‘I didn't know what to say' — Farabee's neck injury total surprise to Flyers, winger


VOORHEES, N.J. — Joel Farabee suddenly felt a pinching sensation in his neck area.

Fewer than two weeks later, he was undergoing disc replacement surgery in his cervical region, becoming the third NHL player to ever have such a procedure. Last Friday, the Flyers' 22-year-old winger joined Golden Knights center Jack Eichel and Blackhawks forward Tyler Johnson in that category.

"I know Joel and Joel's family and his representation certainly were encouraged by the results that they've seen," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said Wednesday. "We obviously consulted with more than one doctor, we got multiple opinions and everybody thought that this was the best approach."

The injury was as stunning to Farabee and the Flyers as it was to those that received the news publicly five days ago. Farabee missed 19 games last season with two different occurrences of an injury to his left shoulder area. But he finished the season on the ice and was eager for his offseason training back home in the Syracuse, New York area.

Three days after the official start of summer, Farabee found himself back in Philadelphia for surgery by Dr. Jon Yoon at Penn Medicine.

"Crazy, I think it was one of his first sort of formal workouts of the summer," Fletcher said. "He was warming up with light weights on the bench press and he felt ... he called it a pinch, some kind of pinching sensation in his neck area. He was able to see a doctor in the Syracuse area, got some imaging done, we got him down here last Monday to see Dr. [Jon] Yoon and then he had literally gone into surgery four days later.

"I didn't know what to say. Extremely unfortunate and unlucky for him. But I think we moved as quickly as we could once we knew he had issues."

Fletcher said the Flyers and doctors believe this injury had "no correlation" to Farabee's shoulder issues.

"Talking to Joel this morning, he was just saying that the first time when he started working out, his shoulder and everything felt 100 percent, felt great," Flyers assistant general manager Brent Flahr said. "It just happened. He walked out of the surgery and later that day, he feels really good, which is amazing."

Farabee is a young and critical piece to the Flyers and their hopes of having a turnaround from back-to-back seasons of missing the playoffs. He's entering the first season of a six-year, $30 million contract extension he signed last offseason. His recovery is expected to take three to four months, which means he'll miss most — if not all — of training camp and potentially the start of the regular season around mid-October.

An injury to the neck area is nothing to take lightly. The recovery will impact Farabee's ability to gain strength this offseason and his acclimation to new head coach John Tortorella.

How much training will Farabee be able to do this summer? Are the Flyers optimistic he'll be ready for the start of the season?

"I'm not even sure that's important to me," Fletcher said. "Just looking at some of the schedule drafts we have coming out, I think we have eight games in the month of October. To me, it's about getting him right.

"I'm not 100 percent sure yet how quickly he can get into getting stronger and really working on not just his upper body, but his lower body as well and building some strength to help him become a little bit more durable. He plays hard, he's a fearless kid. This was going to be a big summer for him from a strength and development scenario.

"That's certainly an important part of the rehab; it's not just getting him healthy, but it's how can we get him stronger. For me, whether it's three months or four months, at the end of the day — if he's ready for Game 1, great, but if he misses five, six, seven games and we can push him a little bit further, that might make sense, too. We'll make every decision with him based on his long-term health, welfare and development."

Farabee's injury is a torturous type of development for the Flyers after their disastrous 2021-22 season. Part of the disaster were injuries to significant pieces like Sean Couturier, Ryan Ellis and Kevin Hayes, among others.

More: Important stretch, with 'uncertainty,' is ahead for Ellis and Flyers

"Hopefully there's no more surprises this summer in a negative sense like I got a week and a half ago when I got a call that Joel Farabee had numbness, pain in his neck, could be pretty bad," Fletcher said. "I'm like, 'Are you kidding me?' So hopefully there's no more of those.

"But if there are, we'll just react, that's what we do. We'll have to work around it. We'll have the ability to hopefully improve our roster, but clearly getting guys back to full health and some young players improving has to be a big part of this, too."

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