Michael Raffl Out 4-6 Weeks with Lower-Body Injury
The hits just keep on coming.
The Philadelphia Flyers lose another member of their forward core long-term, as winger Michael Raffl is out 4-6 weeks with a lower-body injury sustained by an awkward collision with the boards on Tuesday night's loss against the Avalanche.
I was contemplating whether or not I wanted to give Raffl a full article - after all, he's basically a solid bottom-6 forward, and those usually don't make or break your team. Raffl can play up in the line up - remember, he ended the regular season and began the playoffs on the top line with Giroux and Couturier, but he's more of a quality depth piece more than anything else.
Why Raffl's injury is extremely critical is because of the implications it has to the Flyers penalty kill. The Flyers currently have just a 68.8% penalty kill, the 2nd lowest in the NHL. Under current PK coach Ian Laperriere, the Flyers have been in the bottom third of the league each of the last 4 years, and now without Raffl, the penalty kill only figures to suffer. Granted, even the worst penalty kill won't be as bad as the Flyers have been so far over the course of a season, but it doesn't bode well for the Flyers short-term.
What might be most interesting about Raffl's injury has nothing to do with him, but rather with the press conference given by Ron Hextall. Hexy said, "I'm a pretty patient guy, but things need to start going better." Hextall is regarded by fans as one of the more patient GMs in the NHL, but this comment, while it is just a comment, suggests otherwise. Even without JVR and Raffl, the Flyers definitely look good enough on paper to be a legitimate playoff team. But coaching and structural problems have crippled them out of the gate, and unlike it previous years when the Flyers were in more of a retool, there are expectations for winning this year. If the Flyers slow start lingers on for the next few weeks, would Hextall be as bold as to fire a coach, most likely Laperriere or even Dave Hakstol?
Those are pretty drastic measures, of course, and not ones Hextall will make rashly. While we often harp about the flaws of the coaching staff, it's important to note the PK has been much more aggressive this year (outside of the defensive zone, where it matters the most, of course), and Hakstol has gotten the Flyers to the playoffs 2 out of 3 years he's been here after the team finished 7th worst in the NHL the year before.
If there's any good news you can draw from Raffl's injury, hopefully this gives Mikhail Vorobyev a permanent role in the lineup after the rookie had been healthy scratched the last 3 games. Vorobyev was centering a line with Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds in practice, which very well could be the Flyers 3rd line on Thursday, although it's tough to tell for sure as both Claude Giroux and Nolan Patrick were absent from practice (most likely maintenance days). But this is still a pretty big blow to the Flyers - the question is, will it be viewed as a reason if the Flyers continue to struggle, or merely an excuse?