Flyers mailbag: How to fix the defense, trade bait, and Erik Gustafsson the scratch

Yeah. Hi. Here's a question. Why does it look like Nicklas Grossmann is putting this puck into his own net? - Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sport

A look at the defense, expendable trade pieces, and why the hell Erik Gustafsson is a healthy scratch while Nicklas Grossmann plays hockey in our BSH Flyers mailbag.

After last night's fart of a hockey game, for whatever reason, I felt like writing something about the Flyers. I did not know what to write about, so I decided to ask the fine folks of Twitter for Flyers questions.

As you could guess they would right after an embarrassing loss, they produced several thought-provoking questions that merited insightful responses. Sort of.

Here are a few of them, and answers.

That's the question, isn't it?

This team has had bad stretches (all of October, early December, the current one) and good stretches (most of November, mid-to-late December). The big problem is that the good stretches all seem to line up with games against not-very-strong opponents and that the bad stretches all seem to line up with games against good opponents, and the bad stretches just seem to last a bit longer and leave a bit more of an impression.

Let's put it this way. Here are the Flyers' point percentages (total points out of possible points) against playoff teams and non-playoff teams this year:

Playoff teams Non-playoff teams
East 10/26 (38.4%) 28/44 (63.6%)
West 4/14 (28.6%) 14/20 (70%)

Paints a fairly clear-cut picture, no? Can't be a particularly good team if you can't beat any good teams.

They aren't one of the worst teams in the league, and they aren't going to be this bad forever ... but we're definitely at the point where if the Flyers want to convince us they're a good team, they've got to prove it. These next two weeks provide a decent chance for them to either do that or die trying. Right now they're looking like they're set to do the latter. We'll see.

I'm not going to go into too much detail here because I think we're going to have a long post complaining about how ridiculous this is if it goes on for much longer. But basically, I think the Flyers are convinced that they need at least one stay-at-home guy on every pairing (along with one puck-moving type), which is why all of Coburn, Grossmann, and Luke Schenn stay in the lineup at once (and why Hal Gill is the one to come in if one of them sits/is hurt).

It's not a terrible strategy on its own. It can work if you've got the right personnel for it. If I recall correctly, the Kings typically do or at least have in the past done something similar with their defensive pairings, and as you've probably heard, they do alright for themselves.

The difference is that the Kings can make it work because they've got the talent level on their D to stylistically mix and match like that. The Flyers don't. Their blue line isn't talented enough to keep a guy who's shown potential (and, more importantly, speed) on the bench for the sake of matching up guys who might mesh stylistically.

It's sort of like the matching-left-and-right-handed-shots-on-D thing that people freaked out about forever and have since realized is a little overblown. If you've got the talent, it's something you might want to try for the potential reward. If you don't have the talent, you've got to worry more about getting the best guys you have on the ice and trying to make it work.

And if you're making a list of the six best defensemen on the Flyers right now, with how some guys (looking at you, Nicklas Grossmann) are playing of late, I think Gus is on that list. So I'm with you. He should be playing.

Well this is a depressing thought, but man, the more you watch this team and look at the numbers, the more you just get the feeling that Vincent Lecavalier is the odd man out and that he just doesn't fit anywhere in the top three lines with this particular set of players. He's been a drag possession-wise for almost everyone in the lineup, and after a hot start, he hasn't been scoring nearly enough to make up for it lately.

Couple that with the fact that he hasn't been on any of the three lines that you could consider the best ones for the Flyers this year (Read/Couturier/Downie, Raffl/Giroux/Voracek, Hartnell/Schenn/Simmonds), and that if he's healthy we can't make those three lines all be on the ice at once ... and you see the problem.

Like our own Charlie O'Connor mentioned on Twitter last night, the desire to play in Peter Laviolette's system was something he mentioned being excited about when he signed here, so there's a chance maybe he's just not a fit stylistically here with Berube.

Seeing him center a fourth line that would be offensively-oriented is almost intriguing enough to be worth a shot, but the Flyers would never ever ever do that. The only way it could work is if they just put offensive players (i.e. Tye McGinn? Jason Akeson?) on his wings. Lecavalier centering Adam Hall and Zac Rinaldo won't do it.

This is another tough one. Everyone knows that every trade proposal in the last two years or so that involves the Flyers trading for a defenseman has involved one of Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier, if not both. The emergence of Scott Laughton into a high-end center prospect and the fact that the Flyers actually have some defensemen in the pipeline worth watching (Morin, Hagg, Gostisbehere) gives them some other guys worth throwing into trades, but getting a difference-making defenseman requires giving up someone with high-end talent.

Schenn and Couturier have both seen their stocks rise and fall (at least in the eye of the general public) over the course of this year, so you've got to be careful that you don't end up doing something stupid like selling low on a guy and not getting nearly as much of a return on him as you probably could/should have. (Cough.)

Given the aforementioned logjam of centers and the fact that I'm still fairly high on both Couturier and Schenn, if you can somehow swing a deal for an impact guy that centers around Laughton, you do it. And that pains me to say, because I think Laughton can be really, really good, too.

But for someone who would truly make a difference on this team? You'd need to give up more than a guy who hasn't really played in the NHL yet.

It seems like the easy answer, but this team is really, really slow, and you notice it everywhere.

How many guys on this team do you watch and think "this guy skates really well" or "this guy moves around the ice nicely"? Four? Five, in total? The three guys on the top line, Matt Read, and ... then what? Braydon Coburn is this team's quickest defenseman, and though I like Braydon Coburn a lot and think he's a plus skater, that shouldn't be the case for any team that considers itself to be decent.

Basically, when you've got a group like this one, which isn't going to win many races or walk around guys or create chances off a rush, you've got to be really, really strong on the puck and have got to win battles to make things work and establish possession. That wears guys down, and it's tough to do for a long period of time.

The Hartnell/Schenn/Simmonds line (which was unceremoniously broken up last night) was able to do it for a while and they've looked pretty great, but there's a reason we all had this nagging feeling that those three put together would be a disaster. You need a good mix of physicality and speed in this modern NHL to get by. The Flyers have a fair bit of the former and not nearly enough of the latter. Being physical and outworking the other guys by outmuscling them from every loose puck can work in spurts, but it's hard to win like that on a regular basis.

That's maybe one reason you don't trade Scott Laughton -- he's very quick on his skates, and you can't afford to get rid of a guy like that with this team the way it is.

Honorable mention for "most glaring issue" to "they take way too many penalties, they show no signs of slowing down, and you can't just rely on an outstanding penalty kill night in and night out". Speaking of ...

Obviously. I'm sure with him the Flyers would stop committing bad penalties and would be controlling the puck way more often. Those are his things, right?

Thanks, guys. Good talk. We'll do it again some other time.

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