Paul Holmgren gets a lot of anger directed toward him around our fine corner of the Internet, usually involving the salary cap or some kind of injury issue. Right now, though, as Chris Pronger prepares for foot surgery that will put him out of the lineup for four to six weeks, all Holmgren deserves is praise.
Lots and lots of praise.
As we all know, Pronger was a horse last season for all 82 regular season games and 23 playoff games. He averaged almost 26 minutes in ice time last regular season and almost 30 (!) minutes of ice time in the playoffs. This year, however, that regular season number is down about three minutes to an average of 22:20 per night.
Why, exactly? Thank the offseason additions of Sean O`Donnell and Andrej Meszaros for that. That unit, which has made up the third d-pairing all season so far, has been rock solid, and they've allowed Peter Laviolette to rest Pronger (and Matt Carle, Braydon Coburn, and to an extent, Kimmo Timonen) more often.
Those two started off the season on fire, and it's been widely publicized that they're among the leaders in plus-minus (although, admittedly, that doesn't mean all that much). They're getting sheltered minutes, for sure, but they've been quite solid. OD has fallen off a bit as the season has worn on, looking more and more like the 39-year-old he is, but he's been a serviceable third pairing defenseman.
Meszaros has not fallen off at all, though. In fact, he's been much better. He's getting power play time, he's chipping in offensively more, and his defense has been rather good. Now, with Pronger out, the challenge is right in his face. He's likely going to get even more power play time. He's going to be up against much stiffer competition. He's no longer going to be sheltered in any sense of the word.
Now, Andrej Meszaros becomes a top pairing defenseman. At practice today, according to a report, Mez was paired with Carle on the top pairing, while Oskars Bartulis took his spot on the bottom pairing. That's likely how things will stay. It's time for Meszaros to shine. Let's hope he earns that $4 million a year he's getting.
Let's clarify: none of this is good. Losing Chris Pronger is never good, by any stretch of the imagination. Meszaros has to prove he can fill in for the next month against some very, very good teams. If there's ever a guy who's earned the chance, though, it's Mez.
A bit more after the jump.
One more bit of praise has to go to Holmgren. Think now, about the acquisition of Danny Syvret a few weeks ago. He was traded back to the organization for a few castaways that were no longer welcome, and now, he's suddenly a wayward slap shot or an awkward crash into the boards away from the Flyers' lineup again.
Injuries happen on defense. It's a fact of life. Look no further than last season, or, if you want to get really dramatic, the 2004 playoffs. Holmgren has assured himself that there injuries on the blueline will not be an issue this season. How many other teams in the NHL could lose a guy like Chris Pronger and be able to survive?
The answer, obviously, is not that many. Realistically, the Flyers have nine defensemen capable of playing in the NHL in their completely depleted system. Two of them -- Pronger and Matt Walker -- are out with injury. (You might disagree with the idea that Walker is an NHL player. Me? I'll say he's not worth his contract, but he can probably play as a sixth defenseman and do it competently.)
So some other guys plug the holes until the team is back to full strength. Thank Paul Holmgren for that.
One other thing, as it pertains to the salary cap: with Walker and Ian Laperriere on LTIR, we were wondering if the Flyers had anything up their sleeves in terms of a trade or anything. Hard to believe now, that with a significant injury on the NHL club, that they'd make any move.
Pronger is out just as long as Walker, meaning that the Flyers will like to save Walker's LTIR cushion in case of a needed call up of Syvret. No trades should be happening... unless Pronger goes on LTIR too, which should not happen under any circumstances.