Philadelphia Flyers season preview: Can Andrej Meszaros regain his old form?

He can still celebrate with the best of 'em, though. - Bruce Bennett

After a season riddled with injury troubles, Andrej Meszaros' spot in the top-6 is no longer a sure thing even if he can stay on the ice. What does he still have in the tank?

Andrej Meszaros

Age: 28 in October
Depth Chart: Fourth pairing defenseman
Contract Status: $4 million per year through 2014
2013 Frequent Partners: Bruno Gervais (30.2% of time), Kurtis Foster (24.7%)

2013 Stats

GP TOI/GP Goals Assists Points
11 18:28 0 2 2
Corsi On Corsi Rel Corsi Rel QoC OZ Start % PDO
-25.2 -26.2 -0.479 42.5 944

The bad from 2013

Well, for one, Mez just couldn't stay on the ice last year. He came into the season following surgery for a bad back and a torn Achilles, and he managed to play four and seven games before a pair of injuries to his left shoulder (his shooting side). The latter shoulder injury, suffered in late March, ended his season.

And when he was on the ice, he just didn't look very good. Far removed from the guy who, just two years prior, did an excellent job as the team's No. 4/5 defenseman. A lot of the time he seemed like he just couldn't keep up out there, as if he'd lost a step -- not a great thing to think about a guy who was only 27 at the time. Check the Corsi numbers up there: they don't lie.

It just wasn't a good year for Mez, in so many ways.

The good from 2013

Even with his struggles, he was so unlucky last year that he had the sixth-lowest PDO of any defenseman in the NHL who played at least 10 games, so some of his bad outcomes were likely not his fault and aren't repeatable. I know that's quite a reach in looking for something "good", but that's about as good as I can get. Last year was really tough for Meszaros.

What should we expect this season?

Well, there are two questions that have to be asked. First: will Meszaros be on the Flyers at all? The team's logjam of bodies on defense is well-documented, and a couple of the guys under contract on the team now will probably not be on the team when the season begins next Wednesday. Meszaros is the guy who most seem to want gone, presumably via trade, but his down year last year along with his relatively high salary (even if just for a year) might make that impossible without the Flyers keeping a big chunk of his salary, if it's possible at all.

Second: can he stay healthy? Before March of 2012, he had actually been quite steady on the health front, having played in almost every game in his career to date except for a 30-game stretch in 2008-09. But back troubles and shoulder troubles aren't the kind of things that easily go away for a puck-moving defenseman who relies in part on a strong shot -- especially when those shoulder problems flared up twice in two months.

All of that said ... if he's here, and healthy, and cleared to play (which it sounds like he has been/will be, though we can't quite confirm that yet), reports are that he may, in fact, have the inside track to be the team's sixth and final defenseman on opening night, over the young Erik Gustafsson. Consider:

One would think that if healthy, Grossmann and Meszaros are top six defensemen, but if so where does that leave Gustafsson?

Andrej Meszaros and Nick Grossmann remain the third pair with young Erik Gustafsson as the apparent seventh, odd man out.

That's a little surprising to me, given Gus' progress last season, but I digress. It's a testament to the fact that, when healthy and functional like he was in 2010-11 and 2011-12, Mez is actually a pretty respectable No. 4 or No. 5 defenseman, posting a positive Corsi-for despite starting in his own end more often than not. He was at his best in that time while playing with the since-departed Matt Carle, and he typically wasn't against the other team's strongest players, but even so, he controlled the game at a respectable clip and scored at one (0.40 points per game in both seasons) as well.

That's really all you need from a third defenseman, especially one who will probably be paired with a heavily-defensively-oriented guy like Nicklas Grossmann. If Meszaros is healthy and can recreate his 2010-12 self on the ice this year, it'll make the bottom of the defense that much better ...

... but again, big 'if' there.

Best case...

Mez is, in fact, actually healthy, beats out one of Gustafsson or Grossmann for a spot in the top-6, and rebounds to his 2010-12 self -- not perfect and certainly with his flaws, but perfectly adequate for a third-pairing and second-power-play guy.

Worst case...

Mez's injuries from the last couple of years stick with him and he can't stay on the ice, and he looks like a shell of his former self while on it. So 'what happened last year', basically.

Bottom line

There are a lot -- a lot -- of questions about Andrej Meszaros, and we're still not 100 percent sure of whether or not he'll be here when the season starts or if he'll be a permanent fixture in the lineup if he is here or what kind of playing shape he'll be in or how close he can be to the good player he was even just two seasons ago. So there's plenty of risk in trying to make a good projection for him. But if all of those questions turn up the right way for him, the Flyers will have a strong presence on the bottom pairing -- something they really never had last year.

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