It's August and Alain Vigneault doesn't forget the numerous talks with doctors in December about Oskar Lindblom.
He'll probably never forget those conversations; difficult, real-life discussions on a scary reality that can twist one's stomach into a knot.
Lindblom, the Flyers' 23-year-old forward from Sweden with a bright future and smile, had been diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that occurs in bones or in the soft tissue around the bones.
With what the power of positivity can do for a person's spirit, Vigneault was determined to stay positive.
So he asked ...
"Is there a chance that I could get him back for the playoffs?" Vigneault recalled asking the medical professionals. "Obviously the answer was no."
Vigneault remembers the answer well. Almost in amazement of the new, unforeseen circumstances surrounding Lindblom's comeback, Vigneault cheerily brought up the remainder of the answer.
"Come next training camp in September, he should be back if everything went the way they thought," the Flyers' head coach said last Wednesday. "And things have gone the way they thought.
"This year, obviously, with the stoppage in play and the COVID-19 factor, the season has been stretched out. September is less than a month away, I was told that come training camp, he'd be able to play in September. So I guess we've got to get to September."
If the Eastern Conference's top-seeded Flyers need any extra motivation in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, they have it: September and the possibilities in which the month could offer.
Lindblom, who in early July completed his radiation treatments and has been deemed without evidence of cancer at this time, is in Toronto to join the Flyers for the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament. After traveling home to Sweden to see family and loved ones and train following the completion of his treatments, Lindblom remains in quarantine, mandated by NHL protocols.
"I haven’t seen him and none of his teammates have seen him," Vigneault said Tuesday in a video interview. "We have texted, though. He’s in isolation. ... He’s close to having gone through the quarantine and the testing that he has to do to be able to be allowed to come back with the group and be able to skate with the group. I believe he’s a few days away from that. There’s no doubt that we’re real happy; every one of us is real happy to have Oskar around. Can’t wait to see him, can’t wait to see him on the ice with the team. That’s going to be a big positive for our group."
Lindblom, who will celebrate his birthday Saturday with birthday buddy Jakub Voracek, is on the Flyers' 31-man roster, which means he's eligible to practice and play in the tournament. After sweeping the round robin to climb atop the East, the Flyers open the first round Wednesday against the Canadiens (8 p.m. ET/NBCSP). During training camp last month, when the Flyers signed Lindblom to a three-year, $9 million contract extension, general manager Chuck Fletcher would not rule anything out for the young winger in Toronto; and why would he with a fighter like Lindblom?
“I don’t know what’s out of the question," Fletcher said July 22. "I certainly wouldn’t put any limits on Oskar. We obviously will do everything we can to protect him, but he’s looking forward to restarting his life and his career. Whatever that means, we’ll find out. We’ll work very closely with his medical team, our medical team and we’ll make the right decisions for him.”
If the Flyers are still playing in September, they'll be in the midst of a second-round series and aiming for the Eastern Conference Final. Maybe Vigneault gets Lindblom back for the playoffs after all? Although, it would be fair to think if that might be a stretch given all that Lindblom has gone through and where the Flyers could be with their lineup at that time.
Lindblom playing again will be momentous and memorable. It doesn't have to happen in these NHL playoffs. The fact that Lindblom is working toward the possibility of appearing in the 2020 postseason is a victory in itself. That is worth celebrating and commemorating.
"Osky, if he is going to be joining us back here, what it’s going to take for him to be even close to playing or practicing or whatever that may be, the work ethic he’s going to have to put in is a lot," Travis Konecny said last Wednesday. "For him to be able to commit to that, I mean, it makes our job seem like nothing. We have to go out and play hockey. Think about Osky, how hard he’s working just to come back and hopefully play one game — it definitely motivates us to do the work for him and make all the hard work he’s going to try to put in worth the time."
September is nearing and so is Lindblom's return to the boys, even if it's just practice and positivity for now.
No one will question the worth of that.
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