The Philadelphia Flyers acquired defensive-defenseman Nicklas Grossmann on February 16th, 2012. The deal happened roughly a week and a half before the 2012 Trade Deadline. At the time, Grossmann was in the final year of a two-year contract paying him an average annual value of $1.625 million. The Flyers liked what they saw in the 6’4″, 230lbs Swede and quickly signed him to a four year $14 million extension.
Since coming to the Flyers, Grossmann has played in 85 games. He has scored one goal and added 15 assists. However, his game is not captured in points. He is a hitting and shot blocking machine who is a rock on the penalty kill. He averages 19:41 of ice time per game, and 3:04 of that is on the PK. Grossmann has been paired with Mark Streit for a majority of this season and the pairing has been a disappointment. Grossmann is not an especially mobile skater and his speed is best described as glacial.
That said, I have no problem with Grossmann’s game. He is a solid shut-down defenseman who is well suited to third pairing duties with a lot of penalty killing responsibilities. However, a third pairing, penalty killing defenseman should not be paid $3.5 million a year and averaging almost 20 minutes a game.
It has been stated time and time again that the Flyers need a top pairing, puck moving defenseman. That kind of player is a hot commodity in the NHL right now and demands big money. Big, slow, third pairing penalty killers are not rare. Grossmann’s role is similar to that of Hal Gill, who is making $700K a year, or Oliver Lauridsen, who’s NHL salary is $600K. Yes, his contract is similar to that of Luke Schenn who fulfills a similar role, but Luke Schenn also has much more potential and has shown in previous years that he can be a better player than Grossmann.
Around the league, players like Grossmann are paid very modestly. Nowadays, teams value youth, speed, and skill over experience and defensive prowess. Defensemen who are similar to Grossmann, such as Andrew Alberts of the Vancouver Canucks and Tom Gilbert of the Florida Panthers, make less than $1 million a year. Grossmann is a highly effective shut-down defenseman who is a very good penalty killer. He is not, however, a $3.5 million a year defenseman. Luke Schenn, who makes an average of $3.6 million a year, has second pairing potential and more offensive ability than Grossmann. Although this is clearly a down year for L Schenn, he is more worthy of a $3.5-3.6 million contract than Grossmann.
Nicklas Grossmann currently functions as the Flyers number three (or four, depending on how one views Mark Streit) defenseman and averages 19:41 TOI per game. Almost 20 minutes per game is too much for a slow, shut down defenseman. To deploy Grossmann excessively is to give up the all-important elements of speed and skill against the opposing forwards. Take a look at a few players in the NHL who average roughly the same amount of TOI as Grossmann.
Eric Gelinas, NJD, 19:39/game: This 22 year old rookie has been the brightest spot this season on the NJD blue-line. He has three goals and 10 assists through 25 games. Gelinas has been on the second pairing in New Jersey and is helping his team stay in the Metropolitan Division race.
Matt Niskanen, PIT, 19:35/game: Niskanen is a second pairing defenseman who sits behind the likes of Kris Letang and Paul Martin on the Pittsburgh depth chart. Niskanen has a goal and 12 assists through 34 games. He gets moderate power play time and is occasionally used on the penalty kill.
Kevin Shattenkirk, STL, 19:35/game: Shattenkirk sits third on the St. Louis depth chart behind their top pairing of Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo. Shattenkirk has 22 points in 30 games (3G, 19A) and is very effective on the power play. He is slated to make Team USA for the Sochi games in February.
What is my point? All three of the players listed above are better than Grossmann. A player who is on the ice for nearly 20 minutes every night needs to be quick and have at least moderate offensive upside. Grossmann is not a number three defenseman and becomes a liability when used in that capacity. A player like Grossmann can be an effective player, but using him for almost one-third of a game is dangerous for any hockey team.
To be fair, the problems listed above are not Grossmann’s fault. The bigger problem is the Flyers defensive mix. Coburn is best deployed in Grossmann’s spot as the number three defenseman and top shut-down defender. Only with a partner like Erik Karlsson or PK Subban would I consider putting Coburn on the top pairing. Timonen is no longer a top pairing guy at this stage in his career. Therefore, the top pairing of Timonen-Coburn is, in effect, “playing up.” Grossmann, Streit, Hal Gill, and Andrej Meszaros are all best suited to third pairing duties. Both Luke Schenn and Erik Gustafsson are currently playing like third pairing players. This forces at least two third pairing guys to “play up” to cover for L Schenn and Gustafsson. So far, the chosen two have been Streit and Grossmann, because Gill and Meszaros just cannot seem to hang in there. If L Schenn and Gustafsson can elevate their play to place where it was at the end of last season, Grossmann may be able to fade back into the fifth defenseman spot and be deployed in more favorable situations. Until something changes, however, Nicklas Grossmann is going to continue to be overpaid and overused.