Philadelphia Flyers: Why the Flyers' Defense Is in Serious Trouble Next Season
The Philadelphia Flyers had no trouble scoring goals last season.
With 264 regular-season strikes, the Flyers recorded the third-highest total among the 30 NHL squads. Then, despite only making it to the playoff's final eight and only playing 11 postseason tilts, Philly finished fourth among all playoff teams with 41 goals.
The problem wasn't scoring goals. The problem was keeping them out.
Philadelphia surrendered 232 goals against during the regular year (second worst among Eastern Conference playoff teams) and then finished second worst among all 16 postseason squads, allowing a whopping 44 goals in just 11 games.
Goaltending took the brunt of the criticism, but it was the team's defense as a whole that was guilty of the pedestrian defensive play throughout much of last season.
As such, the primary offseason objective for the Orange and Black heading into the summer was to improve the team's back end as well as its overall defensive presence.
Unfortunately, the Flyers' defense is worse today than it was on that dreadful night in early May when such a promising season came to such an abrupt end.
Now, before all the gloom and doom, it's important to note that Philadelphia has made a few transactions this offseason to bolster the team's defensive depth. The Flyers took an area of surplus and swapped it for an area of need, moving James van Riemsdyk to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for budding blueliner Luke Schenn. Then, Philly inked free-agent defenseman Bruno Gervais to a modest two-year, $1.65 million pact.
Schenn, 22 years old and under team control for the next four years, provides youth to the Flyers' back end and could blossom into a top-four defenseman in just a year or two if he's able to realize the potential that made him the fifth overall pick back in 2008.
Meanwhile, with 381 career NHL games under his belt, Gervais is a reasonably priced depth defenseman who, in an ideal world, would be in and out of the Flyers' lineup based on injuries and the development of youngsters like Marc-Andre Bourdon and Erik Gustafsson.
Who is the Flyers' most important defenseman next season?
Unfortunately for the Flyers' defense, this is not an ideal world.
While the additions of Schenn and Gervais seemingly provided nice depth at the time, that depth has long since disappeared after a free-agent fallout and a rash of defensive injuries.
First, smooth skating Matt Carle, who finished second among all Philly defenders in scoring last season, bolted for Tampa Bay in a six-year, $33 million deal with the Lightning. While Carle was dogged by turnover trouble in Philadelphia, his offensive mindset on the back end coupled with his ability to transition the team from defense to offense with a solid first pass out of the zone will be sorely missed.
Then, with the continued uncertainty surrounding Chris Pronger's future, the Flyers made an aggressive move in attempting to replace the seemingly irreplaceable Pronger when Philly inked restricted free agent Shea Weber to a 14-year, $110 million offer sheet. No one would be questioning Philadelphia's defense had they landed Weber, but just 24 hours before Weber would have donned a Flyers sweater for the next decade-and-a-half, Nashville matched Philly's offer, destroying any hope of bringing one of the league's elite game-changers to the City of Brotherly Love.
And if that wasn't bad enough, then the injuries started to hit.
This past Tuesday, the Flyers learned that Andrej Meszaros is out indefinitely with a torn right Achilles tendon, which he suffered while training in his native Slovakia.
Meszaros missed 20 games last regular season and was able to dress in just one of the team's 11 postseason tilts after undergoing back surgery.
With 30 or more points in four of his seven NHL campaigns, Meszaros had the ability to help replace some of the offense lost with Carle's departure. Meszaros also has power-play experience from his days with the Ottawa Senators and would have been a man-advantage option (again, to replace Carle) for Peter Laviolette.
None of that will be possible now with Meszaros on the shelf for the foreseeable future. As such, the Flyers will be asking either Bourdon or Gustafsson to produce at an accelerated rate or will be relying on offense on the back end from less traditional sources like Schenn or Braydon Coburn.
Finally, the Flyers learned yesterday that veteran Andreas Lilja would miss the season's start as a result of a nagging hip injury.
While the 37-year-old Lilja is considered a depth defenseman and could in fact be back before December, it's yet another loss to an already depleted Flyers blue line.
The Flyers had deficiencies on defense when this offseason began and appear to be even more deficient in that area than ever.
The stalwarts like Coburn, Kimmo Timonen and Nicklas Grossmann still remain, but that only comprises half of the defensemen required on a given night.
As it stands now, Schenn will need to realize his first-round potential immediately and youngsters like Bourdon and Gustafsson could be eyeing regular minutes with the expectation of chipping in far sooner than expected.
Free-agent defensemen remain, and of course there's always time for the crafty Paul Holmgren to work his magic over the phones to land Philly another defender via trade.
Still, that's far too many question marks for a team that struggled as mightily on defense as the Flyers did a season ago.
Philly's diverse and dynamic offense is a tremendous area of pride for Flyers fans.
The defense, however, is likely to be an area of stress, strain and anxiety for the Philly faithful.
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