Can Braydon Coburn Carry the Philadelphia Flyers' Defense in 2014-15?

Garrett BakerSenior Analyst IAugust 31, 2014

Philadelphia Flyers' Braydon Coburn in action during the third period in Game 3 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series against the New York Rangers, Tuesday, April 22, 2014, in Philadelphia. The Rangers won 4-1. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
Chris Szagola/Associated Press

Braydon Coburn has been very underappreciated during his tenure as a Philadelphia Flyer, and my hope is that will change during the 2014-15 season.

The Flyers have had some really talented defensemen around during Coburn's eight seasons in Philadelphia, and it seems like those players have somehow made Coburn look bad.

Maybe it's because he was a high draft pick, or because of his combination of size and speed, that Philadelphia fans expected so much of Coburn and have been so critical of him throughout his career.

But what many have failed to see, especially in the past couple of seasons, is just how valuable Coburn is to the Flyers' defensive corps.

With Kimmo Timonen's future in doubt, the time is unquestionably now for Coburn to finally take the reins and lead the Flyers from the back end.

Where the Flyers are at this point can and should be discussed (here's part of my own take), but Coburn is the best the Flyers have at this point, and they will rely on him heavily. He is not, however, a legitimate No. 1 defenseman from a skill standpoint.

But his effectiveness in carrying Craig Berube's mediocre blue line will be a major plot line of the 2014-15 season. There is a good chance that the Flyers will live and die by their defense this year.

Let's first take a look at the things Coburn does not do well. One of those things is score goals. He has not surpassed five goals in a season since the 2008-09 season, and his career high is a meager nine tallies.

He isn't a dynamic guy on the ice; there aren't many risks in Coburn's game, and an appearance on the highlight reel is an anomaly. He doesn't have the media or locker room presence of a Chris Pronger, but also isn't quite at the level of a quiet, wily veteran like Timonen. 

Coburn just goes out there and plays. He's defensive-minded, he's strong on the boards, he's resilient in front of the net and he is very consistent every night.

He never takes shifts off, stays healthy all season and rarely makes egregious mistakes at this point in his career.

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 5: Braydon Coburn #5 of the Philadelphia Flyers skates against Milan Lucic #17 of the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden on April 5, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

His ability to eat up minutes on the ice is extremely valuable. He led the Flyers with an average of 22:36 of ice time per game in 2013-14, nearly two minutes more than Mark Streit, who had the third-most average ice time per game.

Coburn also led the Flyers by a wide margin in shorthanded time on ice per game, with an average of 3:59 compared to Sean Couturier's 3:25.

Furthermore, this graph from SomeKindofNinja shows how valuable Coburn is to the Flyers' defense from an advanced metrics standpoint.

He played against the second-best competition of all defensemen and started only 48.4 percent of his faceoffs in the offensive zone, yet still managed to put up a positive Corsi relative rating of 1.6. 

For comparison, just look at the guy with the big red circle right next to Coburn's, that of Andrew MacDonald. They had similar usage (faceoff percentage and quality of competition) ratings, but MacDonald was far, far worse at driving possession than Coburn.

Anyone who watches games knows that element of Coburn's game to be sound. He can corral the puck and get it out of the zone in a hurry, and he also makes nice passes to put his forwards in good spots.

There's no question that Coburn needs to generate some more offense this year. His total of 17 points in 82 games last year just won't fly in 2014-15.

The Flyers need him to shoot more, take more offensive responsibility, and continue to be reliable and consistent in the back end while eating up big chunks of ice time every single game.

On top of that, his leadership responsibility will be elevated as well, especially if Timonen decides to retire. Young defensemen like Shayne Gostisbehere, Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg are waiting just around the corner and will be looking to Coburn for an example.

It will be no easy task for Coburn to carry the Flyers' defense this year, but if he is successful, then it will be one major step towards reaching the playoffs again.