Philadelphia Flyers' Defense 2013-14 Season Analysis and Future Projections

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Philadelphia Flyers' Defense 2013-14 Season Analysis and Future Projections
Len Redkoles/Getty Images

There's no way to sugarcoat it: the Philadelphia Flyers' weak link is their defense, and it has been for some time now. 

Let's take a look back on how the Flyers defensemen did in the 2013-14 NHL season. Andrej Meszaros and Erik Gustafsson are no longer with the team, so they are not included here, nor is Hal Gill, who only played in six regular-season contests.

That leaves Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Mark Streit, Luke Schenn, Nicklas Grossmann and Andrew MacDonald as the players being reviewed and evaluated here. 

Those six players are the core guys moving forward, although there is a chance Timonen retires. Shayne Gostisbehere is the prospect most likely to get a shot with the big club next year.

But as it stands, Timonen, Coburn, Streit, Schenn, Grossmann and MacDonald are what Craig Berube has to work with. And for the most part, they're just not good enough.

First, let's look at age. Timonen is 38, Coburn is 29, Streit is 36, Schenn is 24, Grossmann is 29 and MacDonald is 27. 

That's not a young defense, and it shows on the ice. The group as a whole is way too slow to be successful in today's NHL.

Schenn and Grossmann are incredibly lead-footed. MacDonald and Timonen are very average skaters. Coburn is fast in the open ice but is not agile at all. Streit still has some speed, but his age will catch up to him soon.

Streit was also the leading scorer from the blue line this year with a respectable 44 points, followed by Timonen with 35, which is the least he's had in a full season since the 2000-01 campaign when he played for Nashville.

The rest of the defense put up absolutely putrid numbers. Despite playing in all 82 games, Coburn generated just 17 points. Grossmann managed a measly one goal and 13 assists in 78 games while Schenn fared even worse with 12 points in 79 games. MacDonald registered four assists and no goals in his 19 games as a Flyer.

It doesn't take an expert to realize that those types of numbers are not good. Let's take a look at some other metrics and see what they turn up.

Coburn deserves a lot of credit for leading the entire team with an average of 22:26 of ice time per game this season. He shouldered a heavy load, and his numbers are probably worse off because of that.

MacDonald, Timonen, Grossmann and Streit all had their ATOI register in the relatively common 19:00-22:00 range. But Schenn was used sparingly with an ATOI of just 16:34.

Len Redkoles/Getty Images

The advanced metrics paint an odd and somewhat troubling picture for the Flyers. The most concerning player is Schenn, by far.

He will always (fairly or not) be compared to the player he was traded for (James van Riemsdyk), and he's making a decent amount of money at $3.6 million through 2016. Both of those things cast Schenn in a negative light, but even looking at things objectively reveals some major problems.

Despite having such limited ice time, he still had a stinker of a year. He played against the worst competition of any regular player (defense or forward) with a competition rating of minus-0.732.

He was also extremely sheltered, starting 54.6 percent of his faceoffs in the offensive zone, with Timonen being the only defenseman to start in the offensive zone more often. This makes his lack of scoring even more inexcusable.

And finally, with all of those factors against him, Schenn still had a brutal relative Corsi rating of minus-8.2, meaning that the other team had more possession than the Flyers did while Schenn was on the iceand by a sizable margin.

This is extremely concerning. Come up with any number of excuses you want, but there's not much to be encouraged about.

Next, we get to MacDonald, who also has some major concerns of his own. To his credit, MacDonald played a lot and against the best competition of any Flyer defenseman, and he started more (48.7 percent) of his faceoffs in the defensive zone than the offensive.

But his relative Corsi rating is just absolutely atrocious at minus-8.1. Extra Skater had his rating as the ninth-worst in the entire league.

This article from Hockey Prospectus paints a somewhat grim picture for his future. SB Nation's Lighthouse Hockey does a good job summarizing the shortcomings and frustrations surrounding MacDonald:

Yes, he blocks a lot of shots (but then by definition lacks possession too much). Yes, he plays hard on his man in the defensive zone (but then gives up too much space over the blueline). Yes, he put up points (but was hardly the key cog to the power play). Yes, he's a loyal, solid character (but financially that is only worth so much, which is to say not a lot).

Yet the Flyers still gave him an astounding six-year, $30 million contract a couple months ago. Suffice to say, they will regret that for years.

Timonen and Streit actually had somewhat similar seasons. Their offensive zone percentages were 55.2 and 53.6, respectively, and their Corsi relatives (13.9, 4.1) and quality of competition (minus-0.154, minus-0.272) were about what you'd expect.

They also both continued excelling at the point on the power play. Timonen had 20 power-play points, and Streit added 15. Timonen also still helped on the penalty kill, as his 3:24 of time per game was second only to Coburn.

They're just aging at this point and shouldn't have to shoulder the entirety of the offensive load out of the back. The Flyers forwards need more help than what they're getting.

Grossmann is obviously a completely defensive defenseman, starting a mere 45.4 percent of his faceoffs in the offensive zone. He played against decent competition (0.218), but his relative Corsi of minus-10.6 proves that he's hurting the team out there a lot of the time.

Sure, he's physical and blocks shots, but is that enough to overhaul his poor possession numbers and complete lack of scoring? And at a $3.5 million price tag? 

And even with his defensive style, he still was only trusted with 2:40 of ice time per game on the penalty kill, significantly less than Coburn and Timonen.

Finally, Coburn was his solid self, racking up huge minutes, playing against good competition (0.7), starting 48.4 percent of his draws in the offensive zone and still managing to put up a Corsi relative rating of 1.6. He also logged, by far, the most minutes on the penalty kill per game on the team (3:59).

Solid, actually, is probably selling Coburn short; he's a very good player, and the Flyers defense would fall apart without him. He isn't going to be a legitimate No. 1 defenseman ever, but for what he is, he's one heck of a player.

So there it is. Collectively, they make a lot of money and, frankly, do not live up to it. One could argue that Coburn ($4.5 million) earns his contract, but the rest definitely do not.

It's actually pretty simple: There is a huge need for more possession, offensive production and speed on the blue line.

Paul Holmgren's inability to build a defense is the biggest reason why he is no longer the general manager. The trades for Schenn and Grossmann were bad, Streit's contract is too hefty, and MacDonald's deal is flat-out horrendous. 

Maybe new GM Ron Hextall has something up his sleeve. He better because as it is, this defense will not be able to carry the Flyers deep into the playoffs in the near future.

 

*Stats taken from somekindofninja.com and NHL.com 

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