I made a post a little over a week ago about how I believe the Flyers defensive corp was going to be one of the stronger aspects of the team. Then after the Flyers 0-3 start I commented that the defense was still getting their legs under them and being scapegoated for the teams poor start. Then Andrej Meszaros got hurt and that changed everything. The next month of games will be crucial to the Flyers season and playing them without Meszaros and Scott Hartnell will be a tall task. While players like Kurtis Foster and Bruno Gervais are perfectly fine 6th defensemen. A platoon of Foster, Gervais, and Andreas Lilja leaves the lower third of the Flyers defense with much to be desired. And with Marc-Andre Bourdon and Erik Gustafsson both on the mend for what could be a rather long time, help won't be coming from the farm, unless it's from untested players like Brandon Manning or Oliver Lauridsen.
So where are the Flyers going to go for defensive help? The best case scenario would be a quick puck moving defenseman. But every team in the league has a need for such a player so one might be hard to come by. Even the puck movers who are possibly available would come at a cost, either with their large cap hit like Lubomir Visnovsky, or with the assets we would have to give up to get them like Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
So I think the Flyers are going after another large, physical, defensive defenseman. A player who eats up blocks and hits. A player who can step in and improve the teams abysmal penalty kill. A player with a reasonable cap hit that wouldn't require the team to send too much back the other way. And a player who is in the last year of his contract. Here's a list of players that I think the Flyers could target.
TONI LYDMAN (ANA) - 35 years old, 6'1, 202 lbs, $3,000,000 Cap hit, Shoots left
Lydman has been one of top defensive defensemen on the Ducks for the past few season. Though he isn't as big as most defensive defenseman, he makes up for his relatively small stature with toughness. He had 134 hits in 74 games last season and more blocks per game than any of the Flyers defensemen. He does have a small offensive upside but isn't productive enough to garner a spot on the power play. In the 2010-11 season Lydman finished tied for second in plus minus, at +32. He was only one plus/minus point behind the leader, Zdeno Chara. The Ducks could be going into a major rebuild in the off season and might be looking to trade their UFA to be, especially if they don't look to be in the playoff picture.
Fellow Anaheim blue liner Francois Beauchemin would also be a great addition but Anaheim just gave him a three year extension this past off season. It's unlikely they would trade him.
LADISLAV SMID (EDM) - 26 Years old (27 on Feb. 1), 6'3, 207 lbs, $2,250,000 Cap hit, Shoots left
Smid is one of the best rough and tumble defensive defensemen in the league. Last season only 3 defensemen had 180+ hits and 180+ blocks. New York's Dan Girardi, Winnipeg's Mark Stuart, and Edmonton's Ladislav Smid. The 9th overall pick from 2004 is faster than the Flyers other three hulking defensemen (Coburn, Grossmann, and Schenn) and his offensive production steadily improved since coming into the league. Smid also played during the lockout and has come into the NHL season with his feet already under him. It might take a little bit to get Smid away from the Oilers. He's a good defensive defenseman and could be part of their plans down the road. Though, with the addition of Mark Fistric and top prospect Oscar Klefbom waiting in the wings and Smid taking a noticeably reduced role with the team, Edmonton may be willing to part with him for draft picks.
ANDY SUTTON (EDM) - 37 years old, 6'6, 245 lbs, $1,750,000 Cap hit, Shoots left
Edmonton is much more likely to part with the aging Sutton. While Sutton is older and slower, he put up over 100 hits and nearly a hundred blocks last season in only 52 games. Sutton is a heavy hitter and an all around nasty player. He served several multiple game suspensions last season and narrowly avoided the Shanahammer this season after leveling Gabriel Landeskog a few days ago. Sutton ended last season a +5, Smid ended a +4, and were the only two Edmonton defensemen with a positive plus/minus. That's quite an accomplishment on a team that finished second to last in the league. It wouldn't take much to get Sutton, but his injection of nasty into the Flyers defense could help the team through their division heavy schedule.
RON HAINSEY (WIN) - 31 years old, 6'3, 210 lbs, $4,500,00 Cap hit, Shoots left
Hainsey is the most expensive of these options; but he's also the most offensively productive defenseman on my list. While his production has slowed since he was taken off the power play a few years ago, he's had multiple 30+ point seasons. Hainsey could fill in on the second powerplay while Meszaros is hurt. Or he could sub for Kurtis Foster when Foster's a healthy scratch or if he's traded away. Hainsey is strong in his own zone as well. He averaged more than two blocks per game last season and was a +9. Hainsey's cap hit might force the Flyers to send something back the other way, most likely Kurtis Foster who was traded twice last season. Also, if Winnipeg feels they can make the playoffs, they will probably keep Hainsey who's averaging over 23 minutes of ice time in this short season.
If the Flyers were to add any of these players, they would keep the team's head above water for the next month and make their defense one of the toughest in the league.
Some defensemen, like San Jose's Douglas Murray, might also be on the Flyers radar. But if a team like San Jose is looking to make a run at the Cup, it's unlikely they will trade such a valuable asset. Other defensemen, like Marc-Andre Bergeron in Tampa Bay or Washington's Roman Hamrlik, might be on Homer's shopping list. But since neither are much of an improvement over guys like Foster or Gervais, it's not worth giving up late round picks for them.