I've already posted an article analyzing the Flyers team post lockout, but the biggest concern on the team, despite much criticism to Ilya Bryzgalov and the goaltending, is the defense. There's one thing that I commonly hear about the Flyers defense, and this puzzles me, I hear 'The Flyers have problems with depth on defense'. Personally, I think this is furthest from the truth, so let's analyze the defense and see how good this unit actually is.
Current projected pairs:
Reserve: Bruno Gervais
Taking a look at this lineup, the Flyers defense actually looks rather solid, if not great. The biggest problem with this unit right now is health, can Grossmann's knees hold up? How long will Meszaros stay on the ice? Can Timonen keep it going? The biggest question from top to bottom is health, Grossmann with his bad knees, Meszaros with a flurry of injuries the past few seasons, and though he doesn't miss any games every blocked shot is felt hard by Timonen and he is clearly slowing down. That means there is at least one player in each pair that has injury concerns, that's not a particularly good thing to have.
Now we get back to the concerns of depth, frankly I don't see this as that big of a concern, the Flyers right now have 7 NHL caliber defensemen, and along with young players like Marc-Andre Bourdon and Erik Gustafsson, the Flyers have a bunch of serviceable NHL defensemen, the real problem is at the top of the unit. Kimmo Timonen is still a good defenseman, but he is 37 years old, has slowed down quite a bit, and though he is a very good passer has very little offensive ability on the power play, the best power play quarterbacks currently on the roster, which is not a good thing because their shots, though powerful, couldn't hit the Great Wall of China if they were standing right in front. Kurtis Foster has a good shot as well, but same problem applies to him. The Flyers are lacking that top two pairing that some of the better defensive teams have, while he is a former 5th overall pick, Luke Schenn isn't quite top pair talent right now, the team has a bunch of 2nd pair defensemen, but just miss that one big player. Some are thinking "well if Pronger were healthy..." I'll stop right there about Pronger, I wish him all the best in his recovery and hope he concentrates on regaining a normal life, not hockey. Even before he was injured, Pronger was clearly badly slowed and had gotten weaker in the defensive zone, not the dominant force he once was. The Flyers almost had Shea Weber, which would make this conversation completely different, but that is beside the point. My biggest concern is offense from the blue line, or lack there of, which is why there have been some rumblings of bringing in even more help on the blue line...
Wade Redden will likely be bought out by the Rangers quite soon, which means he will be a free agent once more, and rumor has it the Flyers will be in line for his services. While Redden is fairly solid in the offensive zone, he was still a complete disaster for the Rangers and has been playing the past few seasons in the AHL, I can only hope the team doesn't go after yet another aging, offensive defenseman that struggles on defense (Pavel Kubina pops to mind), the team is full of okay defensemen that cost way too much, the team is really in need of an injection of talent in both ends...which brings me to my next point.
The Montreal Canadiens are having all kinds of trouble trying to sign PK Subban to a long term contract, and he may not even start the season with the team. The Habs could look to deal him, and as they have been rumored in the past, the Flyers could be at the front of the line. Though he does not have a very good reputation in Philly, I believe Subban will have a huge effect on the Flyers offense. He would bring a bona fide future star to the Flyers defense and is an exceptional two-way talent. Subban would immediately fit right in on the top pair and would only improve in orange.
Another name that is still being tossed around is Coyotes Defensemen Keith Yandle. Yandle would be a monstrous pickup for the Flyers and if he can be pried away from the Coyotes, the Flyers should push hard for him. He is an all star defenseman and would bring exceptional skill right now and in the future in both ends of the ice. Yandle is not the biggest dog in the yard, but he is very good in his own zone and is quite the offensive force. The Flyers have been after Yandle before, and could be again as he is rumored to once again be available, the trade deadline is late this season, so who knows how this is going to work out.
The bottom line is, the Flyers defense, when healthy, is actually a very deep, strong defense, and though some top shelf talent may be missing or aging, this unit is actually quite solid. The problem of course is health, which is a concern for every NHL club, but especially for the Flyers. I like what the team has done, with the additions in the past year of Grossmann, Foster, and Schenn, they should make a big difference on this team, Schenn has the talent and I believe having his little brother there to push him will only bring the best out of both of them, so maybe Luke Schenn will step up and be the guy on defense. Once again it is going to be a bumpy ride, but at least if the team has to rely on younger players, there are at least two NHL ready defensemen waiting in the wings.
Good night. Good hockey. Go Flyers.