The Philadelphia Flyers are not good at drafting defensemen. This isn't a recent phenomenon, although it's progressively gotten worse throughout the team's history. It's something that''s plagued them since ... well, uh, Jimmy Watson and Tom Bladon were drafted in 1972, so around then.
Since their first draft in 1967, the Flyers have drafted just 11 defenseman who have gone on to play more than 500 career games in the National Hockey League. Of those 11 defenseman, just four of them played more than half of their NHL careers in Philadelphia: Watson, Bladon, Behn Wilson and Chris Therien.
Here's a full list of every single defenseman drafted in the history of the Philadelphia Flyers. We've broken it down by general manager, as you can see, and we've listed both how many games the player put in at the NHL level ... and how many of those games were with the Flyers. You'll notice that most of these guys never sniffed the NHL, and when they did, it wasn't usually as a Flyer.
|Year||Rd||Overall||Player||NHL GP||Flyers GP||% GP w/PHI|
|December 1969: Keith Allen takes over GM duties from Bud Poile|
|May 1983: Bob McCammon takes over as general manager|
|May 1984: Bob Clarke begins first stint as general manager|
|June 1990: Russ Farwell takes over as general manager|
|June 1994: Bob Clarke takes over as general manager (again)|
|1998||9||253||Bruno St. Jacques||67||13||19.40%|
|October 2006: Paul Holmgren takes over as general manager|
|Bud Poile totals||129||47||36.43%|
|Keith Allen totals||4,088||2,485||60.79%|
|Bob McCammon totals||0||0||lol|
|Russ Farwell totals||2,528||1,119||44.26%|
|Bob Clarke totals||4,900||1,358||27.71%|
|Paul Holmgren totals||306||109||35.62%|
This table makes me sad every single time I look at it.
Recently, Dennis Seidenberg and Joni Pitkanen are the only two examples of defensemen developed by the organization who went on or are going on to lengthy NHL careers.
Pitkanen was drafted fourth overall in 2002, but didn't jump to North America until 2003-04, when he played 71 games with the Flyers in his rookie NHL season. For the first time in a very, very long time, it finally appeared as though the team had drafted a stud defenseman -- and this one didn't even really need much development. He came to the NHL ready to play at a high level.
Pitkanen was eased in that first season behind a talented corps of blueliners led Eric Desjardins, Kim Johnsson, Marcus Ragnarsson, Chris Therien, Eric Weinrich and later at the trade deadline, Danny Markov. But he became a key cog on the power play that rookie year and the future was extremely bright.
He won the Calder Cup with the Phantoms during the lockout year in 2004-05, won the Ashbee Trophy as the Flyers' top defenseman and Lindbergh Trophy as most improved player the following year, and grew into a top-pairing force for the next several seasons. Just as they had when they selected him, the Flyers expected Pitkanen to be a mainstay on the blueline for years to come. But we all know that didn't happen.
Ultimately, Pitkanen was traded with Geoff Sanderson to Edmonton for one-year captain Jason Smith and Joffrey Lupul, who of course in part turned into Chris Pronger. The trade ultimately was a gain for for the Flyers -- Smith and Lupul played key roles on a team that went to the Conference Finals in 2008 and of course, Pronger was a huge piece on a team that was two wins away from winning the Cup in 2010. Having a 29-year-old top-four guy in Pitkanen on the blueline right now would be nice, but that's hindsight. Can't be too mad about the way things shook out.
Nevertheless, Pitkanen is the probably the best talent the Flyers have developed on the blueline in literally decades, and even he wasn't valuable enough to keep around long term.
Drafted 172nd overall by the Flyers in 2001, Seidenberg made his NHL debut with the Flyers in 2002, playing 58 games with the big club and 19 games across the parking lot with the Philadelphia Phantoms. He split time again in 2002-03, played 79 games with the Phantoms and won the Calder Cup during the lockout-shortened 2004-05 year, and then played 29 games with the Flyers in 05-06 before being traded to Phoenix for Petr Nedved.
From there, Seidenberg went on to Carolina and a short stop in Florida before settling in as a top-pairing defenseman on a Stanley Cup winner in Boston. The Flyers (and I guess the Mannheim Eagles of the German DEL, where he played three seasons prior to his NHL days) developed Seidenberg into a nice NHL player, and then traded him quickly there after. He became a top-pair guy elsewhere, but the talent was always there. And it's not like the Flyers got much for him. Nedved played 49 games in Philly before being placed on waivers a year after the trade.
Aside from these two, there just isn't much at which to look. Chris Therien is the ONLY defenseman to be drafted by the Flyers and go on to a lengthy, productive career in Philly since the 1970s. ONE GUY. It's horrifying once you see it on paper, isn't it?
We've written thousands of words on this site about the Flyers problems on defense, and even despite that we still don't have any easy way to solve those problems. One thing we know, though: When you rarely select defensemen with high draft picks, and when it's even more rare that you take the time to develop a young defenseman, it doesn't help your overall situation on defense.
What's the reasoning for the Flyers' total inability to draft, develop and keep talented defensemen? Is it short-sightedness? Is it a blanket inability to recognize defensive talent unless that talent is already a fully-known commodity, such as Kimmo Timonen or Chris Pronger? Is it that they just don't care about it as much? Is it that, on the whole, it's harder to recognize defensive talent at draft age and see that talent through to the NHL level?
Whatever the answer, the Flyers need to get better in this department in a salary cap era. Maybe they can start on Sunday at the 2013 NHL Draft.