When I began thinking about this Flyers defensive core, I immediately thought about the meltdown against the Penguins in last years first-round playoff defeat. The back-line performance was probably one of the main reasons why Martin Biron is no longer the Flyers starting goaltender and is the second stringer for the New York Islanders.
The defense had serious holes, especially in character and talent. With guys like Andrew Alberts and Randy Jones, they became liabilities on the ice, forcing Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn to log a lot ice time. Only to be worn down come playoff time.
When the playoff series began against Pittsburgh, Timonen and coburn’s legs were already burned out, which led to and early first-round exit and questions that needed immediate answers.
The Flyers didn’t take too long to respond.
At the NHL Draft in June, the Flyers sent Joffrey Lupul, Luca Sbisa, and two draft picks to the Anaheim Ducks in a blockbuster trade that brought in all-star and former Hart trophy winner, Chris Pronger. It was a shock to many that Pronger was going to wear the orange and black and not coveted free-agent Jay Bouwmeester.
Right then and there, the Flyers defense was already solidified as one of the league’s best. Pronger brings experience, power, and his own brand of scare tactic that the league and its referees are quite fond of.
Leadership will be the bigger bonus of this deal with the 34-year-old defensemen. Pronger will lead by both example and vocally. There are no excuses when it comes to his game. The same can be said with Kimmo Timonen. With Pronger now on the roster, everything takes a step up. The power play, penalty kill, offensive rush, and the overall psyche of the lockerroom.
The Flyers now have two pairings that can’t be matched by most in the NHL. Led by all-stars in Timonen and Pronger, the Flyers have two relatively young studs to pair up with the first two in Ryan Parent and Braydon Coburn.
Parent, 22, came into his own last season while playing uder the wing of Timonen, and proved that he can be a force on the blue-line. Parent, with a lot more responsibility this upcoming season, is poised to prove he isn’t a joke. With continued maturation and learning, he has all the tools become an extraordinary talent.
The guy most likely to be alongside Chris Pronger will be Braydon Coburn. Coburn, 24, has really been a warrior on the back-line since getting traded to Philadelphia from Atlanta back in 2007. Now entering his third season with the Flyers, ‘Coby” seems to getting better every year.
At 24, the six-foot-five defensemen from Calgary hasn’t reached his full potential. If he can stay healthy, and Pronger becomes a true mentor, then Coburn could really be considered as a top defensemen down the road.
Matt Carle, who was acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning early last season under-achieved for the most part of the season. Carle, who is still young (24) posted only 26 points in a year where he was expected to produce upwards of 35-40. This offseason Carle has dedicated himself to try and become a much more offensive productive defensemen and the future looks bright, for now, as a Philadelphia Flyer.
With the signing of defensemen 6’2”, 211-pound Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, one would think the Randy Jones days as a Flyer could be numbered. Jones, whos’ name was brought up plenty during trade deadline discussions and off-season talks, still has yet to be moved.
Tollefsen’s history of injuries could prevent the Jones departure for now, but, if hip problems or continuous decline in Jones’ play proceeds, someone new might don the number six sweater.
The future for the Flyers back-line looks to have gained an extra punch when the they signed 6’0”, 215-pound defenseman Marc-Andre Bourdon.
The 19-year-old split time between the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL in 2008-09, where he combined for 18 goals and 42 assists for 60 points and 112 penalty minutes in 54 games. This guy could very well accommodate the departure of Luca Sbisa, at least Bourdon can score points.
Overall, the Flyers defense is stellar at best. With the numerous contributions that Chris Pronger can bring to Philadelphia, the near future is a bright one for this relatively young, yet talented, Flyers club. Kimmo Timonen will continue to be the verbal leader of the locker-room and on the ice, one cannot bet against all-star play from the 34-year-old shutdown specialist from Finalnd.
This Flyers defense, on paper, should match-up well with every NHL team. Many think this Flyers team could very well have the best overall defense in the Eastern Conference, maybe the NHL. All of this looks very-well and good now, but this has to translate on the ice and in the standings for this Flyers team to any shot at Lord Stanley’s Cup.