Inside the Flyers: Injuries are testing team's depth

Posted: January 28, 2013

SUNRISE, Fla. - The Flyers have already learned, painfully, that the biggest factor in the NHL's shortened season is a team's depth.

Make that quality depth.

You don't have to be Scotty Bowman to realize that injuries will play a much larger role when teams play only 48 games.

Already, this sprint of a season has turned into a crawl for the Flyers.

They went into the weekend with four key players injured: Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, Andrej Meszaros, and Zac Rinaldo. (Briere returned Saturday night against Florida.) In addition, promising defensemen Erik Gustafsson and Marc-Andre Bourdon - players who might have roster spots if healthy - have been battling injuries suffered while playing for the AHL Phantoms during the lockout. Gustafsson returned to Adirondack's lineup Friday.

Hartnell may miss as much as six weeks because of a broken foot.

In a normal 82-game schedule, that would cause him to be sidelined for 28 percent of the season. In the lockout-abbreviated schedule, the high-scoring left winger could miss 23 games, which is almost half the season.

The hard-luck Meszaros, who had recovered nicely from offseason Achilles tendon surgery and was playing like one of the team's best defensemen, is expected to miss at least a month with a shoulder injury. That translates to about one-third of the shortened season. And, depending on how his shoulder heals, perhaps longer.

Depth isn't a Flyers strong point, especially with their forwards. That's why their lineup has had a hodgepodge of untested players playing important frontline roles in the first five games.

The defensive depth is better, and it will improve when Gustafsson is ready to be recalled. As for the rash of early injuries that have hit his club, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette doesn't want sympathy. Every team has them, he said. You deal with them and you move on.

Brave words. Still, losing a player of Meszaros' magnitude makes you wonder if the Flyers would present an offer sheet to defenseman P.K. Subban, a restricted free-agent who has been in a negotiation stalemate with Montreal.

Subban would give the Flyers the closest available player to Shea Weber, a rugged defenseman they pursued in the summer only to have Nashville match the offer sheet and retain the rights to the restricted free agent. As of now, the Flyers brass hasn't discussed making an offer to Subban, but that could change with another injury to a key defenseman.

The injuries aren't unexpected. The schedule is hectic and there is less time to recover between games. And a six-day training camp - without exhibition games - isn't the best way to prepare for a season.

Besides all the injuries with his team, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren had eight members of the Phantoms sidelined earlier in the week.

"Hopefully, we can break this streak of losing a guy a game," Holmgren said.

The good news is that young players like Scott Laughton and Tye McGinn - forwards who have played admirably and with a competitive edge - are getting invaluable experience with the Flyers.

The bad news is that they probably could use a little more seasoning before being thrust into the NHL.

"We're being tested right now, which is good and bad," Holmgren said Friday. "But we'd obviously like to get ourselves healthy because we know we're in a dogfight in what we have left on our schedule."

The Flyers have company. Injuries have run rampant around the league, causing numerous first-year pros to fill the gaps. In Detroit, the Red Wings had nine defensemen either injured or ill after the season's first week.

Nine.

The teams that have the quality depth are the ones that will survive the 99-day regular season and have the best chance to make a serious Stanley Cup run.

Will the Flyers, who managed a total of five goals in their first four games, be one of those teams?

Not at this rate. Which is why a bold move could be in the works, and why a player such as Anaheim winger Bobby Ryan, a South Jersey native who would love to return to his roots, could appear on the Flyers' radar. Ryan, who has scored 30-plus goals in each of his four full seasons, is just the type of sniper the Flyers need. Could Ryan be to the 2013 Flyers what John LeClair and Eric Desjardins were to the struggling 1995 team, one that acquired those players in an early-season deal that turned around its year?

Stay tuned.


Contact Sam Carchidi at scarchidi@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @BroadStBull.

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