VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers have enough groin strains and knee pains to worry about, that they certainly don’t need a Jori Lehtera headache.
Lehtera was held out of Wednesday’s practice, and consequently not available to the media, after the website MTV.fi reported that the Flyers forward had been questioned by Finnish authorities as a suspect in a large cocaine ring back in his home country (see story). Police had raided Lehtera’s cottage earlier this summer and he, in turn, has denied any wrongdoing.
The Flyers elected to send out a statement just before 1 p.m. Wednesday, saying, “We have spoken with Jori Lehtera and the league office regarding the reports out of Finland and will reserve any further comment on the matter at this time.”
General manager Ron Hextall addressed the media a short time later and said, “I don’t have details, so there’s nothing to comment on.”
The underlying question as it pertains to the Flyers: Was the organization aware of any of this prior to training camp or did it find out like the rest of us? Hextall’s comments would suggest that the team was blindsided and unaware of these events, Lehtera’s questioning by authorities or anything pertaining to an investigation.
If indeed Lehtera provided any type information to the Flyers prior to the start of preseason, then certainly the organization knew of a potential fallout.
Interestingly, Hextall was asked about cutting ties with Lehtera and buying out the remaining year on his contract back in May, but the GM saw value in Lehtera outside of his play on the ice.
“There’s a lot of reasons you don’t just buy a guy out because he makes a little bit more than that type of role should make,” Hextall said. “Jori was a good role player for us. He’s a terrific human being. He works hard. He’s really good with our young kids. There’s a lot more to it than just saying, ‘OK, Jori Lehtera was playing center and playing 8-10 minutes.’”
So how should the Flyers proceed moving forward?
It’s simple — place Lehtera on waivers, and if he clears, bury him in the AHL. The front office may have been considering waivers prior to this new revelation, and if you didn’t think Lehtera was worth a roster spot before, he certainly isn’t worth it now. His preseason hasn’t been any different than his regular season a year ago. The Flyers would still be responsible for Lehtera’s $5 million salary for this season, but cap space isn’t an issue at this point.
We’re not talking about Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek or Nolan Patrick.
Lehtera is a fringe player on this Flyers team and his presence or absence won’t make a difference regardless of how good he is with the young players. Certainly, there’s enough leadership to go around to compensate for Lehtera’s loss. In fact, the Flyers are scheduled for team bonding activities in Vail, Colorado, next week before they travel to Las Vegas for the season opener.
If the Flyers continue to roster Lehtera, they would be subjecting themselves to a lingering off-ice distraction, with more line of media questioning and an ongoing investigation that could lead to possible charges.
Some dark clouds are worth looking up at. This isn’t one of them.