UNIONDALE, NY. – A week ago, Michael Raffl was a basket case. The trade deadline was imminent, and as an pending unrestricted free agent at season’s end, his was one of the prominent names floated about, a chip to be used to improve the Flyers’ future at the expense of the present …
And at the expense of his nerves.
“It’s like in school,” he said. “You wait for class to be over, it takes forever, you know? This is not in my control. It’s weird. It’s not like nervous. It’s a different feeling when you’re in that situation. It’s torturous.”
Well, the deadline came and went, leaving Raffl with mixed emotions – like his teammates, he hated to see Wayne Simmonds go – but with a great sense of relief.
"I slept like a baby that night," said Raffl, who turned 30 in December. "I got a lot of hours in because I was exhausted. And I couldn’t believe how tired I was even after I woke up. Because of the stress. So much thinking about it.
"I’m very happy to be here."
Raffl has just 15 points this season (five goals, 10 assists), but is a plus-5 playing most of this season as a bottom-six forward and with limited ice time. What’s changed for him slightly over the last handful of games – and especially with two top-six regulars out Sunday -- is an opportunity for a shift here, a shift there, to play with some of the guys at the top, particularly Claude Giroux.
“He’s versatile,” Gordon said. “And we’re trying to take advantage of that. Plus, he can play both wings. He can play a little bit of a skill game, or a little bit of a power forward game. He’s big, strong, gets in on the forecheck.”
So if you think a line’s not going, you put him in there.
“You start the game on the fourth line and you get a couple of shifts to get other guys going" Raffl said. "That energizes myself, too, you know?”
On Sunday, with Jake Voracek sidelined with a lower-body injury, Raffl jumped from his fourth-line status to a second line with Oskar Lindblom and Sean Couturier. A head injury to Nolan Patrick jumbled those combinations even further, evidenced when Raffl was out in the slot for Travis Konecny’s first-period goal that gave the Flyers an early 1-0 lead.
Raffl played 22 shifts. He assisted on Scott Laughton’s second-period goal that pushed the Flyers’ lead to 3-0, prying a puck from two Islanders defensemen behind the net and feeding Laughton in front.
“No player is going to tell you he plays better when he plays less,” interim coach Scott Gordon said. “But the games in which he hasn’t played a lot have not been because of performance. It’s been because there weren’t any penalties, or the flow of the game we didn’t use the fourth line as much.”
The Flyers have 16 regular-season games left. A playoff spot would extend that, but Raffl knows the uncertainty will return whenever the season ends.