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Offense is Raffl's ticket to stay with the Flyers

Flyers' brass thinks that once Michael Raffl starts scoring, he can be a top-six player.

Michael Raffl (12) skates against the Detroit Red Wings in the first period of an NHL hockey game in Detroit Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013. (Paul Sancya/AP)
Michael Raffl (12) skates against the Detroit Red Wings in the first period of an NHL hockey game in Detroit Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013. (Paul Sancya/AP)Read more

DALLAS - For Michael Raffl, life in the NHL has been, well, a little bit of a raffle.

There have been lots of chances, but little scoring.

Raffl, 25, has played 16 games since joining the Flyers as a free agent from Sweden's second-tier league. He has yet to score a goal - and has done very little around the net to think he might be close.

Yet, when the Flyers take the ice this afternoon at American Airlines Center against the Stars, Raffl will be in the lineup. He will even be playing alongside two capable linemates in Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds.

Why is Raffl still getting a shot? Most players transitioning to North America would already be back in the minor leagues, working out the kinks and getting a feel for the vastly different game. By comparison, Flyers coach and former enforcer Craig Berube scored in his 13th NHL game.

But Raffl is still with the Flyers for a reason.

The Flyers believe in Raffl. They don't view him as another Mika Pyorala, who came over from Finland in 2009 at age 29, contributed two goals and two assists in 36 games and never played in the league again.

In fact, the Flyers' brass that thinks once Raffl figures out how to score, he has the potential to be a top-six forward in the NHL - maybe even someone who can play with Claude Giroux down the line.

"He's worked hard," Berube said. "He's had a couple opportunities, but he's missed the net. He either waits too long or misses the net. He's got to do a better job."

At the surface, the words sound harsh. That is Berube's accountability at play. Deep down, there is a lot of hope for Raffl, who is making a jump that only dynamic Phoenix defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Nashville's Filip Forsberg have done from the Allsvenskan in Sweden.

The advanced stats bare out Berube's criticism. Raffl has missed the net on 37.5 percent (15 of 40) of his shot attempts, second only to Zac Rinaldo's 48 percent. No one is counting on Rinaldo to score, and he isn't getting the minutes to do so.

According to advanced statistician Eric Tulsky, of the blog Outnumbered, Raffl has missed the 37th-most shots in the NHL among 406 forwards with at least 10 games played this year. (Rinaldo is fifth.)

Vinny Lecavalier has missed on 12 of 37 shots, a similar total, but he also has four goals to show for himself. Other notables near Raffl in the missed-shots category include Joe Pavelski (38.2 percent), Nazem Kadri and Joe Thornton (both 37.5 percent).

The tough thing about missing the net is that advanced statistics, as Tulsky pointed out, show zero correlation between how often a guy misses the net and how often he scores on the ones he does hit the net.

More telling may be shot distance. If missing weren't enough, Raffl's average shot length at 5-on-5 is 36.5 feet from the goal is 35th-longest among those same 406 forwards with 10 games played. Steve Downie (45-foot average) and Zac Rinaldo (43.6 feet) have not scored a goal in 5-on-5 play this season. Scott Hartnell (41.1 feet) has scored four 5-on-5 goals, yet his game is suited to scoring from close distances in front of the net.

Perhaps used to having more time and space on an ice surface 13.4 feet wider, maybe the Austria-born Raffl is panicking and throwing the puck toward the goal quicker than he'd like. He was not available to comment for this story, since the Flyers' practice was canceled yesterday because of an ice storm in Dallas.

One thing keeping Raffl in the lineup with a healthy workload (12:30 average ice time per game) is the fact he is not a liability in the defensive end.

"He's played really well I think," Berube said. "He's backchecked well, he's blocked shots, he's killed penalties good. I have no problem with that. I think there's more there though on the offensive side and we're going to push him until we can get it out of him."

Until then, it is up to Raffl and him alone to determine whether he can ultimately become a top-six player in the NHL.

"That's not for me, I can't answer that question," Berube said. "To be a top-six player, you've got to produce. We'll see."

Tough sledding

It isn't often that an NHL team will go nearly 70 hours without skating in a season - and they will hardly ever do that and be forced into a game. Yet, that is what the Flyers must overcome today.

Their practice in Farmers Brach, Texas, was canceled yesterday after an ice storm left 264,000 people without power - including the Dr Pepper Stars Center. The Flyers didn't skate on Thursday, opting instead to travel from Detroit to Dallas, and got in only a light off-ice workout. They will not have a morning skate today to prepare, since puck drop is at 2 p.m. Eastern.

"We didn't practice yesterday, and you'd like to get on the ice and get some work in, get some skating going, get the goalies some shots," Berube said. "It is what it is, so we've got to deal with it."

Lecavalier out

The Flyers will be without the services of Lecavalier, who will miss his third straight game with back spasms. Today will mark the seventh game Lecavalier, 33, has missed this season.

Like the rest of his teammates, Lecavalier was looking forward to possibly testing his back yesterday in Dallas. The next opportunity he will have to try is tomorrow morning in Ottawa, before the Flyers continue their seasonlong, 13-day trek against the Senators on Monday. He remains listed as "day-to-day."

Slap shots

Sports Business Journal writer Chris Botta, who used to work for the Islanders, reported yesterday that Peter Laviolette is "definitely a top candidate" to return to Long Island if Garth Snow decides to fire Jack Capuano. Laviolette led the Islanders to two straight playoff berths from 2001-03 . . . Scott Hartnell will play his 900th career game today . . . The Flyers have won their last three trips to Dallas . . . The Stars will be without defensemen Trevor Daley and Stephane Robidas, as the Flyers try to take advantage of an inexperienced defense corps.