The Philadelphia Flyers have a bright future ahead of them. They have an incredibly deep, young and talented group of forwards but still need some defensive help.
Nobody knows when the NHL lockout will end, but no matter when opening night is, the Flyers would do well to add another defenseman or two. Chris Pronger is still out indefinitely, and Philadelphia lost Matt Carle and Pavel Kubina to free agency, so there are some question marks on the blue line.
Currently, the Flyers' list of defenseman is as follows: Kimmo Timonen and Andreas Lilja (37 years old), Braydon Coburn and Bruno Gervais (28), Niklas Grossmann and Andrej Meszaros (27), Erik Gustafsson and Marc Andre-Bourdon (23) and Luke Schenn and Brandon Manning (22).
Currently, Meszaros, who missed a significant chunk of 2012 with a back injury, is recovering from a torn achilles. Lilja is currently recovering from hip surgery, and I don't think he has much value moving forward.
Timonen has logged a lot of minutes over his lengthy NHL career and showed signs of slowing this past season. That leaves Gervais, who is really just a depth guy. He's never played more than 71 games in his seven-year NHL career.
That leaves the Flyers with three good defenseman in my eyes; Coburn, Grossmann and Schenn. If and when Meszaros recovers fully, add him to that list. But if the season started in December (unlikely, but we can dream), their defense would be something like this: Coburn paired with Gustafsson, Grossmann paired with MAB and Timonen paired with Schenn.
When Meszaros gets back, he'd take the place of either MAB or Gustafsson, who would then be waiting for Timonen to need a break.
To me, this means the Flyers are sort of rolling the dice with those last two spots after Coburn, Grossmann, Schenn and Meszaros. Timonen is hard to count on for an extended period of time at this point, and I think there's a chance he retires outright if the lockout drags on for the whole season.
Gustafsson, MAB and Manning are all young guys who have shown some potential but aren't sure things by any stretch. They could all turn out to be good starting-caliber NHL defenseman but could just as easily become future Gervais-type depth guys who never really stick.
Personally, I think Gustafsson has the most potential out of the group. He skates well, has good awareness in his own end and is getting more confident working the puck out of his zone. MAB and Manning are bigger and stronger than Gustafsson but just don't have as much talent.
The bottom line is that Gustafsson, MAB and Manning are still young players without much NHL experience and need more time to develop. The worst thing that can happen is having to rush their progress and bring them up to the NHL because the Flyers need bodies.
If there's any silver lining in this lockout, it's that they, along with a few of the Flyers young forwards, are getting extra time to grow and work on their game without the potentially hindering pressures of the NHL.
But at some point, GM Paul Holmgren is going to have to add at least one more quality defenseman. Doing that sooner rather than later would help ease the pressure on Timonen and not require the Flyers to rush Gustafsson, MAB and Manning.
Maybe, they could give up one of their good, young forwards like Matt Read for a reliable blueliner, or just try to trade a couple of high draft picks. Holmgren showed he was willing to give up four first-round picks to get Shea Weber, so less picks could be offered for a lesser but still quality defenseman.
My preference would be to try and package a bundle of a draft pick along with any number of young players in the Flyers system (Gustafsson, MAB, Manning, Scott Laughton, Oliver Lauridsen, Jason Akeson, Nick Cousins and Shayne Gostisbehere come to mind) and see what they can get in return.
Holmgren is one of the best in the business at pulling off seemingly out-of-nowhere moves that bolster his team, and I wouldn't be surprised if he's got something up his sleeve to help out the blue line whenever the NHL returns.