The Philadelphia Flyers got hit with quite a few haymakers during the offseason. Most of those punches landed in the middle of their defense.
The first—and perhaps most important—is the continuation of what happened last season with Chris Pronger. After suffering a concussive hit last year that caused him to miss all but 13 games last season, there is no good news on his condition, and the Flyers will not be able to count on him at any point in the 2012-13 season.
During free agency, the Flyers thought they had solved much of their defensive issues when they signed Nashville defenseman Shea Weber to a free-agent offer sheet.
The Nashville Predators had already lost free-agent defenseman Ryan Suter to the Minnesota Wild, so they knew that losing Weber as a restricted free agent would be too much to overcome. They matched the Flyers' substantial 14-year, $110 million offer.
Defenseman Andrej Meszaros also contributed to the bad news when he suffered a torn Achilles during summer workouts in Europe. The injury is likely to keep him out of the lineup until March at the earliest, and there is no guarantee he will return at all next year.
These are all substantial issues, and the Flyers must make at least one key move before the season starts, but the Flyers have some reason for optimism.
Start with Kimmo Timonen. He is an effective defenseman who thrives on ice time and hard work. While he is 37 years old and may have lost a half-step of quickness, he is a tough, smart and solid defender who provides leadership every time he steps on the ice.
Braydon Coburn will likely get a chance to be a No. 1 defenseman as well. While he has not always been as consistent as one would like, the fact that Peter Laviolette and Paul Holmgren need him to step up should bring out the best in his game.
Nicklas Grossman will be a solid performer on the No. 2 defense pairing with Luke Schenn (via BroadStreetHockey.com). Grossman has had knee issues, but as long as they don't flare up, he appears to be quite dependable. Schenn gets a new lease on life in Philadelphia, and starting off with a clean slate will be the best thing that could happen to him.
Erik Gustafsson, Bruno Gervais and Marc-Andre Bourdon will all compete for the third defensive pairing. The Flyers will also give several of their American Hockey League prospects a chance to step up.
There is no getting around that the Flyers don't have a superstar defenseman on their roster. They don't have a Zdeno Chara type who can absolutely put a healthy dose of fear into anyone who floats into the offensive zone.
However, if they can pick up one more solid defenseman before the start of training camp and the offense can provide an explosive attack, the shortcomings on defense will not doom this team.