Michael Raffl is going on vacation…kinda. On Saturday morning the Flyers announced that he had been loaned to Austrian club Villacher SV. This came as a slight surprise out of context, but it makes much more sense upon closer inspection and could paint a picture of what the short-term future holds.
At 31-years-old, Raffl spent last year on the fourth-line, playing in 58 games and tallying a total of 8 goals and 12 assists in the COVID-stricken season. He’s been with the Flyers since 2013 and serves as a leader on the team. His first season under AV was on pace to be his most productive since 2015.
In 2021, he could well be on a line with Nolan Patrick or Morgan Frost along with Nic Aube-Kubel, so it’s not like the team are preparing to move on from him or anything. His presence would be needed more than ever.
What’s worth noting is that Raffl made his Hockey debut with Villacher SV back in 2004 and has since played in 198 games for their senior team. They’re the only Austrian Ice Hockey team he’s played for and he’s done so frequently throughout his career.
Villacher SV currently sit 10th in the ICEHL standings out of 11 total teams and are 13 games deep into a 35 game season. They’ll play their final game on the 15th of January, which could be perfect for Raffl to return to the Flyers in time for camp and the new season.
Sending him on a loan back in his home country to play with the team who he’s spent several years with makes a ton of sense given that we don’t really have any firm plans for when NHL training camps or season will start. The league has been pretty quiet when it comes to cementing plans, but given how crisply the playoff Bubble ran, it makes sense that they evaluate all possible options to put the best plan in place.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Flyers explore other opportunities like this, especially for their European players and younger prospects. It’s something the Canadiens have already experimented with. Names like Oskar Lindblom (obviously health pending), Robert Hagg, and Egor Zamula could all be candidates loaned out between now and the start of Training Camp in order to get some game-time under their belts and continue their development.
Nolan Patrick has taken part in several scrimmages this offseason and it might well be that the Flyers seek out a short-term loan move for him in order to take that next step. The former second-overall pick could play in a full-contact game at a lower level, which is a step up from scrimmages in terms of both intensity and competition. It would be the next logical step if they could find the right suitor and situation.
There are obvious restrictions and concerns. Agents will be protective over their players and want their clients to play at the highest possible level, there will be certain league-specific guidelines in place, and most are already knee-deep in the season. By the time a foreign player joins and completes quarantine and covid testing, the impact could be minimal. It would only be applicable to players already in their home countries and probably in a unique circumstance like Raffl, whose team didn’t have a ton to lose.
Keep an eye on how the Flyers approach the next few weeks. The Raffl loan isn’t a shocking one, but it’s a forward-thinking move that could have a fun butterfly effect pertaining to young prospects who could thrive overseas for a month or so.
Photo Credit: Alex Mcintyre