Fixing the Flyers' defense

ASSOCIATED PRESS Defenseman Andrej Meszaros has been beset by injuries the last two seasons.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Defenseman Andrej Meszaros has been beset by injuries the last two seasons.
Posted: May 10, 2013

Second in a series

THE FLYERS have the NHL's most expensive collection of second- and third-pairing defensemen.

That's not a knock - or at least, an intentional one. You see, Kimmo Timonen ($6 million), Braydon Coburn ($4.5 million), Andrej Meszaros ($4 million), Luke Schenn ($3.6 million) and Nick Grossmann ($3.5 million) are all fine players.

Most NHL teams would love to add a defenseman of that caliber to their roster this summer.

But for the Flyers, five No. 3 defensemen - or worse - does not a contender make.

The Flyers miss Chris Pronger. In other news, Philadelphia misses Benjamin Franklin. Too much of a stretch? Probably not when you consider the void left when Pronger hung up his skates in December 2011.

No, that's not a misprint. That's 2011. As in, nearly 2 calendar years ago.

Pronger had little to nothing to do with the Flyers' shortcomings during the lockout-shortened season. General manager Paul Holmgren planned to enter the season without Pronger - likely even before the 2011-12 campaign had wrapped up with that mind-numbing loss to the Devils.

That's why last summer Holmgren decided to take a stab at landing both Norris Trophy finalist Ryan Suter and then his former Nashville teammate, Shea Weber. The Flyers were prepared to spend Pronger's salary-cap injury benefit in an effort to replace him.

It didn't work out. As has been well-documented, the time spent pursuing Suter (and Zach Parise) cost the Flyers Jaromir Jagr's services. It likely also cost the Flyers a shot at re-signing Matt Carle, though it's not guaranteed they would have matched the 6-year, $33 million pact Carle received in Tampa Bay.

Holmgren did not replace Carle.

More important, he's yet to replace Pronger. And it's not for a lack of trying. They don't grow on trees.

Plus, it's not Holmgren's fault that Pronger sustained that devastating eye injury (and subsequent concussion-like symptoms). When Pronger's playing career ended, so too did a planned era of another 3 to 4 years of top-end, blue-line stability for the Flyers.

If everyone was healthy, how menacing would a third pairing of Grossmann and Coburn or Schenn and Meszaros look?

Instead, Holmgren is left to pick up the pieces.

By my count, there are only 11 such No. 1 defensemen in the NHL. My list (in no particular order): Weber, Suter, Duncan Keith, Brian Campbell, Drew Doughty, Zdeno Chara, Erik Karlsson, Keith Yandle, Mike Green, Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Letang. Whether you'd like to include Jay Bouwmeester, Dion Phaneuf or even Jack Johnson is your prerogative.

What will the Flyers do?

I'd be stunned if they went after Weber again, despite reports hinting at the possibility. Weber can't be traded until July 24. He's due another $13 million on July 1, making it a total of $27 million Nashville will have spent on him in one calendar year. Why would the Predators move him after paying nearly a quarter of his $110 million deal?

The free-agent market is weak. Ron Hainsey and Ryan Whitney are the most attractive names. More depth players.

Holmgren needs to swing big again. This time, he needs to make sure he connects. There are too many question marks on this blue line - from Grossmann's concussion issues, to Meszaros' ill-timed injuries, to Coburn's inconsistencies, to Timonen's weary legs.

That leaves a volatile trade market. My gut tells me Holmgren will push all his chips in to make a run at Phoenix's Yandle, whom the Coyotes first began shopping to the Flyers last June at the draft. The two sides spoke again before the trade deadline.

The Flyers can afford Yandle's $5.25 million salary. He's young (26) and hasn't missed a game since 2009. Plus, the Coyotes don't have an owner and they're under strict budgetary constraints by the league - which has forced their hand on a number of potential moves.

Yandle is the defenseman the Flyers covet. The return won't be easy to stomach - likely starting with either Sean Couturier or Matt Read or Brayden Schenn - but it wasn't all that easy to swallow moving Luca Sbisa and Joffrey Lupul for Pronger, was it?

The return, though, was immense. The gratification was instant - with that memorable trip to the Stanley Cup finals in 2010 in Pronger's first season. Yandle is not Pronger. They aren't even nearly similar-style players. But he's the first step toward solving this mess.

Tomorrow: Fixing the goaltending.


On Twitter: @DNFlyers

Blog: ph.ly/FrequentFlyers

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