Lucky for them, the oozing-with-offense Philadelphia Flyers were well prepared to neutralize the imminent new threats to their own zone. Or, at least, they appeared to be for about five days.
As it turns out, the Nashville Predators retained captain and Norris-caliber blueliner Shea Weber with an offer sheet Tuesday. It matched and nullified the Flyers’ offer to the coveted free agent from last Thursday.
Translation: Pittsburgh will be getting its captain, Crosby, back from his recent concussion history, but Philadelphia most likely won’t see a similar triumphant return by Chris Pronger. Nor is there is anyone available to import and replenish all that has been lost on the Flyers' defensive corps.
The hit-happy Luke Schenn, obtained at last month’s draft for forward James van Riemsdyk, will help to an extent. But he does not have nearly the same seasoning, proven track record or leadership qualities as Pronger or Weber.
The Flyers have acquired another established NHL blueliner in Bruno Gervais, who has one shortcoming in common with Schenn, namely a shortage of playoff experience. Gervais has not seen action in a Stanley Cup tournament since his second season with the Islanders in 2006-07.
Add the fact that free agent Matt Carle was allowed to get away and the arrival of Schenn and Gervais suddenly doesn’t seem to add much.
Conversely, had they successfully imported him, the Flyers would have been on the same basic page with Weber. Both parties are coming off back-to-back losses in the second round of the playoffs and, by working in tandem, both parties would have enhanced their odds of finally clearing that hurdle.
The Flyers got away with a brittle blue line in the opening round of the 2012 playoffs versus the Penguins, whom they outscored 32-26 in a six-game bout this past spring. But their peerlessly volcanic strike force could not exploit New Jersey in nearly the same fashion and the defense could not bar the gritty Devils from exceeding their output.
One of the lasting images of Philadelphia’s downfall, goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov’s gaffe that surrendered the series-deciding goal in Game 5, soundly underscores the team’s troubles. When games matter most, an unstable goaltending guild and blue-line brigade will ultimately preclude even the otherworldly offense from getting requisite chances to overwhelm the opposition.
The loss of Carle and presumptive loss of Pronger (at the very least, the Pronger we once knew) means the Flyers are now, in terms of nightly average, without their two biggest minute-munchers of the last year-plus. This inevitably means more will be expected of Braydon Coburn, Nicklas Grossmann, Schenn and Kimmo Timonen.
For 12 nights a year and potentially in the playoffs, they and their colleagues will be called upon in the name of curbing Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Nash, Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, the list goes on.
A certifiable shutdown man will be a must for anybody to keep up with those Atlantic Division monsters, particularly the now-well-rounded Rangers.
With Weber’s leadership, toughness and two-way proficiency, the Flyers could have had all but a solo solution to their needs. If they had only made an offer the Predators could not match.