When the Philadelphia Flyers’ scheduled home game against the Washington Capitals was scrubbed on Tuesday, that brought the number of NHL postponements to 50 games so far in the 2021-22 season.
That was enough for the league to make it official. On Wednesday, the press release was issued, confirming that NHL players will not be playing in the 2022 Winter Olympics.
But even though Flyers fans have been robbed of the opportunity to watch players like Ivan Provorov, Sean Couturier and Carter Hart potentially suit up for their countries, there’s still plenty to look forward to once the NHL starts up again after the Christmas break.
Here are four storylines we’re keeping an eye on.
Scheduling and Re-Scheduling
The Flyers lost two games before the holiday break — that home game against Washington, and a road game against the Pittsburgh Penguins that had been scheduled for Dec. 23.
They’re not set to play again until Dec. 29, when they open a four-game western road trip against the Seattle Kraken.
By then, the organization should have a good idea how the Covid-19 situation has developed over the holidays. Players won’t be tested again until Dec. 26, and won’t be permitted to practice, work out or travel with the team until they return a negative test.
The pause could act as a league-wide circuit-breaker that helps stop the explosive spread of the virus that we’ve been seeing. Or, as much as players have been asked to be careful with how they spend their time during the holidays, it’s possible that more cases could result from community contact.
In Wednesday’s press release, the NHL said that it is starting to schedule postponed games into what had been the Olympic window, between Feb. 6-22.
We don’t want to see anybody test positive for Covid-19. But we especially don’t want to see Keith Yandle‘s quest for the NHL’s ironman record derailed due to Covid protocols.
With 10 assists in 29 games so far this season, Yandle is now up to 951 consecutive NHL games played — just 13 games shy of Doug Jarvis‘s all-time record of 964. Yandle’s streak began on March 26, 2009, when he was with the Phoenix Coyotes and ‘Right Round’ by Flo Rida was the No. 1 song on the charts.
If the NHL schedule resumes as planned and there are no further postponements, Yandle’s record-breaking 965th game is just over a month away, at home against the Dallas Stars on Monday, Jan. 24.
Are Playoffs A Possibility?
At the holiday break, the Flyers sit sixth in the Metropolitan Division with a record of 12-12-5 for 29 points in 29 games — exactly .500.
In the Eastern Conference, they’re 11th, four points back of the Detroit Red Wings in the second wild-card spot, with three teams to pass in order to move into playoff position.
Compared to the standings at U.S. Thanksgiving, they’ve leapfrogged the New Jersey Devils to move up one position. But in late November, they were just two points out of a playoff spot. That gap widened during the 10-game losing streak, then started to shrink again over the last two weeks.
If you look at points percentage instead of teams’ actual records, there’s just one change — Boston would move up the second wild-card spot, bumping out Detroit. But the Flyers remain 11th in the conference, and would still need to pass the Bruins, Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets to grab that eighth seed.
That’s difficult — but possible if the Flyers keep trending in the same positive direction as in recent games.
Anything higher than eighth is pretty much out of the question. There’s a six-point gap between the Red Wings (33 points) and the seventh-place Penguins (39 points), who are 10 points up on the Flyers.
What Do We Do With Claude Giroux?
Tied into the playoff possibilities — the questions about the future of Claude Giroux.
The Flyers’ captain leads his team with 25 points so far this season, and his 11 goals are second only to Cam Atkinson (12). He has played all 972 games in his NHL career with Philadelphia and is second in franchise history behind Bobby Clarke in three important statistical categories — games played, assists, and points (currently tied for second with Bill Barber).
He’s also 28 games away from hitting the 1,000-game plateau. If this week’s two postponed games are made up in February and there are no further postponements, that special game will come on March 12 in Raleigh, against the Carolina Hurricanes.
That’s nine days before the NHL’s 2022 trade deadline.
Giroux turns 34 on Jan. 12. He’s in the last year of an eight-year contract that carries a cap hit of $8.275 million per season. But he’s making just $4 million in salary, after receiving a $1 million offseason signing bonus.
His contract also includes a full no-movement clause.
It’s hard to imagine Giroux in a different uniform, but we’ve seen it happen before — veterans decide to waive their no-movement clauses for a chance to chase the Stanley Cup, and their original teams recoup some nice assets in return.
With his strong play this season — and that very reasonable cap hit — teams will certainly inquire, especially if the Flyers fall further out of playoff contention.
Once he reaches that 1,000-game threshold, would Giroux consider a move? Or would he rather stay in Philly, try to finish what he started, and continue chasing down the records of Clarke, who played every one of his 1,144 games in a Flyers uniform?
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