Why Jori Lehtera deserves your love

ST. PAUL, MN - APRIL 22: Jori Lehtera
ST. PAUL, MN - APRIL 22: Jori Lehtera /

New Philadelphia Flyers forward Jori Lehtera likely won’t be winning many fans for his on-ice play, but his connection to a horrific tragedy makes him a player worth rooting for.

September 7, 2011. It’s a date that still knifes at the hearts of many, though it has since been forgotten by the world at large.

That was the day 26 professional hockey players, 11 coaches and staff, and seven crew members lost their lives in a horrific plane crash near the Russian city of Yaroslavl. The Lokomotiv Yaroslavl crash remains one of the deadliest accidents involving a sports team in history. It sent shockwaves throughout the hockey world and left a whole nation distraught.

Jori Lehtera, the new Flyers forward acquired in the Brayden Schenn trade, could’ve been on that plane. Perhaps he should’ve been. Lehtera had spent the the 2010-11 season with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl and performed reasonably well. He scored 37 points in 53 games, which was good enough for 6th highest on one of the best teams in the KHL. But Lokomotiv Yaroslavl released him at the end of the year, and Lehtera went on to sign with Sibir Novosibirsk, another KHL team.

More from Broad Street Buzz

It is difficult to grasp the pain that Lehtera must have felt after hearing the news that all of his teammates from that past year, teammates that he had played and laughed and traveled with for months, were now dead. Not just because of who they were to him, but because of how easily he could’ve died alongside them.

Professional athletes are built on confidence. They are confident in their talents and their abilities to grow and improve as players. They are confident that if they continue to improve, their contracts will increasingly reflect their value. They are confident in the future.

A tragedy like the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl crash destroys that confidence. It’s hard to be confident in an uncertain future where everything can be snatched away from you with a snap of a fingers. And plane crashes are one of the least likely possibilities. A career-ending injury or a couple dreadful years are all it takes for a player’s visions of fame and financial comfort to vanish into thin air.

Of course, the accident did not appear to have a concrete effect on Lehtera’s playing ability. The three seasons afterwards saw Lehtera become a point-per-game player in the KHL. He has yet to capture that same level of success in the NHL, save for perhaps his strong rookie season, but Lehtera has proven to be an acceptable bottom-6 forward. The Flyers mostly took him on because of the 2 years and $9.4 million still remaining on his contract, allowing them to gain more valuable draft picks in the trade.

Still, I will be rooting for Jori Lehtera, for as long as he is a Flyer and beyond. They say time heals all wounds, but it’s important to remember the wounds too. They help give us perspective and grow as individuals as we move forward in our lives. I suspect Lehtera knows this better than most.


Next: Gostisbehere says injuries limited him last year

(All stats via Hockey Reference)