their pre-season physicals in early January and at that point, we’ll find out if there’s any issues. We’re anticipating no problems at this point. Oskar looks good.
“Nolan, I watched him skate today. He’s an amazingly talented young man. He looked great. Feels good. Again, we’ll wait for the doctors to meet with him for the pre-season physical. Life is unpredictable. We certainly saw that last year. I can’t make predictions on anybody. I think we’re in a good shape going into camp and we’re excited to get these two players back.”
While that certainly doesn’t sound like a guarantee, it is more encouraging than the updates from last season that continued to prolong Patrick’s timeline in being cleared to play from migraine syndrome. It seems possible that Patrick could be given the go-ahead to be part of Flyers camp from the start.
One of the biggest areas of concern for the Flyers is the departure of Matt Niskanen and how they plan to fill the void. Many anticipated that Phil Myers seemed like the most natural replacement for Niskanen, given he is a right-handed shot and was slotted right below Niskanen in the lineup. But that’s not set in stone either and there will be opportunities for several defensemen to get a chance there.
“At even strength our ice time is relatively evenly allocated. I really like [Travis] Sanheim and Myers together. I think they have great chemistry. I like the way they complement each other. I like the way they play the game. I like that they are both continuing to evolve and develop into really good NHL defensemen. Ultimately that will be up to [Alain Vigneault] and his coaching staff to decide,” Fletcher said. “My conversations with AV, I think we’re open-minded to anything. We could have different pairings depending on the time of the game, the score of the game. A lot of it is going to depend on health and how players are performing. I can assure you that [Ivan] Provorov will get lots of ice time. I think Sanheim and Myers will. We have some guys that are competing to increase their role. One thing I will say about Phil Myers, with Niskanen retiring, there’s now potentially more PK ice time available. Phil did not kill a lot last year for us. That’s a role I think he can excel at as he gains experience in the league. We’re excited about Phil’s future and I think there’s an opportunity for Phil to take on a bigger role, regardless of the pair that he’s in.”
With training camp right around the corner, Fletcher said that all players should be in the Philadelphia area shortly after Christmas and that everyone should be good to go for the start of on-ice work at camp on Jan. 4. There are free agents who are still out there on the market as the season approaches, but if you are looking for the Flyers to make any last-minute additions, think again. Fletcher said this is essentially the roster going forward and into the start of camp.
“I would anticipate this is our roster. We’re not entertaining any free agent signings at this point in time. You never know with trades. It’s been relatively quiet, at least on our front,” Fletcher said. “October was a pretty busy month. A lot of communication, but things have quieted down since then. We like our team. We like our group. We like the fact that we have a little bit of cap space to make adjustments as we may need to in-season. I think that would be a fine route to go for us. Let’s see what we have in camp. Let’s see how some of these players perform and get into the season. I’m sure there will be surprises, both positive and negative that we have to deal with. We should have the ability to do those things in a proactive manner if need be once the season starts.”
The countdown is on for the 2020-21 season, and the Flyers schedule provides them with a challenge against a number of divisional foes and two new opponents that they will meet regularly as part of realignment. Despite the difficult division, the Flyers schedule is relatively favorable. In a sprint to the finish, the Flyers will play back-to-back games just eight times and have a fairly balanced schedule throughout.
“I’m really pleased with our schedule. Obviously, we’re in an incredibly difficult division. It was very difficult last season and certainly isn’t any easier this season,” Fletcher said. “The quality of the competition will be high. That’s exciting. Certainly every game will be difficult.
“In terms of schedule construction, it’s better than I anticipated. We only have eight back-to-backs. We obviously don’t change time zones. In terms of our division, I don’t think any of us can have any complaints. I’m sure we’re going to have the fewest air miles flown. There’s going to be more recovery time than I think I anticipated. We’re pleasantly surprised by the amount of recovery time that’s built into the schedule.”
Fletcher’s second full offseason with the Flyers was the strangest one yet in team history. There has never been a season quite like 2019-20 and an offseason that was crammed into a three-month span quite like this with so much planning and flexibility required for a new season. But as Fletcher said, hockey is back and it’s exciting for this team to get going again. It all starts soon enough.