VOORHEES – Michael Raffl stood in front of his locker Monday morning, when a media type asked him about transitioning from a former “19-goal scorer” to a more two-way, defensive type player.
The Flyers’ forward gave a politically correct response, saying all the right things about doing what’s best for the team and embracing whatever role he is given.
Moments later, another reporter offered a correction: “It was 20 goals, right?’’
Raffl smiled. “Actually it was 21,’’ he said, causing a great deal of laughter.
But the point is, that’s the kind of player the native of Austria really is. He can score goals one minute, grind out a penalty kill the next, all the while trying to keep the focus on the 20-something guys in the room instead of just himself.
More than usual attention is coming Raffl’s way because, like Wayne Simmonds, Raffl is a potential unrestricted free agent on July 1, which could make him trade bait at the Feb. 25 deadline.
Raffl makes it clear he would like to stay with the Flyers but there’s really nothing he can do to control that. It’s all up to general manager Chuck Fletcher.
In the meantime, he’s going to do his best to keep the Flyers in the playoff hunt.
His two-point performance in Saturday’s 6-2 win over Anaheim was, according to captain Claude Giroux, probably his best game of the year.
It’s nice to see him get rewarded for so readily accepting a fourth-line role with Mikhail Vorobyev and Phil Varone. He’s been on the fourth line since the halfway point of the season back in early January.
“It depends on the role you have on the team,’’ he explained after the morning workout at the Skate Zone. “In order to help the team win, you have to find a role and do your best at it. It’s not like I try to score less goals or points.’’
The 30-year-old Raffl was signed as a free agent back on May 31, 2013. In his second full season with the Flyers (2014-15), he posted 21 goals and a total of 28 points.
Since then, it’s been campaigns of 13, 8, 13 goals. This season, he has only four goals and 11 points but maintains a trusty plus-4.
On the list of Austrian alltime scorers, he stands third behind only Thomas Vanek and Michael Grabner.
Safe to say with 125 points, Raffl is not going to catch Vanek (780) for the alltime lead.
“This (fourth line) is what we need right now,’’ he said. “And I try to do my best. Help the boys.’’
Like Simmonds, Raffl gets asked if he wants to stay here, even though the obvious answer is yes.
“You’re aware of it (trade deadline) for sure,’’ he said. “But whatever happens, happens. You go out there and do your best every night. If you’re on a winning team, you have a good chance to sign somewhere.
“I really like it here. They gave me the chance to play in the NHL, establish myself with the Flyers. I’ll always be grateful for everything they have done. I love the boys. I have some really good friends here. I would love to stay here but at the end of the day, it’s a business, too.’’
Coach Scott Gordon recently held a video session with Raffl to sort of fine-tune his role. It’s been helpful.
“We talked and out of all the guys on the team, he’s probably the one who’s gotten the short end of the stick as far as ice time (averaging less than 10 minutes per game the last 12 games but 11:41 for the season),’’ Gordon said.
“Like I said to him, that doesn’t diminish the value that I think he brings to the team. Whether it’s killing penalties or playing with energy. . .if we have a guy who goes down with an injury, he’s the first guy you look to as being able to step in and replace that guy.’’
Raffl has played on all four lines over the past season or two.
“That (fourth-line) decision wasn’t based on any poor performances by him,’’ Gordon said. “Just shuffling the deck and try to come up with something that balances the lines. He’s still an important part of it.’’
Added Giroux: “The last game he was moving his feet. He’s strong on the puck. He’s a big piece to our team. It was great to see him play the way he did last game.’’
>Pittsburgh games now have extra meaning
A month ago, when the Flyers lost to the Devils to drop to the bottom of the Metro Division standings, it didn’t look like Monday night’s game against Pittsburgh or the Feb. 23 outdoor game vs. the Penguins was going to mean much.
But now, with the Flyers having closed to within six points of the Penguins for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, it’s a whole different picture.
“It’s good,’’ Giroux said. “We’ve been playing some good hockey. We’ve battled ourself back to (near) a playoff spot. Still a lot of points behind but you have to be consistent and the last 10 games (9-0-1) we’ve done that.’’