Is The Philadelphia Flyers Defense Good Enough?
Editors’ Note: Noted Philadelphia Flyers fan John Saquella is going beyond 140 characters. The man most of you probably know from social media as @jsaquella will bring you his wide-ranging opinion and commentary on the Orange and Black in his column Putting On The Foil.
By John Saquella (@jsaquella)
Want to analyze the Flyers as a team? Easy, just shred the defense and goaltending, and POOF! You have content for your blog, national media column or TV spot.
Except it’s not really that easy.
The Flyers, on paper, can actually have a very solid defense corps this year. In fact, it could be said that their defense corps is very similar to the 2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes, where quantity was just as important as individual quality.
Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette was the ‘Canes coach that year, and I’ m guessing that the Flyers hope he can manage this group like he did that Carolina corps 7 years ago. The keys here are health, usage and overall team play.
So, is the Philadelphia Flyers defense good enough?
Health is an obvious issue.
The Flyers were decimated on defense by the end of the 2013 season. Kimmo Timonen, Brayden Coburn, Nicklas Grossmann and Andrej Meszaros were all out of the line up by the end. Another member of the walking wounded was Marc-Andre Bourdon. All of them have been cleared to play, except Meszaros and he is expected to get clearance soon.
Timonen is a warrior. He plays through injuries that would sideline many players. He gets banged up, but like a faithful soldier goes out and does whatever he can to help the team. Coburn’s injury is also not a major concern to linger on and cause problems in the future. I worry about Grossmann, who suffered a concussion and has a history of knee troubles. Bourdon was also hampered by a severe concussion, which remains a concern.
Meszaros is probably the biggest concern, but I also expect the Flyers to make every effort to move him prior to the start of the season to clear cap room and a contract slot. Meszaros has had a horrible run of injury luck over the past 18-24 months. Shoulder, back, achillies, shoulder again…it’s to the point where its too risky to rely on him to be anything more than depth. Even 23 year old Erik Gustafsson, who to me is a lock for top six minutes and 2nd PP unit time, has struggled with various nagging injuries over the past few years.
The benefit to the injuries was seeing guys like Gustafsson and Oliver Lauridsen get a real chance to play some NHL minutes, and both did a very solid job. Gustafsson also had a very good performance at the World Championships for Sweden to solidify his chances at a spot.
That brings us to usage. Far too often last season, Flyers fans had to watch Luke Schenn or Coburn try to lug the puck through the neutral zone or make a long breakout pass. That’s sort of like asking a Grizzly bear to dance swan lake. The Flyers coaches need to do a betre job of recognizing what their roster can and can not do and adjust the systems and scheme accordingly.
Laviolette did a good job in simplifying the system at the end of the year, when the Flyers went 11-5 to finish, beating 9 playoff teams in the process. He needs to be more pro-active early on in making sure the players are being asked to do jobs in accordance with their ability.
This ties into the overall team play, especially in their own end. The Flyers forwards have to be better at limiting the gap between them and the defense in the transitional game, and have to be much more responsible in the defensive zone and at supporting the puck. Little things like that, make Laviolette’s system work. Not doing those little things make Laviolette’s system look like a disaster.
As far as pairings, I like the possibility of having a solid stay at home guy on each pair, combined with a capable puck mover. I’ll lay out my pairs and my thoughts on why they’d work.
Kimmo Timonen & Luke Schenn
Timonen is still a highly effective and capable two way defenseman, even at age 38. He’s adept at the offensive side of things, still has decent speed and is a very good passer. Schenn is your traditional tough defenseman. He hits often and plays a good physical role. I like Timonen with him because it allows Schenn to play his game, without having to worry if his partner will be there. He can worry about what he has to do, secure in knowing that Timonen will be where he is supposed to be. Schenn played very well for the Flyers last season and Timonen was a big help to him.
Mark Streit & Braydon Coburn
I see this as an ideal pairing. Streit is a very good puck carrier and good passing defenseman, with a booming shot and good offensive instincts. Coburn is more comfortable in a stay at home role, but what he has that Schenn lacks is very good mobility. Coburn also plays a less risky physical game than Schenn, who can be caught out of position in going for a big hit. Coburn also has solid offensive tools in a limited role, and can be an ideal partner for Streit, whose game is the offensive side of the coin.
Nicklas Grossmann & Erik Gustafsson
Grossmann has been a rock solid, stay at home defenseman, who can play nasty and does a solid job with his limited puck time. Gustafsson has really bloomed over the past two years and seems to have a higher ceiling than many thought. But for right now, they can form a very capable third pair for the Flyers defense. I’d also expect Grossmann to be a PK fixture, while Gustafsson sees ice time on the PP.
Bruno Gervais, Marc-Andre Bourdon & Oliver Lauridsen
Gervais is a capable 7th defenseman. He’s similar to former Flyers defenseman Randy Jones in that he’s adequate in a limited role, but gets exposed badly when counted on too heavily. He has a small cap hit and really wouldn;t benefit by playing regularly in the AHL. Bourdon is a wildcard. He played solid hockey for the Flyers during the 2011-12 season, but missed all of last season with PCS. My guess is that the Flyers will risk waivers for Bourdon and let him play in the AHL, at least to start the year, but if he stays healthy, he’s a definite call up possibility.
Lauridsen is a big stay at home type that was thought to be a fringe NHLer 12 months ago. Now, he’s seen as a potential third pair guy. He showed he was a capable player, albeit with some poor footwork, in a 6th defenseman role. Being waiver exempt, the ideal role I see for him is getting a load of ice time in the AHL and being recall in case of injury, and then playing ahead of Gervais, who could be kept in the 7th defenseman role.
Of course, a healthy Meszaros gives even more options, as he’d be a definite top 6 guy at full strength. Still, I have to say, the Flyers can ice a very solid and capable defense right now, without making a single trade or free agent addition. It’s not perfect, but it’s also not a disaster waiting to happen.