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Oskar Lindblom Bought Out Of Contract’s Final Year By Flyers

Oskar Lindblom will always be beloved by Flyers fans for his playstyle, personality, and his courage in the face of cancer. But the cap space needing Flyers made the tough choice to buy him out, saving $3,333,333 for 2022-23. (Photo: @NHLFlyers via Twitter)

Oskar Lindblom Bought Out Of Contract’s Final Year

If there’s been one certainty about what the Philadelphia Flyers needed to do in the 2022 offseason, it’s clearing cap space. The Flyers, the NHL’s fourth worst team last season, opted for an “aggressive retool” over a rebuild. That essentially mandated roster turnover, although to exactly what degree was unknown. The controversial Tony DeAngelo trade and subsequent contract signaled a lot of things. But perhaps the most underrated one was the increased need to find more cap space. After all, the two year, $5 million contract DeAngelo signed left the Flyers with only about $100K in space. And that was for a roster with just nine forwards on it. It was clear more moves were coming.

And more still will be coming after Tuesday’s news. But whatever the Flyers do this summer, it’s hard to imagine they’ll make a more gut-wrenching decision than buying out fan and locker room favorite Oskar Lindblom, which the club announced a few hours before the buyout window closes at 5 P.M. on Tuesday.

On paper, the Lindblom buyout makes perfect sense. Most of the time, a buyout allows a team to save a portion of the money they had committed to the player in exchange for paying a penalty in future years when the player’s contract would have expired. And yes, the Flyers will pay a $666,667 penalty against the cap in 2023-24 because of the buyout. But because of the structure of Lindblom’s contract and his young age (25), the Flyers aren’t just wiping Lindblom’s $3 million cap hit off their books this year. They’re actually saving an additional $333,333 as well. That last figure may not sound like much, and it isn’t. But every dollar counts for a team as cap and talent strapped as the Flyers.

However, anyone who knows Oskar Lindblom and his journey knows this was an incredibly difficult decision for the team to make. The Flyers found Lindblom in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL Draft, taking the Swedish left winger No. 138 overall. Lindblom exploded in his draft plus three season, winning SHL Forward of the Year in 2017. He nearly made the Flyers out of camp that fall. Instead, he went to the AHL, become an all-star for the Phantoms, and earned a call-up that lasted for good in Feb. 2018.

While Lindblom struggled a bit to score in the early part of his NHL career, anyone watching the Flyers could see the talent was there. While not the fastest or most skilled player, Lindblom’s knack for winning board battles and making smart decisions, especially when it came to the little things, turned him into an outstanding playdriver. And eventually, the points started to come. Lindblom scored 22 points in 44 games in the 2019 part of the 2018-19 season. He then became almost unstoppable out of the gates in 2019-20. Through the team’s first 30 goals, Lindblom’s 11 goals were tied for the team lead. Lindblom, then just 23, was emerging as a top-six option and an absolute steal for the Flyers organization.

And then, in the blink of an eye, Lindblom’s season, career, and life were changed forever. In December 2020, Lindblom was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. The disease didn’t just end Lindblom’s regular season; it put his life seriously in jeopardy. Thankfully, the Flyers and the hockey world were quick to rally around the young Swede. The team wore their Hockey Fights Cancer jerseys for warm-ups in their first home game after the diagnosis. They started wearing Oskar Strong shirts under their jerseys. Countless players on rival teams took pictures rocking the shirt as well. When Lindblom showed up to watch a game in January at the Wells Fargo Center, he received a standing ovation when showed on the jumbotron.

In July 2020, Lindblom finished his treatments with no evidence of cancer remaining. And after months of hard work, Lindblom earned the ultimate opportunity to return to the Flyers’ lineup in Game 6 of the 2020 Eastern Conference Semifinal on Sept. 3, 2020. It was another incredible, storybook moment in Lindblom’s journey. And after several months of uncertainty, that journey seemed to be finally trending in the right direction once again.

But progress has been harder to come by since. Most importantly, Lindblom remains without cancer, able to continue playing the game he loves and live a normal life. But Lindblom, understandably, hasn’t been the same player since returning from Ewing’s Sarcoma. His play-driving numbers went from elite to poor. He scored just 20 goals in 129 games since returning after scoring 11 goals in his last 30 games before his diagnosis. He isn’t the “little things king” he was prior to his diagnosis. While flashes of Lindblom’s pre-cancer form would pop from time to time, the consistency wasn’t nearly the same.

The roots of Lindblom’s decline are certainly understandable. And no one is questioning Lindblom’s continued determination to return to prime form. But in the Flyers’ eyes, he hadn’t shown enough for them to believe he’d make that leap in 2022-23. And with a $3 million price tag for 2022-23 and a $4 million qualifying offer due to retain his rights in 2023-24, Lindblom’s road to remaining in Orange and Black became rather narrow. Tuesday’s buyout completely condensed it.

It’s no secret that Flyers fans have largely lost faith in the team’ front office, and with good reason. They’re the ones who have assembled the rosters that have played at a .431 points percentage over the last two seasons, tied for sixth worst in the NHL. Winning would obviously temper that anger. But the fan base’s frustration isn’t just a product of the team’s record. Some teams are easier to root for than others. And while that shouldn’t be the focus of the people making the decisions, it’s still a factor that exists.

For a team that has talked so much about the importance of building a winning culture, and basically hired the coach who personifies it the most, the last few days have been a whirlwind. It’s confusing, if not outright hypocritical, for the Flyers to trade for one of the most controversial players in the sport, then buyout arguably the team’s most universally beloved player at least in part to clear the cap space to bring in the former.

Maybe the Flyers can cushion that by signing someone like Johnny Gaudreau in the coming days. Maybe not. Perhaps a change of scenery sparks Lindblom to return to 2019 form. Or maybe he’ll never quite return to the exciting career trajectory he was on three years ago. Regardless, Lindblom will always be remembered fondly by Flyers fans, as much as for the battles he won on the ice as the one he won off of it. The support they gave Lindblom and their Oskar Strong t-shirts won’t go away. Right now, the Flyers front office can only dream of such a legacy. It’s up to them to prove this buyout was necessary for the team’s greater good, and not just an avoidable mistake that takes away one of the sport’s highest character players.

#OskarStrong forever.

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