Inside the Flyers: With concussions and lack of depth on defense, will Flyers be buyers at trade deadline?

Posted: January 29, 2012

OTTAWA - Give the Flyers credit for where they sit at the all-star break: They have a 29-14-5 record and are just three points behind the first-place New York Rangers in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference.

Aided by the quick development of several rookies, they have overcome a slew of injuries, a subpar first half by their expensive starting goalie, and a brutal schedule that saw them play 20 of 29 games on the road during one stretch.

So what are the big questions as the season's unofficial second half starts Tuesday?

Is the defense, minus Captain Nasty, the injured Chris Pronger, physical enough to bring home the franchise's first Stanley Cup since 1975?

Can quirky goalie Ilya Bryzgalov regain the form he displayed in Phoenix - and caused the Flyers to give him a nine-year, $51 million deal? If not, how long is it before Sergei Bobrovsky, who was the team's best goalie in the first half, gets a majority of the starts?

General manager Paul Holmgren has less than a month to address the first question. The trade deadline is Feb. 27, and Holmgren must decide whether his defense - which includes four talented veterans and two promising rookies - needs tinkering.

All-star Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Matt Carle, and Andrej Meszaros are the Flyers' big four, the guys showing youngsters Marc-Andre Bourdon and Erik Gustafsson the way.

Bourdon and Gustafsson have played well, but, collectively, the defense has not done a good job of clearing bodies out front.

Yes, they miss the crease-clearing Pronger, whose presence seemed to bring an edginess that spread to his fellow defensemen.

There are rumblings that Nashville might make all-star defensemen Shea Weber ($7.5 million cap hit) and Ryan Suter ($3.5 million) available. Weber can become a restricted free agent in the summer, while Suter can become an unrestricted free agent.

Of the two, Suter is the more likely to be traded, but the Flyers don't want just a rent-a-player for the stretch. They want assurances they could sign him to a long-term deal.

Suter says he wants to stay in Nashville, but that won't stop the Flyers from pursuing him.

If the Flyers go to Plan B, two Carolina defensemen with the potential to become unrestricted free agents are on their list: Tim Gleason ($2.75 million cap hit) and Bryan Allen ($2.9 million). The latter has a no-trade clause that would have to be waived.

Other available defensemen include Toronto's Luke Schenn, whose bother Brayden is on the Flyers; Montreal's Hal Gill; and former Flyer and Delaware native Mark Eaton of the Islanders. The 36-year-old Gill, at 6-foot-7, 241 pounds, could replace the size the Flyers miss with Pronger (6-6, 220) sidelined.

As for the goalie situation, well, the feeling here is that coach Peter Laviolette will give the 31-year-old Bryzgalov a month or so to show he is the person to carry the team in the postseason.

But if Bryzgalov continues to underachieve - he has an 18-10-4 record, a 2.99 goals-against average, and an .895 save percentage - it would not be surprising if Bobrovsky gradually took over the lead role. Bobrovsky, 23, a second-year goalie who is playing with more confidence and better puck-handling skills than during his rookie season, is 11-4-1 with a 2.42 goals-against average and .919 save percentage.

Health, of course, will also play a major role in the season's final two-plus months.

The Flyers went into the all-star break with three players sidelined by concussions: Pronger, Danny Briere, and James van Riemsdyk. Pronger is out for the rest of the season, and no one knows when Briere and van Riemsdyk wil return.

In addition, Jaromir Jagr has been sidelined three times, totaling eight games, by groin injuries. His return to good health is vital because he makes Claude Giroux such a dynamic scoring threat.

There were a lot of positives in the first 48 games. The Flyers were second in the 30-team league in goals scored per game (3.35), fourth on the power play (20.4 percent), and sixth in wins (29). They also had the NHL's best road record (18-7-2 ).

On the flip side, they were a less-than-overwhelming 11-7-3 at home. They were 22d in goals allowed per game (2.90), 15th on the penalty kill (82.3 percent), and 27th in faceoffs (47.6 percent).

From here, we'll give the Flyers a B-plus for their overall performance. Their grade in the regular season, which has 34 games remaining, means little. It's the grade in the Stanley Cup playoffs, of course, that matters.

That's what will make the next 29 days - the trade-deadline countdown - so interesting.


Inside the Flyers: Coping Without Pronger

   Though their winning percentage has dipped a bit, the Flyers have remained in the thick of the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference hunts without star defenseman Chris Pronger.

   Perhaps the biggest difference: The Flyers have allowed nearly one goal more per game without their injured captain. The numbers:

                        WITH PRONGER WITHOUT PRONGER

Record                      8-3-2             21-11-3

Goals per game              3.2                   3.4

Goals against per game         2.4                   3.2

- Sam Carchidi


Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at scarchidi@phillynews.com or @BroadStBull on Twitter.

 

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