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New season, new faces for Blue Jackets, Flyers

The Philadelphia Flyers and Blue Jackets will aim to rebound from disappointing seasons on Thursday when they face off to open their respective 2023-24 campaigns in Columbus, Ohio.

The Flyers (31-38-13, 75 points in 2022-23) and Blue Jackets (25-48-9, 59 points) found themselves bringing up the rear in the Metropolitan Division. Both teams won just seven of 26 games against division foes last season.

Philadelphia and Columbus also experienced significant change in the offseason.

The Flyers tabbed Keith Jones as the team’s president of hockey operations and removed the interim tag from now general manager Daniel Briere.

“We’re going to do things, obviously, for the future, but at the same time we expect these guys to go out and win every game — and I hope they know that,” Briere said.

The Blue Jackets, in turn, named Pascal Vincent as their head coach following Mike Babcock’s resignation after allegations surfaced on a popular hockey podcast that he violated players’ privacy during offseason meetings.

“It was obviously stressful for a few weeks there before the season, but I think it might’ve brought our team a lot closer,” star forward Johnny Gaudreau said, per The Columbus Dispatch. “We’re going to use that to our advantage and, hopefully, will surprise some people.”

Philadelphia’s Travis Konecny surprised some people last season after he recorded a career-high 31 goals and matched a personal best with 61 points, with three and six, respectively, coming against Columbus.

Fellow forwards Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson will look to regain their form after missing last season with injuries, while Owen Tippett, Noah Cates and Morgan Frost hope to take the next step in their development.

Rookies Bobby Brink and Tyson Foerster will aim to follow up strong preseason performances, although they’ll likely see their playing time capped at the onset of the season.

“I think early on, it’s a respectful thing for the opener to treat the veterans right,” Briere said Tuesday. “But then their play will dictate who plays. You all know (coach John Tortorella) by now, he’s not afraid, if someone is not performing, he’s not going to hold back and he’s going to play the young guys.”

Travis Sanheim, who is beginning an eight-year, $50 million contract, and fellow defenseman Cam York will be tasked with shoring up the back end following departures of durable Ivan Provorov (to the Blue Jackets) and fellow offensive-minded defenseman Tony DeAngelo (Carolina Hurricanes).

Carter Hart managed to overcome shaky defensive play last season en route to recording a respectable 2.94 goals-against average and .907 save percentage. He is just 3-4-1 with a 3.00 GAA and .896 SP in eight career meetings with Columbus.

As for the Blue Jackets, all eyes will be on top prospect Adam Fantilli. Selected third overall in the 2023 NHL Draft, the center will be out to contribute offensively on Thursday, his 19th birthday.

Patrik Laine will center a line with Gaudreau and Kirill Marchenko on his wings, while captain Boone Jenner will look to improve on his team-leading 26-goal season.

Goaltender Elvis Merzlikins, who is expected to get the nod Thursday, will bid to bounce back from a disastrous 2022-23 season. In 30 games (27 starts), he had a 7-18-2 record with a 4.23 GAA and .876 SP.

–Field Level Media

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