Philadelphia Flyers Defense Must Improve for Team to Succeed
As the Philadelphia Flyers failed to play another full game of hockey at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins, it's apparent the team has glaring weaknesses on defense. And with each passing game, the situation grows worse.
Luckily, Philly's offense has been high-flying and electric for the last month with its young forwards playing elite-caliber hockey. If not for players such as Wayne Simmonds, Jake Voracek, Brayden Schenn and captain Claude Giroux, the Flyers would find themselves near the basement of the Eastern Conference.
Prior to the season, Philadelphia attempted to beef up their defensive unit via trade and free agency. General manager Paul Holmgren pulled the trigger on a major trade sending budding forward James Van Riemsdyk to the Toronto Maple Leafs for young blueliner Luke Schenn.
The Flyers then attempted to sign another Predators' free-agent defenseman, superstar Shea Weber. Philly reportedly signed the star blueliner to a 14-year offer sheet in the ballpark of $100 million, which Nashville was eligible to match. And they did just that.
Two major letdowns in the free-agent market, meanwhile veteran defenseman Matt Carle signed a large salary with the Tampa Bay Lightning after four solid seasons in Philadelphia.
Should the Flyers trade for a blueliner this season?
The team entered the abbreviated season with the following defensive line combinations: Kimmo Timonen-Luke Schenn; Nicklas Grossman-Braydon Coburn and Andrej Meszaros-Kurtis Foster. A decent roster on paper.
Injuries and massive line changes have haunted the unit all season long. Specifically, Philadelphia's most versatile blueliner, Andrej Meszaros, who suffered a shoulder injury on January 24, against the New York Rangers and he has not seen the ice since.
Veteran leader Kimmo Timonen has noticeably lost a step on the ice, frequently being burned and committing sloppy penalties. Although he has contributed offensively for the club, his age and injuries may have finally caught up with the crafty defender.
Coburn has played inconsistent hockey this season and currently ranks second in the league for giveaways among defensemen. He is a fast skater, who eats up a ton of ice time, but he must elevate his play for the sake of the team.
Schenn has been a bright spot for Philly, leading the NHL in hits for defensemen, but he is not the most versatile defender on the ice. Another positive has been youngster Erik Gustafsson, who was promoted to replace Foster. Gustafsson adds speed and versatility to the unit.
Yet, the team is actively struggling to hold leads, put teams away and help their goaltender, Ilya Bryzgalov. The eccentric goalie recently blasted his team simply stating, "We're not good," (via Philadelphia Inquirer).
And right now, Bryz is on point.
The Flyers' goalie has been the most consistent player throughout the season and recently a victim of poor defense—leading to some early exits. Currently, the team ranks 23rd in the league for average goals against with three goals averaged per game.
But do the Flyers make a trade for a blueliner in this short season?
According to ESPN's Pierre LeBrun, Holmgren is weighing his options to make a move or ride the season out. The Flyers' GM expressed he was not interested in trading away any of the team's young players and would not make a trade to hurt the team in the long run.
Now may not be the season to unload a talented forward for a rental blueliner in return. If Homer can execute a trade to receive a high-quality defender for multiple seasons, he should consider the worth.
Whatever choice is made, it's clear the defense must play better hockey to reach the playoffs.
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