The Flyers are entering the 2013 NHL season coming off of a disappointing playoff loss to eventual ECF Champion NJD, but let’s not forget that awesome playoff win over the Pens. Yea, let’s just focus on that memory! Our forward group looks as strong as ever, and our two favorite young players, Schenn and Couturier, had the opportunity to develop their skills for roles as top 6 centers, powerplay and penalty killers in the AHL, rather than continued time as bottom 6 guys in the NHL. We really need Bryz to have a great season, because our defense looks terrible.
On the bright side, no team might have benefited more on the blue line during the lockout than the Philadelphia Flyers. First things first: barring a miracle, Pronger ain’t coming back. Moving on, the off-season was going poorly already after Nashville matched Shea Weber and Ryan Suter went to Minnesota when Meszaros tore his Achilles while working out in Europe. Normally this injury would have kept him out for the first half of the season, but luckily for the Flyers there was no “first half of the season.” Meszaros will be back, and healthy, early on in the season, if not for the opener. Kimmo Timmonen, our number one defender, has a tendency to wear down over the course of the season and by the playoffs he looks like a shell of himself. Fortunately for the Flyers, there’s only half a season to be played, and I have a lot of confidence in Timonen’s ability to play in 40 or so games and then to be ready for the playoffs.
Say what you will about Matt Carle, and believe me I have, but we’re going to miss his ability to move the puck up the ice. What we won’t miss is his ability to allow any player in the NHL to get to wherever they would like to be in our offensive zone. Enter Niklas Grossmann. He fights for every inch of ice and blocks a ton of shots. He’ll never be a star defenseman or powerplay QB, but the man can play defense, which is exactly what we need. I’d like to see him paired with a puck moving guy like Timonen, but the Flyers really like the Timonen-Coburn pairing at the top of the depth chart.
On the bottom of the depth chart, an unsung benefit of the lockout is that the Flyers will only have to suffer through 48 more games of Andreas Lilja. Bruno Gervais has joined the Flyers, and that is all I have to say about Bruno Gervais. Luke Schenn came from Toronto in a trade during the off-season. While some people are very excited about him, I believe it was a bad trade. That’s not to say Luke Schenn is awful, I just think we should have gotten more in return for JVR than a third pairing defenseman on a lottery team, even if Fat Schenn has significant upside as a second pairing guy who blocks a lot of shots. The role of 7th defenseman goes to one of the young guys in Adirondack, who will be tasked with filling the void left in our blue line if we suffer any injuries. On the positive side, I have complete faith in their abilities to fill in for any injured players. On the negative side, that faith is largely rooting in my belief that our defense sucks, so any injuries won’t matter.
In summation, the Flyers need to either decide that this is the year we’re finally going to spend a high draft pick on a defender of the future, or they need to make another trade. This team is sorely lacking a go-to defenseman in the absence of Pronger. Timonen is incredibly underrated, solid, and reliable, but he’s also injury prone and aging. Coburn has that gene in him, and it has shown in big games (most notably the 2010 Cup Finals), but he needs it to come out more consistently. Luke Schenn is by far our best prospect for the future, but that’s more due to a process of elimination than it is because of high upside. I don’t’ have high hopes for this year defense, which Rick Tocchet summed up very accurately and very succinctly with the word “Serviceable.”