With the unprecedented timing of this NHL offseason, stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, Michael Raffl was finally able to celebrate his birthday in his native Austria again.
Raffl turned 32 years old on Tuesday. Typically, his birthday falls in the middle of a season. Raffl has been with the Flyers since 2013-14 and for every season of his seven-year NHL career.
On Tuesday, he was back home as the atypical offseason lingers on through December. Raffl still found a way to enjoy hockey on his birthday as he played his first game with Villacher SV, kicking off his loan to the Austrian pro team. Raffl is on loan to stay ready and get game work in before he eventually returns to the Philadelphia area for the 2020-21 NHL season, which could be his last with the Flyers.
The jovial and good-natured forward will be on the final year of a two-year, $3.2 million contract and set to become an unrestricted free agent next offseason. With his age of 32, there is understandable doubt to Raffl's future in Philadelphia past the 2020-21 season.
The thought of Raffl not in a Flyers uniform when a hockey season rolls around feels weird. For seven seasons, he has served the Flyers as a steady, reliable, versatile, team-oriented role forward. Rather quietly, he has put together a long, respectable and productive career in Philly.
"I came in here with the attitude, signing a two-way contract, to try and get one game in and be proud of that," Raffl said in March 2019. "Here I am, 400 games later, it's kind of cool."
Raffl now has 470 career games on his Flyers résumé. Only Claude Giroux (556), Jakub Voracek (548) and Sean Couturier (524) have played more games for the Flyers since the 2013-14 season, Raffl's rookie year after the Austrian signed in May 2013. On the franchise's all-time list, Raffl is 17 games away from playing more than Eric Lindros did with the Flyers, 31 from passing Paul Holmgren and 50 shy of jumping Kimmo Timonen.
Philadelphia has been Raffl's one and only NHL home. Perhaps the Flyers re-sign him to another reasonable short-term deal; Raffl took less money to stay with the Flyers when he signed his two-year extension in March 2019.
But come next offseason, Raffl could be headed elsewhere. Or, at that juncture of his career, maybe he even considers staying home in Austria, where his older brother Thomas plays and where Raffl played for parts of six seasons prior to joining the Flyers as a 24-year-old.
Raffl was one of two players from Austria to play in the NHL last season, with the other being Michael Grabner. Back home right now, freshly 32 years old, Raffl can be proud of how he has represented his country on hockey's highest level.
Soon, he'll fly back to Philadelphia for at least one more run with the Flyers.
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