Andrej Meszaros Tears Achillies: Who do Flyers turn to now?
Hey, Detroit and Nashville fans, good news! You are no longer the only teams that grabbed over 100 points last season and had your defensive troops melt down over the summer. Another club joining that fun group, by fun I mean a sobbing mass of drunk fans, over this summer are the Philadelphia Flyers.
The fans of these clubs had high expectations coming into the off-season. They had not made it very far into the playoffs and had tons of holes to fill over the summer, most of them being on the blue line. The Wings just lost Nicklas Lidstrom to retirement and Brad Stuart via trade with the San Jose Sharks, while Nashville lost Ryan Suter to free agency and almost lost Shea Weber to an offer sheet from the same Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers on the other hand have had just as bad if not worse of an offseason when it comes to the back end talent. Chris Pronger has concussion issues that will most likely force this great player to sit on IR this season, and possibly for the rest of his contract, I say this while grinding my teeth as he has been just a menace to my Red Wings for most of his career. They also lost Matt Carle to free agency. That is two top four defensemen that they will be without at the start of the season. Happy off-season Flyer fans, here is an early crap-cake to celebrate another disappointing year to come.
And now comes the cherry on the cake: Andrej Meszaros out for six-plus months after tearing his Achilles tendon.
Can Claude Giroux play defense?
While the Red Wings and Nashville Predators had some young defensive talent to insert into the lineup with Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl for Detroit and Ryan Ellis, Jonathon Blum, and Roman Josi for Nashville, the Philadelphia Flyers have a been left in a much tougher situation. The trade of JVR for Luke Schenn turns out to be a life saver instead of a complimentary addition. Let’s take a look at who will be slowing down Malkin, Crosby, Nash, and Kovalchuk this season for the Flyers before Ilya Bryzgalov is fed to the wolves (or bears) of the hungry Atlantic division.
Kimmo Timonen is the highest paid and will have to be the highest played defenseman for the Flyers. This guy racked up 43 points last season while playing a little bit over 21 minutes per game. The 21 minutes was a little on the lower side for this work horse and we should see his minutes go up to around 23 to 24 minutes per game. This will happen out of necessity due to the weak top-four that Peter Laviolette will have available to him. He will be the number one guy on the power play and to the fantasy nuts look for him to flirt with 50 points again. I can see him bringing up his 3.1 shooting percentage to a bit more of his career average of 6 percent and scoring around 8 to 10 goals in 2012-2013. The only concern here is that he is 37-years old and will turn 38 in March. He has been known to stay relatively healthy throughout his career, but some extra wear and tear could have an affect on the aging body of this Finnish star.
This is where things drop off incredibly for the Flyers.
The next highest scoring defenseman for Philly was Matt Carle with 38 points, but he bolted (pun intended) to the Tampa Bay Lighting. So who can carry his offensive load?
Braydon Coburn comes to mind. He did have a 37 point season once and has been a rather solid defenceman for the flyers. With an increase in playing time and maybe a bit more powerplay time, we can see this guy get back to a 30-35 point plateau. At 6’5″ and 220 pounds he has impressive size. He will carry the defensive responsibility for the Flyers like no other player on the team. His play will have to improve drastically, as is expected from all of the D-men next year, if Philly is to stay competitive in the tough Atlantic division. He will eat up a bit more short-handed minutes than last year (he averaged 3:19 per game) if that is even possible, and with Meszaros (who averaged 2:24 SH minutes per game) being out for about half the season, will carry the load of the having played the most minutes each night.
Nicklas Grossmann will be another mammoth of a man on the blue line for the Flyers. He is not known for his offense, but will be a solid player for the second pairing. His size and experience should serve him well. The forwards upfront can generate plenty of offense so you can anticipate that the extra ice time may help him to score more than the 11 points he had last year. He scored 6 of them in 22 games with Philly while only posting 5 points in 52 games on Dallas. I call this the Giroux affect.
Now we get to Luke Schenn. Luke has had a bit of pressure put on him due to being drafted 5th overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs. He has not lived up to the hype in the hockey pressure cooker that is Toronto. The good thing about this kid is that he has size and speed. If you are a Flyers fan you have to be loving this kind of stuff from a kid who obviously is not afraid to lay on some hurt on anyone, even Malkin. He does need to add some maturity to his game – he needs to learn how to play a bit more responsibly in his own end. The hitting is fun and all, but sound defensive work is what you need to win. He could benefit greatly while playing with Timonen. The offensive upside could be huge, too. He may explode for 30 points playing with the offensively-minded Flyers. On the flip-side he could slide down to the third pairing due to weak play in his end, especially if Bryzzy is a bit shaky.
So after these four you get mish-mash. Andreas Lilja, Bruno Gervais, Erik Gustafsson, and Marc-Andre Bourdon, with maybe Brandon Manning and Matt Walker being AHL substitutes, are all interchangeable and replaceable options.
The big problem here is that if any one of those top four guys goes down with an injury, what then? Who do you fill the roster spot with? This could have been addressed with Shea Weber coming to town, but Nashville smartly matched the offer sheet. So what is the answer here?
Well, the FA market can give you some solid third pairing guys in Matt Gilroy and Carlo Colaiacovo, but that is not what the Flyers are missing. They need a top-two, top-four defenseman and the only way to get one of those is via trade. But who and where can they acquire that? Would Long Island deal Streit for some young prospects? Maybe. But to me this season might be a hard one to swallow for the Flyers fans and my recommendation is to look forward to the next season – as painful as that sounds.
If he is on IR they can replace Pronger and his $5 million cap hit, and next season Timonen’s $6.4 million cap hit comes off the books, which would give them tons of cap space to snatch-up some free agents. Some notable UFA’s next year are Mark Streit, Alexander Edler, Ian White, Kevin Klein, and Ryan Whitney. These prime-aged defensemen can potentially test the free agent market. But hey, this is Paul Holmgren we are talking about. He has the balls and the hair to make a bold move to get the guy he needs. With him behind the helm you can expect nothing, and at the same time expect anything.
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