As Depth Move, Kurtis Foster Signing Logical For Philadelphia Flyers

By Charlie O’Connor (@THG_Charlie)

After a 113-day lockout, it took Philadelphia Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren less than twelve hours to make his first transaction of the 2013 NHL season.

But the ever-aggressive Holmgren did not make a glamour free agent signing or pull the trigger on a season-altering trade. Instead, Holmgren’s first move was to sign 31-year old journeyman defenseman Kurtis Foster to a one year, $950,000 contract.

Foster becomes the new addition to a glut of candidates immediately capable of filling the role as sixth defenseman, including new addition Bruno Gervais and veteran Andreas Lilja.

Still, considering his relatively low-risk contract, nature of the shortened 2013 season, and unique skill set, Foster could provide solid value for the Flyers over the next few months.

While New York Times sportswriter Chris Botta tweeted on Saturday that the Flyers considered giving Foster a two-year contract, the actual term lasts only through the conclusion of the 2013 season, and Foster’s salary easily fits under the Flyers’ cap.

Foster gives the Flyers a total of ten NHL-caliber defensemen for the 2013 season, including the currently injured Erik Gustafsson and Marc-Andre Bourdon. But injuries on the blueline remain an ever-present threat for Philadelphia despite their depth.

In addition to the current injuries to Gustafsson and Bourdon, projected starting defensemen Kimmo Timonen and Andrej Meszaros underwent offseason surgery, and another starter (Nicklas Grossmann) barely avoided surgery. At age 37, Timonen is an injury risk, and Meszaros is expected to miss the start of the season due to his extended recovery process.

Holmgren noted the injuries to his young defensemen in justifying the Foster acquisition.

“[Gustafsson] is probably two weeks from playing, and [Bourdon] we don’t know until he sees the doctor later this month. We just felt it was a gaping hole in our organizational depth, and we were able to be aggressive with Kurtis.”

Not only are the Flyers dealing with a brittle defense, the short training camp and more intensive regular season schedule is expected to lead to increased injuries across the league. The Foster signing helps to preempt potential injury issues in a short season where each game will have playoff implications.

With Meszaros likely to miss the start of the season, Foster will battle with Gervais and Lilja for spots on Philadelphia’s opening day third pairing. Once Meszaros is healthy, Foster could remain as the sixth defenseman or be relegated to the bench, depending on his early season play.

Peter Laviolette noted on Sunday that Foster could potentially provide extra value on the power play.

“On the back end on the power play, you can really see what he brings to the table.  His head’s up, he makes good passes, he can really bring a shot.  That can really help on the power play, I think.”

Foster’s biggest weakness is his skating ability. Formerly a solid skater, Foster’s foot speed has been a liability since the defenseman broke his left femur in 2008, making him prone to defensive breakdowns. In his past three seasons, Foster’s goals against per sixty minutes (a statistic that measures the number of goals scored every sixty even strength minutes Foster spent on the ice) were 2.74, 2.58, and 2.78 – mediocre numbers at best.

Still, Foster’s possession statistics since the injury show that his lack of foot speed has not prevented his teams from controlling the shots battle. Over the past three seasons, Foster had produced solid Corsi Relative numbers of 8.0, 2.0 and -2.7, meaning that in two out of the last three seasons, Foster’s teams have done better at controlling the shots battle with the defenseman on the ice than with him off the ice.

Foster’s offensive instincts clearly remain intact. But to be successful in Philadelphia, he will need to face weaker competition regularly to minimize the effect of the breakdowns caused by his lack of foot speed.

As Paul Holmgren’s first post-lockout transaction, Kurtis Foster may lack starpower. But by aiding Philadelphia’s defensive depth, power play, and offense at even strength, Foster is a solid acquisition and a worthy addition to the Flyers’ roster.

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