By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
You could say this season has been a step backwards for the Flyers. Two years ago, in the late summer of 2020, they were locked into a playoff series with the New York Islanders and one win away from the Eastern Conference Final. The two seasons since their Game 7 loss in early September 2020 have been dreadful.
But this season doesn’t feel like a step back. It feels like a series of missteps.
The latest surfaced on Monday, as Anthony SanFilippo of CrossingBroad.com reported that Director of Medical Services Jim McCrossin and assistant athletic trainer Sal Raffa had filed a lawsuit against Comcast and others after being diagnosed with rare medical conditions.
McCrossin was diagnosed with essential thrombocythemia, myeloproliferative neoplasm, and myelofibrosis, a terminal blood cancer. Raffa was diagnosed with thrombocythemia, an incurable condition that increases the risk of blood diseases, including cancer, and strokes.
The alleged cause, according to the lawsuit, was “excessive exposure to cancer-causing carcinogens that are emitted from Zambonis, used to cut and clean the ice surface at the Flyers practice facility, and the result of the training room, where they have worked for the past two decades, butting up against the Zamboni room where these carcinogenic chemicals were potentially ingested extensively due to inappropriate ventilation or through a shared drainage system.”
McCrossin, 64, has been with the Flyers since 2000. Raffa, 42, joined the team in 2004.
The Flyers organization issued a statement to Crossing Broad regarding the reports:
“The safety of our employees and guests at the Flyers Training Center and all of our facilities is always a top priority for us. We have looked into the allegations made by Jim McCrossin and Sal Raffa over the course of several months, and, based on that, believe that their claims have no merit. Beyond that, we cannot comment further given that this matter is in litigation.”
Obviously, there are plenty of questions surrounding this that have implications on the rest of the organization and the National Hockey League as a whole. All arenas and practice facilities have Zamboni machines for resurfacing. Are there any other team personnel around the NHL that have also experienced this? What about within the organization? Are there any other team employees, players, coaches, staff, or close contacts that will come forward now that this lawsuit is public?
In a season where everything that could possibly go wrong seems to have done so, this is just the latest issue with an organization that continues to show how lost it has become. The team’s performance rivals the worst in the league, fresh off a weekend sweep by the Buffalo Sabres, a team ranked eighth-worst in the NHL. The Flyers have 42 regulation losses, just the second time in franchise history they have surpassed 40 regulation losses. Only three teams are behind them in the standings.
Off the ice, there have been novel and comical symbolism of the franchise’s state, from a Twitter movement of profile pictures of a fan with a bag covering his head to a police dog doing its business on the Flyers logo.
But what isn’t comical is the way the team’s Hall of Fame ceremony was conducted to honor two long-time members of the franchise. What isn’t comical is the waning fan attendance that seem to beckon that season ticket sales and renewals next season could be an all-time low for Wells Fargo Center.
And now, this lawsuit involving McCrossin and Raffa simply adds to the dysfunction that the organization has displayed. It goes beyond hockey when two lives, and perhaps many more to come, are in danger as a result of such negligence.
In recent weeks, there were certainly some bright moments for the organization. They handled Claude Giroux’s 1,000th NHL game and farewell properly. They honored public address announcer Lou Nolan for 50 years in the role with a ceremony of his own. They had two of Ed Snider’s daughters in a suite as the team commemorated six years since the founder’s passing last Wednesday. They held a town hall with season ticket holders and seemed more focused on being receptive to what the fans wanted out of the game experience.
Of course, those things become sweeter when the team is successful, and the team has been anything but this season – there’s still time for one more 10-game losing streak this season. One offseason simply isn’t enough time to fill all of the holes and patch up all of the shortcomings this team has on the ice, no matter how aggressively you approach things.
At the very least, while a plan for improving the team didn’t seem to go much further than aggression, there was an honest effort being made to patch things up with the fan base. It’s fair to wonder if, like the playing roster, coaching staff, management and otherwise, that may be too difficult to repair in the near future too, no matter how aggressively you approach things.