In 2011, the Philadelphia Flyers frequented the Defenseman carousel throughout the season. Whether it was Chris Pronger’s season ending concussion, or Andrej Meszaros labrum tear, or even when Kimmo Timonen’s body finally showed its wear and tear, Philadelphia never had a deep defensive corps.
They will be two short in 2012, and the future.
An official announcement may not come for many years, but Chris Pronger’s career is long over. The once great Defenseman has been reduced cap relief on the Long Term Injury Reserve.
Another Defenseman the Flyers expected to have for the long haul, Matt Carle, packed his bags when he heard the money calling. Carle signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team that traded him to Philadelphia in 2008, signing a 6 year deal worth $33 million. Many expected the 27 year old to re-up in Philadelphia for below the market value, but with a shortage of Defensemen and plenty of deep-pocketed teams that needed them, the money was too good to pass up.
After losing two defensive stalwarts, will they be able to take down an offensive powerhouse like the New York Rangers? Where does Philadelphia even go from here?
The answer is simple: they don’t. As the Flyers Defense stands, they will be perfectly fine this season.
After that, who knows.
Philadelphia’s top six Defenseman look like this: Kimmo Timonen, Nicklas Grossmann, Braydon Coburn, Andrej Meszaros, Luke Schenn and Bruno Gervais.
Barring any freaks injuries, this group of Defensemen will be a pretty healthy group of guys. Timonen, Grossmann, and Coburn missed only 15 regular season games combined in the 2011 campaign.For those concerned with Meszaros’ health going forward, last season was just the second time in Andrej Meszaros seven year career that he played in less than 80 games. Before last year, the Czech native played in 162 out of 164 games in Orange & Black.
Also, Philadelphia sports a relatively young group of guys on the blue line. The average age of the six guys listed above is just 27 years old. In comparison to the rest of the Atlantic Divison, the Flyers have the second youngest group. The average age for Pittsburgh and the New York Islanders is 28, and the New Jersey Devils is 29 years of age. In comparison to those three other teams, Philadelphia’s only has one Top 6 defenseman over the age of 30 (Timonen). Meanwhile, the New York Islanders and the Pittsburgh Penguins both boast 3 players over 30, while the Devils have 4.
When it comes to actual play, this group will fit the Philadelphia mold: big and physical. The Flyers love to get after the puck carrier, and deliver some crushing hits. Matt Carle was a good poke checker and strong at the point, but brought nothing to the table physically. In his tenure with Philadelphia, Matt Carle had 141 hits. This past season alone, newcomer Luke Schenn had 270 while with the Maple Leafs.
Even in case of injury, Philadelphia has a good group of fill-ins. The Flyers have three youngsters they could use: Marc-Andre Bourdon, Erik Gustafsson, and Brandon Manning. Bourdon played in 45 contests last year, scoring just 4 goals along with 3 assists, but maintained a +/- of 4. Bourdon suffered a horrible concussion that cut his season short, but could make a good injury replacement if he’s recovered from his head injury. Manning appeared in just 4 games last season, and will probably spend the majority, if not the entire season in Adirondack. The most enticing replacement is Erik Gustafsson, who played in 30 games last season. He had only 5 points, but a phenomenal +/- of 12. “Gus” was called upon in the playoffs and played phenomenally, putting up 6 points and not allowing a goal while he was on the ice.
This season the Flyers Defense will be perfectly fine. Next year is the true question mark. With Kimmo Timonen’s contract set to expire, the Flyers most likely will not re-sign him, and will be losing a great player as well as a good leader. Also, the loss of Timonen will leave the Flyers without anything close to a #1 D-man, as it is highly unlikely Luke Schenn emerges as the top guy after just one season. Philadelphia may have to take their search to the free agent market next summer, as the Free Agent crop is filled with solid Defenseman. Some of the names include Vancouver’s Alex Edler, Buffalo’s Robyn Regehr, Detroit’s Ian White, and Calgary’s Anton Babchuk, to name a few.
With plenty of big names available next year and a solid group of guys already on the Flyers currently, upper management should not feel the pressure to pay the high asking price for Keith Yandle. The 25 year old Yandle is a great player, but nowhere near worth what Phoenix is asking for in return.
Paul Holmgren will have to press his luck in July of 2013, and hope he can pluck a big name from the market.
Flyers fans should be able to breathe easy this year, but the blue line presence in 2013 will be much more of a concern.
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