Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Flyers Twitter is an odd place. I don’t really mix it up much with any other teams’ timelines, so I’m not sure if they’re all this crazy, but I can confidently say that we have some of the smartest and dumbest people on the planet in our little section of the Twittersphere.

Even as the city of Philadelphia recommended that people stay away from large crowds this week due to the threat of coronavirus, the Flyers drew 19,689 fans for a Tuesday night game against the Bruins. When asked about it, defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere succinctly said, “It’s Philly, bro.”

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Some fanatics were losing their minds at the thought of fanless games until Charlie O’Connor, who covers the team for The Athletic, pointed out that having sick people in the building threatened the well being of Oskar Lindblom, a 23-year-old budding star winger who is stricken with Ewing sarcoma (a rare bone cancer that affects children and young adults) and is out for the season. Message received. OK, we gotta make sure Oskar is safe at all costs.

Oskar Lindblom
Oskar Lindblom
Photo: Getty

Flyers fans can be pretty irrational when the team doesn’t do well, and there have been plenty of awful seasons over the past 8 years. There was the mindless debate over whether captain Claude Giroux, one of the five best players to ever wear Orange and Black, should have the “C” stripped from his jersey because he couldn’t carry a roster full of dead weight to a title. There were those who called Sean Couturier, one of the most valuable players in the league, a “3C who can’t score 40 points a year.” He now regularly scores 70+ with Selke-caliber defense, and records playoff hat tricks on one leg.

One of the Flyers’ star players, winger Jakub Voráček, blocks nearly everyone who follows the team. Getting blocked by Jake means you’ve made it to the big time in Flyers Twitter. Occasionally, he even calls out Flyers fans who trash him on the team’s subforum at HFBoards.com.

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But Lindblom is different. I think all of us have always loved him. Part of it is because he single-handedly changed our view of the value of late-round draft picks. He was taken in the fifth round in 2014 by then-general manager Ron Hextall. Holy shit, you’re allowed to draft actually talented hockey players in the fifth round?!

Lindblom dominated Swedish hockey at a very young age. His supposed weakness was skating, but he improved that aspect of his game every year. Because of Lindblom, it seems like every Flyers fan has become a draft nerd, scouring obscure hockey sites to find videos of European prospects who could be steals in the fifth or sixth rounds. (But not the seventh, because we always trade that pick to Montreal for a future seventh for some mysterious reason.)

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Lindblom is the type of player who is valuable if he scores 30 points because he makes smart, subtle plays in all three zones, is always around the puck and does the dirty work around the net. This year, it looked like he might score 50+. He was leading the team with 11 goals and was arguably their best player through 30 games. The kid was becoming a star. Then he was diagnosed with cancer in December, and the slogan #OskarStrong was born. He has been reportedly responding well to treatment, and it’s clear that the boys are positively exuberant when he shows up in the locker room in post-game.

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This Flyers team has felt special ever since it dedicated the season to Lindblom. But now, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the outcome of that season is in doubt. They were the hottest team in the NHL before Thursday’s decision to postpone all games indefinitely. They had won nine in a row and soared past rival Pittsburgh for second place in the Metro prior to Tuesday’s loss to Boston. They were scoring a ton of goals with production from all lines. Young defensemen Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim and Phil Myers were playing great. Old vets like Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun were providing great leadership.

MoneyPuck.com was tweeting for about a week that the Flyers had the best odds of winning the Stanley Cup. (If you follow a Flyers fan, you already knew that, cuz we’ve been busy retweeting that out every 20 seconds.)

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Occasionally, I’d toss out a sober reminder in a game-day thread at HFBoards or on Twitter that, “It really sucks that Oskar isn’t here.” Not trying to be a Debbie Downer, but dammit, I miss that kid.

The most incredible part of this season is that the Flyers were getting solid goaltending from Carter Hart, who’s all of 21.

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Did you say Flyers and solid goaltending? Is that even legal?

Obviously the universe didn’t know how to handle this, so a plague of Biblical proportions had to be dispatched posthaste. Or maybe it was the fact that this is the first Flyers team to not have a legit heavyweight face puncher, instead icing a full roster of guys who actually are paid to play hockey. That shouldn’t be a revolutionary idea, but these are the descendants of the Broad Street Bullies, after all.

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Sigh. Of course the Flyers are finally good and the world has to end.

I said Flyers Twitter has some of the smartest hockey fans around, and it’s true. @FlyersPuckSauce is an insanely dedicated and insightful dude. There’s Captain Dave Poulin, who helped us get through the tortuous Dave Hakstol years with his hilarious GIFs and his PhotoShop skills. The gang at BroadStreetHockey knows its stuff, and the Flyperbole guys are both smart and hilarious.

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There’s Namita Nandakumar (@nnstats), who left her job with the Eagles to join the unnamed Seattle NHL expansion team. She’s going to do great there, but she’ll always be one of us.

The first guy to tell us how good Lindblom would be was Alexander Appleyard, a fine chap from across the pond who frankly comes across as way too reasonable and polite to be a Flyers fan. I should mention @FlyGoalScoredBy, who tweeted something funny in 2012, maybe.

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Following all these people is great, but what are we going to do without hockey? Thursday night was the first scheduled game that was wiped out due to the pandemic. We had @Ronlextall’s thread of GIFs to keep us entertained, and photographer Alex McIntyre posting her best shots from the season. For my part, I offered some recommendations on good Gary Oldman movies (“Immortal Beloved,” “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”), but the best part was probably Flyers center Kevin Hayes taking beat writer Sam Carchidi to task for making a dumb joke about Giroux “finally getting a Cup” thanks to the MoneyPuck projections. Sam, you’re just not good at the Twitterz, bud.

I’d invite everyone to the HFBoards, where we can talk about music history, argue about hot dogs being sandwiches, put GhostBeers on ignore and discuss Robert Hagg’s “value” for the 3,293rd time. Don’t know how long that will keep us entertained, but after waiting all of our lives for a Stanley Cup, well, patience is a virtue. Stay strong, friends. #OskarStrong.

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