Quick Hits: September 25, 2020
1) On Thursday, the National Hockey League released its protocol for players to safely undergo off-season training, in preparation for training camps and an eventual 2020-21 season. The protocol is quite similar to what was put in place for Phase 2 of the original return-to-play plan.
Starting on October 15, each NHL club will be permitted to open its training facility to allow gatherings to train on the ice and in the gym, both individually and in small groups (up to a maximum of 12 players). Attendance is strictly voluntary.
As with Phase 2, the protocol spells out pre-training quarantine requirements, COVID-19 testing procedures and mask requirements. Notably, as with before, all players who travel to their team's training facility city via commercial airlines will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days before they can report to the facility. For the full protocol, click here
2) Among the Flyers position players who are unrestricted free agents this offseason, Tyler Pitlick could be the likeliest to be offered a contract extension. He will never be a big goal scorer at the NHL level but it's his combination of forechecking tenacity, being an above-average straight line skater who also has a big frame and having at least enough offensive ability to produce 20 points or so in a bottom-six role that makes him valuable in today's NHL.
Pitlick, who will turn 29 on Nov. 1, had a $1 million cap hit on his expiring contract. He quietly put together a strong 2019-20 season prior to the NHL schedule pause, and scored a pair of goals (one an empty netter) during the postseason.
The Minnesota native has been repeatedly set back by injuries in his career -- including left wrist surgeries both in early February and late August of 2019 -- and he missed all but the final few days of training camp last September. Not unexpectedly, he got off to a slow start in October. Pitllck soon hit his stride, though, and settled into a regular role on the third or fourth line. He missed two games in mid-December due to a mild concussion, but did not skip a beat upon his return. In the postseason, Pitlick was briefly moved up to Kevin Hayes' line in the New York series and then formed a line with Scott Laughton and James van Riemsdyk that was the Flyers' most effective trio of Game 4.
Pitlick, who was originally selected by the Edmonton Oilers with the first pick of the second round in the 2010 Draft (he had been projected in the late first-round to early second range), is not devoid of scoring ability, although he's never put up big numbers as a pro. He has a heavy shot, but is not very dynamic with the puck. As a Flyers this past season, he tallied eight goals and 20 points. His career high was 14 goals and 27 points with Dallas in 2017-18, when he played regularly with Radek Faksa and also spent a stint with Jamie Benn as a linemate.
Although he was one of the Flyers more physical forwards, Pitlick played with good discipline. He took only six minor penalties all season and just two over the final 26 games before the leaguewide pause.
Pitlick balanced playing physical hockey while staying out of the penalty box by managing his energy wisely. He kept his shifts short (averaging 39 seconds per shift) and led all Flyers forwards with 132 credited hits and 2.21 credited takeaways per 60 minutes of ice time. The right winger averaged 18.4 shifts per game and 12:03 of overall ice time (including 10:57 at even strength and 1:03 on the power play), and started 51.9 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone.
With cap space a precious commodity and the floor/ceiling expected to be flat for the next three seasons, it is far from a cinch that the Flyers re-sign Pitlick. Veteran role players are the most susceptible to getting squeezed out by cap considerations, and there's a limited range of cap hit and term likely to be offered to such players on the open market. The Flyers may opt to let Pitlick sign elsewhere and see if they can replace him inexpensively in-house.
Potential in-house options to replace a vacated roster spot include incoming rookies Tanner Laczysnki (in the first year of a two-year entry-level contract at a $925,000 cap hit at the NHL level) or Linus Sandin (one-year, $792,500 contract). The Flyers could promote Nicolas Aube-Kubel (new two year contract at a $1.075 million cap hit) into the role that Pitlick played with more frequent top-nine duties and less time on the fourth line.
If Pitlick is re-signed, what would be an agreeable deal to both sides? That's hard to say without direct knowledge of what Pitlick's agent is looking for, but in a marketplace with limited cap dollars, a modest raise on his expiring deal -- perhaps $1.15 to $1.2 million on a two-year contract -- might be about right. Thing is, every extra $100,000 or $200,000 spent or saved adds up fast due to the flat cap.
Both sides can afford to be patient right now. If Flyers are confident that one of the new arrivals can play effectively in the NHL right away, they may let Pitlick walk. If they'd rather go with the known quantity for a little bit more money, they'd be more likely to re-sign him. In terms of the Pitlick camp, it would be a surprise if there's not an NHL contract out there for him somewhere by next season, whether it's in Philadelphia or elsewhere.
3) On today's edition of Flyers Daily, Flyers assistant coach Ian Laperriere is host Jason Myrtetus' special guest. Among the topics covered are Lappy's take on the 2019-20 regular season and playoffs, and how players can adjust their training routines as they reach their 30s. To check out the podcast on the Flyers Broadcast Network, click here
4) On the Flyers official website, I did an "Inside the Numbers" deep dive into the Flyers GAA, GPG and special teams improvements during the 2019-20 regular season after a disastrous 2018-19 campaign as well as why some of indicators backslid during the postseason. These are all things that merit watching closely heading into next season because they're the crux of being a top contender in the Eastern Conference come the 2020-21 season. For more, click here
5) Earlier this week, the Flyers kicked off an online team merchandise sale at Shop.WFCPhilly.com
, which will run through Sunday. The Flyers and 76ers will also have an in-store sale from today (3 p.m. to 7 p.m.) through tomorrow (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.). All items are at least 20 percent off and selected items are 40 percent off. There is also a BOGOF headwear sale. Parking is free at the Wells Fargo Center complex. Masks are required, and social distancing is strongly recommended.