PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 1: Andrej Meszaros #41 of the Philadelphia Flyers skates out to practice for the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park on January 1, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)
Last month after the Flyers missed out on Shea Weber, we wrote a story in which we looked at what we felt was a massive hole on the team's blueline. A lot of people disagreed with that assessment, but now with Andrej Meszaros out for six-plus months after tearing his Achilies tendon, there's really no room for debate. This defense is awful.
Here's a glance at the Flyers defense heading into the season:
- Kimmo Timonen, a legitimate top-pairing defenseman who's an absolute work-horse, but is aging. Last season was his first as a Flyer in which he wasn't able to complete every game. That may sound like a massive accomplishment and it indeed is, but it's a direct result of his declining health and his climbing age. The Flyers needed a lot more out of Kimmo after losing Carle, and that may have been a lot to ask. Now that they've also lost Meszaros? Well ... really, we should just hope he can not fall apart just yet.
- Braydon Coburn might just suddenly be the Flyers' No. 1 defenseman. He'll almost certainly play more minutes than Timonen this upcoming season and there's a chance he could face tougher competition as well. He needs to be up to the task. If he's not? .... yikes.
- Nicklas Grossmann will be the key cog on the second pairing, just as he was in his brief time last year. That should be wonderful, but damn if his knee problems don't worry me. Let's hope those are behind him, because at this stage the Flyers need Grossmann to not just tread water but to be better and healthier than he was a year ago.
- Luke Schenn was brought in via trade because of his enormous potential, but as we've stated in the past, he's not reached that potential just yet. There's no guarantee he'll become the top-pairing shutdown guy he was billed as in his draft year, and he's certainly not going to do it over night. At present, Schenn is a third-pairing defenseman -- and it looks like he's going to have to play on the second pairing if nothing changes. Peter Laviolette may even opt to play him with Timonen to take some burden off of him, but let's be clear: Schenn is of third-pairing caliber right now, and it's unrealistic to think he can take over as a top-pairing defenseman from the moment he pulls on orange and black.
- Bruno Gervais, Andreas Lilja, Erik Gustafsson and Marc-Andre Bourdon are all third-pairing defensemen. Same for any of the AHL-level guys in the system who could find their way to Philadelphia this year. Not the answer.
In Meszaros, the Flyers are losing a guy who may have been on the third-pairing last season, but was a) earning much better than third-pairing money and b) was playing much more than third-pairing ice time. His status as a third-pairing guy on this team was simply a matter of depth, and without Chris Pronger and Matt Carle on the team this upcoming season, the optimistic hope was that Meszaros would step up and play a much larger role. Maybe even earn that Barry Ashbee Trophy he shouldn't have won two years ago.
Even then, that was only a hope. So much for that now.
It's pretty clear: The Flyers need to make a move at this point. There is no in-house solution here, and if the four guys at the top of this list can't all improve upon their play from a year ago, the Flyers will do a lot worse than simply keep their defensive heads above water. There were problems on defense the minute Carle left town, and now with Meszaros out for God knows how long, those problems have vomited themselves all over Paul Holmgren's desk.
So what can the Flyers do? Unfortunately, a glance at the unrestricted free agent market is just about as ugly as a glance at the Flyers' current depth chart. Lots of Sean O`Donnell's, Pavel Kubina's and Brett Lebda's out there.
One of two players who should pique their interest is Blues' UFA defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo. He played second-pairing minutes for St. Louis last season -- one of the league's best defensive clubs -- and had a lot of success doing so. That could be partially the effect of playing alongside Alex Pietrangelo for most of the season. It's surprising that Colaiacovo remains unsigned, and that could be for any number of reasons, but if it's money related, the now-desperate Flyers could give him what he's been looking for. Who knows whether or not that'd be a good thing for us.
But the chief concern with Colaiacovo doesn't help us much at all: He's 29 years old and since turning pro in 2003, he's never played a full season. His longest season to date was 67 games in 2009-10. He played 63 games this past year.
The other guy is Michal Roszival. He played in a similar role with Phoenix that Colaiacovo did with St. Louis, but the big concern is that he's older and suffered a nasty injury in the playoffs last season. Reports have claimed that the injury, suffered on a nasty knee hit from Kings captain Dustin Brown, was just a bruise. That's good, but like Colaiacovo, that he hasn't signed with a team yet is reason for pause.
Otherwise, the market is pretty underwhelming. The Flyers don't need another third-pairing defenseman. They've now lost two top-four guys this summer, and if they're to go out and make a move on this UFA market, they need a guy who can play top-four minutes. Another Bruno Gervais just isn't going to cut it.
Beyond the free agent market? Well, a trade just might be in order, and unfortunately, it looks like the Flyers have little leverage here at this point. Not when the whole league knows how abysmal your defense looks.