Photo courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
By Charlie O’Connor (@THG_Charlie)
With less than a minute remaining in a tightly contested battle between the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings, the 6-3, 218 pound forward Johan Franzen tried to manuever into scoring position in front of Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. With one goal already on the night and time winding down, “The Mule,” as he is often called, was hungry for the game-tying tally.
But with the correct spelling of his last name on his jersey for the first time in his NHL career, Nicklas Grossmann had other ideas.
Grossmann, in only his eighth game as a Flyer, tied up Franzen and rode him into the net. His efforts earned a stoppage of play, but most importantly, ended any scoring threat that the burly Franzen posed to Philadelphia.
Prior to the Flyers’ acquisition of Grossmann, the team’s defense had come under fire for a perceived lack of physicality, especially in front of their own net. In the absence of the aggressive and assertive Chris Pronger, the Flyers had become complacent in the crease area, critics howled, putting undue pressure on their goaltenders.
Grossmann clearly has done his best to change that perception.
While the hit stat is notoriously inconsistent, Grossmann has recorded 25 hits in his first eight games with the orange and black, placing him on a 256 hit pace in an 82 game season, a remarkable total regardless of regional stat collection biases. Grossmann has also blocked a whopping 19 shots as a Flyer, according to NHL real time statistics.
But Grossmann has not merely contributed in the defensive end.
In 52 games in Dallas this season, Grossmann contributed five points, all assists. But in only eight games as a Flyer, he has nearly matched that total, totaling four assists thus far. While he is still looking for his first goal of the season, Grossmann’s offensive production has seen a sizable increase since his move to Philadelphia.
And with the recent injuries to both Kimmo Timonen and Andrej Meszaros, Grossmann’s responsibilities have only increased. Originally acquired to slot in as the fifth defenseman on the depth chart, Grossmann ranked fourth amongst Flyers defensemen in ice time against the Red Wings, with 18:28 minutes. Against the Washington Capitals on Sunday, when he was credited with a team-leading six hits and six blocked shots, Grossmann finished with 22:33 minutes of ice time, second only to Braydon Coburn amongst Philadelphia blueliners.
Ilya Bryzgalov, in particular, marveled at the team’s defensive effort despite the absence of Timonen and Meszaros following the win over Detroit.
“Like the [Washington] game, it’s amazing. We battled hard, the team was unbelievable. Blocking the shots when the puck is in front of the net, especially when it was two players down with injuries. Guys can step up and get some more minutes, and I think they played really well.”
While eight games is undoubtedly a small sample size, Grossmann’s performance thus far has sparked conversation regarding his contract status. A pending unrestricted free agent, he will be in need of a new deal at the end of the season, and the Flyers very well could be interested in extending their new acquisition.
“I think that kind of goes both ways,” Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said following the trade. “Nick has to see if he likes it here, too. We certainly like him.”
Flyers fans have certainly liked what they’ve seen thus far from Nicklas Grossmann. And now that his hockey card name will officially match the name on his passport (the correct spelling is Grossmann, not the previously-accepted Grossman), a new contract with the Flyers just may turn out to be the first legally valid NHL deal that the impressive Swede signs.