Braydon Coburn vs Stanley Cup Winning Defensemen, or What the Flyers Need

Well, there have been a lot of articles about the good play of Braydon Coburn lately, the "emergence" of Braydon Coburn, and a lot of talk about him being the Flyers current number 1 defenseman, and a player without whom the defense, and team, would fall apart.

Hmm, OK.

Braydon Coburn is a fine player, a solid number 3 or 4 defenseman if put on a good defense corps, but what the Flyers have is not even close to a good defense corps, so Coburn is arguably the number 1. That is not going to get you anywhere near a Stanley Cup unless you go visit it at the Hall of Fame in Toronto, and even then you might just be sniffing a replica.

Coburn fit in great on the 2009-2010 defense with a healthy Chris Pronger and a still-in-his-prime Kimmo Timonen, with whom Coburn was partnered. He was the number 4 man then, with Matt Carle being the number 3, even though he was on the top pairing with Pronger, simply because it was a better set up. That way you could have either Pronger or Timonen on the ice for 50 minutes a game. Think about that.

What do we have now?

An older, much slower, Kimmo Timonen who has trouble keeping up with fast players on both ends of the ice and has had to resort to taking quite a few holding and interference penalties (I just looked it up -- he has 1 interference penalty, 2 hooks, and 3 holds) . He hasn't been very involved in the 5on5 offense because he just can't get up into the play or pinch to keep himself in it without the speed to be able to get back on D. Who else can you put out there? Coburn? Luke Schenn? Grossmann? Mark Streit? All fine players, but they're all 3, 4, 5 spot defensemen. Only one team since 2000 (and probably before, but I just stopped looking back beyond that) has won the Stanley Cup without a true number 1 or 2 defenseman -- The 2006 Carolina Hurricanes. They had a group of middle pairing defensemen (Frantisek Kaberle, Bret Hedican, Aaron Ward). In 2004 the Tampa Bay Lightning won with two number 2s. Dan Boyle was a very good number 2 defenseman in his prime, but not quite a number 1, and Darryl Sydor was a solid number 2.

Here's the list of Stanley Cup winners and their top defensemen since the year 2000:

2013 - CHI - Seabrook/Keith
2012 - LAK - Doughty
2011 - BOS - Chara
2010 - CHI - Seabrook/Keith
2009 - PIT - Letang
2008 - DET - Lidstrom
2007 - ANA - Pronger/Niedermayer
2006 - CRL - Team full of # 3-4 Dmen (F Kaberle, Hedican, Ward, Wallin)
2005 - Lockout
2004 - TBL - Dan Boyle/Darryl Sydor
2003 - NJD - Niedermayer/Stevens/Rafalski
2002 - DET - Lidstrom/Chelios
2001 - COL - Blake/Borque
2000 - NJD - Niedermayer/Stevens/Rafalski

So, what are you saying, Bob?

What I'm saying is I like Braydon Coburn. He's a good player. A solid middle pairing guy who does his best when sheltered a bit from top players on other teams. But when he is the defenseman your team relies upon every night to play the most minutes against the best players in the league, you can forget about winning a Stanley Cup. He's not going to be good enough, even if Kimmo Timonen somehow miraculously resuscitates his career and becomes the player he was in his prime, which most likely isn't going to happen. And Chris Pronger is not coming back. They are already talking about putting him in the hall of fame in 2015. The Flyers need a top pairing defenseman badly, much more than they need a scoring winger (which, by the way, I think Jake Voracek can become -- and even if you don't agree, there is a LOT of available scoring in the UFA class this summer), and they don't have one in their system. Sam Morin projects to be a # 3 or 4, middle pairing guy, and that's only if he reaches his potential. Sure there's a chance he could become a great player, but you can't build a team on that chance. What about the UFA market this year? Well, let's see, you've got an old Dan Boyle, Dion Phaneuf (not worth the fortune he's going to cost), Andrei Markov (who I really like, but it's going to be a risky over-35 contract), and then Kimmo Timonen. Not many options.

The Flyers are going to have to trade from their position of strength (good young forwards), to get what they need in their position of weakness (top pairing defenseman). It will probably cost Brayden Schenn or Sean Couturier (I would love it if it didn't, but if it does, then I prefer to keep Couturier) which will hurt a lot, and doesn't guarantee you anything.

But it reminds of that time Shaq was asked how he could gamble 500 grand at once. He said something like, "Well, if it doesn't have the ability to hurt, then it's not going to be worth it."

In this case, not trading for a number 1 defenseman is what's going to hurt the most, unless you think the Flyers can be the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes and defy the odds of what kind of defense corps it takes to win the Stanley Cup, because while Braydon Coburn can certainly be a part of one, him leading the way isn't going to do it.

But let's not end like that. Let's end with this:

This item was written by a member of this community and is not necessarily endorsed by <em>Broad Street Hockey</em>.

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