I reviewed Philadelphia Flyers’ head coach Peter Laviolette in Part 2 of this series. Now, let’s focus on the team’s defense as we continue to hope for a resolution to the National Hockey League lockout.
Losing Chris Pronger was a fatal blow to the Flyers last season. I open with that point because it’s fully accurate and also because it continues to define the team’s current defensive issues.
The Flyers have been unable to replace what “Prongs” brought to the ice and what his veteran presence means in the locker room. His likely permanent absence caused general manager Paul Holmgren to offer a restricted free agent offer sheet to Nashville Predators’ defenseman Shea Weber. Nashville’s unexpected match means that Laviolette’s defense remains somewhat short on experience, but long on potential.
The blue line contingent
Kimmo Timonen is 37-years-old, but he’s still very effective. With a deeper core of defenders, his ice time could be balanced during the 2012-13 regular season in order to prepare him for a maximum playoff run. Due to current circumstances, it’s likely that his 21:14 time on ice average per game will stay within that range this season.
Braydon Coburn (27) had a fine season last year. He was a +10, generated 24 points and will be one of the team’s “Iron 3” defenders when the season begins.
Nicklas Grossmann (27) was a great in-season acquisition from the Dallas Stars last February. This punishing, stay-at-home defender truly stabilized the team’s entire blue line contingent until knee issues limited his effectiveness late in the season. If fully healthy, I believe that he has the potential to be the team’s best defensive defenseman this season.
Andrej Meszaros (27) was a member of the Flyers’ top two pairings until he tore his right Achilles tendon while training during the offseason. His rehabilitation should be complete before the spring arrives. How well he’ll be able to play whenever he’s able to return is anyone’s guess.
Andreas Lilja (37) is a serviceable veteran defenseman. His hip surgery this summer would have delayed the start of his own hockey year by a few months. If there is a resolution to the lockout this month, he might be able to start the season on the active roster.
Luke Schenn (23) was an intriguing acquisition this offseason. The trade that sent him from the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Flyers, in exchange for James van Riemsdyk, wasn’t really about the family connection that he and Flyers’ forward Brayden Schenn share. I like his offensive potential and four years of experience that he gained in Toronto. He should be a good addition to this squad.
Bruno Gervais (28) was a nice free agent pickup from the Tampa Bay Lightning. He wasn’t originally projected to play a major role on the team. But, injury issues and the uncertainty surrounding a number of rookie defensemen could mean that he’s in the lineup more often than he’s a healthy scratch.
Regarding those rookies, each of whom has the potential to become an important part of the Flyers’ top three defensive pairings this season: Mark-Andre Bourdon (23), Erik Gustafsson (who turns 24 in December), Oliver Lauridsen (23) or Brandon Manning (22) could play regularly, be a healthy scratch or spend time with the Adirondack Phantoms. I wouldn’t bet against at least one of these young men performing well in the NHL this season.
Veteran Danny Syvret (27) became a Flyers for the third time in his career when he signed a free agent contract in July. It’s always possible that he could be summoned to Philadelphia, depending upon the team’s needs.
Sean O’Brien is based in the Philadelphia region. He was a freelance sports writer for five years in the 1990s and is currently a Featured Contributor in Sports for the Yahoo Contributor Network! You can follow him on Twitter @SeanyOB and also read his daily Sports Blog: Insight.
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