Bet on Raffl as top-line option
When healthy he could be solution to play with Voracek, Giroux
CALGARY, Alberta - For most, the biggest item on the Flyers' wish list this summer is a stud left winger to skate alongside Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek.
Ron Hextall joked last week no one was going to wave a magic wand and say, "OK, here's a 25-year-old Brett Hull, thank you very much."
No, that will not happen. But what if the Flyers already have a suitable first-line left winger who can bury goals from the feathery passes off the sticks of the team's two stars?
His name is Michael Raffl.
Laugh if you want about that thought - a relatively anonymous NHL player who was skating in the low-level Austrian league just 4 years ago. But Raffl's production this season suggests he could be a decent stop-gap solution on the top line until the Flyers can draft and develop a true stud winger.
It's just that Raffl hasn't received consistent playing time with Giroux and Voracek to really present his capability in numbers. Raffl, Giroux and Voracek have played just 9 percent of the Flyers' even-strength minutes this season, according to LeftWingLock.com. Brayden Schenn has skated 11 percent of the time in Raffl's place.
Look at the last 10 games: Raffl has played 37.3 percent with Wayne Simmonds and Giroux, 26 percent with Ryan White and Zac Rinaldo, and 18.4 percent with Giroux and Voracek, according to LeftWingLock.com.
Yet, Raffl managed to bury his 17th goal of the season Tuesday night in Vancouver.
That might not sound like much, but given the games he missed in November (eight) with a right ankle/foot injury and after the All-Star break (seven) with a lung infection, Raffl is 11th in the league in goals-per-60-minutes (1.3) among left wings with at least 50 games played. That puts him above Jamie Benn, Brandon Saad, Bobby Ryan, Gabriel Landeskog, James Neal, T.J. Oshie, Thomas Vanek and James van Riemsdyk, to name a few.
"I told him before the season that he could be a 30-goal scorer," Voracek said. "Raffl knows what to do to make us better, to make our line work. He wins a lot of battles, he drives the net a lot. It opens up space a lot for me and 'G.' He's improved big time over the last 2 years."
The biggest question is whether Raffl's success is sustainable. His shooting percentage (15.5 percent) is not entirely unmanageable. And he is in just his second season and has already nearly doubled his scoring output in significantly fewer games.
"I'm not going to talk about top lines and stuff, but he could score 25 goals in the NHL," coach Craig Berube said. "[On that line], you've got to be more of a playmaker. You've got to use some skill to get the pucks to those other guys. If you get them the puck, they'll get it back to you."
Overall, NHL scoring is down. Raffl is already tied for 26th in the league in goals among left wingers, without taking into account his lack of minutes and games missed.
At 25 goals, as Berube projected, Raffl would likely be in the Top 15 in left wingers this season, which is certainly "first-line" production. Berube said he'd consider keeping Raffl on the top line for the remainder of the season, but wouldn't commit to that with his team scoring just one goal in Vancouver.
"Well, I don't know," Raffl said when asked what this year would've been like if he was healthy. "I can't tell you. There's 10 games left, I'll look back after the season. I need to finish strong and go from there."
The NHL's 30 general managers wrapped up their annual 3-day meeting in Boca Raton, Fla., yesterday. Here are the quick hits:
* Commissioner Gary Bettman updated the GMs on next season's salary cap. It is currently projected at $71.5 million, down from the $71.7 million projected at the All-Star Game in January, thanks to the falling Canadian dollar. That figure also assumes the NHL and NHLPA will agree to include a 5 percent escalator, which has always been the case annually since 2006. This year's salary cap is $69 million.
* The GMs voted to recommend a small rule change proposed by Carolina's Ron Francis. If approved by the competition committee, the centerman on the defensive side of the ice will be forced to place his stick in the faceoff dot first before puck drop. Currently, the visiting player must do that - no matter the location on the ice. This change is designed to increase offense, since the offensive player would supposedly have an advantage by entering the draw second.
Defenseman Michael Del Zotto ("upper-body" injury) said he is ready to return for tonight's game at Scotiabank Saddledome. He has missed the last six games, but had 16 points in his previous 21 games . . . Del Zotto has as many points as Wayne Simmonds and more than Jake Voracek (11) and Claude Giroux (12) over each of their last 21 games . . . Craig Berube praised the work of Nick Cousins in his NHL debut Tuesday in Vancouver . . . Matt Read is not expected to rejoin the Flyers until tomorrow in Edmonton, leaving a spot for Cousins in the lineup tonight.