Philadelphia Flyers: Predicting the Team's Opening Night Defensive Pairings
Some NHL analysts and media members continue to speak about the lockout with enough optimism as to speculate on start dates and advancing negotiations, like Darren Dreger of TSN and Sam Carchidi of The Philadelphia Inquirer.
IF negotiations progress, a quick agreement is a longshot. Could take 1 week minimum to reach a deal.— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) November 5, 2012
If #NHL gets CBA in place and sked starts Dec. 1, a 64-game season vs only conference tms is possible. (6 vs. div. rivals, 4 vs. others).— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) November 4, 2012
If there is a season, the Philadelphia Flyers will be one of the league's legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. But that goal will require overcoming obstacles, particularly on defense.
Injuries have torn apart the Flyers' defensive corps, even without playing a single 2012-13 regular season game.
Who is the most important defenseman on Philly's roster?
Captain Chris Pronger remains sidelined, possibly for good (via Philly.com) and key defenseman Andrej Meszaros will spend much of the season recovering from surgery to his Achilles tendon (via Philly.com).
As a result, the Flyers' defense on opening night will be a heavy combination of experience and energy, and the onus will be on head coach Peter Laviolette to match up the pairings in a way that utilizes all six defensemen as best as he can.
Laviolette will be without Pronger, Meszaros and possibly Andreas Lilja, depending upon the start date and Lilja's recovery status after hip surgery.
That leaves Marc-Andre Bourdon, Braydon Coburn, Bruno Gervais, Nicklas Grossmann, Erik Gustafsson, Luke Schenn and Kimmo Timonen on the likely opening night roster.
First Defensive Pair: Braydon Coburn and Nicklas Grossmann
The Flyers' top defensive pair is a no-brainer. Braydon Coburn and Nicklas Grossmann have shown great chemistry in the few months they have played together, and they have proven to be two of the most responsible defensive players on the roster.
The two will not generate an abundance of points on offense the way a top pair with Kimmo Timonen, Chris Pronger or former Flyer Matt Carle would, but no other combination of players would be more reliable against the top lines of the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers and Boston Bruins than Coburn-Grossmann.
These two will eat up the biggest minutes every night and will set the stage for Flyers' defense for years to come, as both Coburn and Grossmann have signed extensions through 2015-16.
Second Defensive Pair: Kimmo Timonen and Luke Schenn
Kimmo Timonen is beginning to show his age, and at 37 and in the last year of his contract with Philadelphia, Timonen's role on the team is changing.
He will no longer eat up minutes the way he once did and his offensive production will likely take a hit. Still, his leadership and experience are invaluable for a team missing Chris Pronger and trying to mature a young defense as quickly as possible.
Timonen's ideal partner is Luke Schenn. Schenn is a physical force on the ice, but has a tendency to leave his defensive position in order to make a big hit. A player of Timonen's experience can serve as a mentor to Schenn, who will be one of the team's top defensemen if he can play a more disciplined style.
The Flyers have less than a full season to see Timonen's wisdom imparted upon Schenn. Time spent on Timonen's flank could very well aide Schenn in reaching his impressive potential.
Third Defensive Pair: Marc-Andre Bourdon and Bruno Gervais
Erik Gustafsson is likely NHL-ready and he will certainly see playing time this season, but for the purposes of the opening night roster, the Flyers need to invest heavily in two things: physicality and experience.
Bruno Gervais is the most experienced in the trio of Gervais, Gustafsson and Marc-Andre Bourdon, and after signing Gervais to a two-year deal, the Flyers will want to see what he can bring to the table.
Bourdon is the most physical of the group, and with the Flyers having plenty of strength on offense and plenty of weaknesses on defense and in goal, Bourdon's physicality is more valuable than Gustafsson's puck-moving skills.
Gustafsson will likely remain on the roster and be used in the event of injuries or poor defensive chemistry. Meszaros will work his way back into the second or third pairing when he is cleared to play again.
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