Barry Ashbee Trophy: Who's the Flyers' best defenseman this season?

Drew Hallowell

It hasn't always been a great year for the Flyers' blue line, but a few guys have put together solid seasons. Which one has been the best?

This Sunday, in the Flyers' final regular-season home game (and final regular-season game, period), the team will unveil the winners of its annual end-of-season awards. There are six of those, and if you can't remember them, here's what they are and how their winners are chosen:

  • Bobby Clarke Award (Most valuable player, as voted on by the media)
  • Barry Ashbee Trophy (Best defenseman, as voted on by the media)
  • Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy (Most improved player, as voted on by the team's players)
  • Yanick Dupre Class Guy Memorial Award (for the player "who best illustrates character, dignity and respect for the sport both on and off the ice," as voted by the media.)
  • Gene Hart Memorial Award (for the player "who demonstrated the most 'heart' during the season, as voted by the Flyers' Official Fan Club.)
  • Toyota Cup (for the player who receives the most "Three Stars of the Game" selections)

From a hockey perspective, the first three are the ones we'll focus on here. We'l try and size up the potential candidates for each of those awards in the next three days, we'll mention who we would vote for, and we'll ask who you would vote for as well.

We'll start with the Ashbee. I think there's a frontrunner here and two other guys who could garner consideration, so let's go through those three guys.

Kimmo Timonen

The season hadn't always looked like it was going to be a great one for Timonen, who turned 39 back in March. His year (much like most Flyers' years) didn't start out so great, as he was on the bad end of a lot of rough plays and his obvious lack of speed at this point in his career looked like it was going to be his undoing. There was a while where people were asking if Timonen even should've come back to play this year.

Fast forward four or five months, and the discussion has turned to whether or not Timonen will be up for returning next season for (probably?) one last go-round. And with good reason: Timonen's had a very good year. His role has obviously changed a bit in the last few years -- he doesn't play a ton of minutes at evens anymore, and he's mostly used in offensive situations.

But he's very, very steady in those minutes he's given. He's the strongest possession player on the team's blueline, he is a huge part of both special teams units runs the point on that top power play that's been so dangerous for most of the year, and he's just got better as the year's gone on.

Is he the guy he used to be? No. Is he still an outstanding defenseman who's made a huge difference on this team? Sure is. He's won the award four times in his first six years with the Flyers, and he's probably the favorite to land it for a fifth time this year.

Braydon Coburn

The shortened 2013 campaign that saw the Flyers miss the playoffs was quite possibly Coburn's worst season in the orange and black. In an expanded role following the departure of Matt Carle, Coburn was possibly a bit overworked, and he fell off in a lot of ways -- his possession numbers dropped off, his luck was way down, he seemed to have brutal turnovers that would end up in the back of the net every few games, and he missed the final month of the season with a shoulder injury. It was so bad that he was nearly shipped out of town last summer.

Fortunately, the Flyers held onto him and took a chance on him bouncing back -- and it's paid off. Coburn has played in all 79 games this year, he plays more minutes on a nightly basis than anyone else, he takes on the toughest defensive assignments on the team, and he's just been a rock as we've become used to in his time here. He also plays more minutes on the penalty kill than any defenseman on the team. And as Eric pointed out this past weekend, he's one of the better defensive presences on the blueline, as he's adept at forcing the other team to dump in the puck at the blue line. The Flyers aren't where they are without his efforts.

Mark Streit

Streit's four-year, $21 million contract that he received after the Flyers traded for his rights from Long Island last summer raised some eyebrows, and his time here really did get off to a pretty bad start -- consistently looking lost defensively, bad turnovers left and right, not doing enough on the power play to make the second unit threatening, etc. But whatever the cause -- possibly it was just a matter of getting acclimated to a new team and new coach's system -- Streit has slowly but steadily and surely improved as the season's gone on, and it's reached a head with some outstanding play in the team's games since the Olympic break.

Streit leads the team's defensemen in total points (39) and even-strength points (21), which will probably pick him up a few votes by itself. He's been making better passes and contributing to the team's breakout that's looked better of late. And his possession numbers -- unflattering to start the season, especially considering the fact that he was given fairly cushy minutes -- have been excellent during the team's recent run. You can see his improvement in the following table:

Time Period Corsi-For %
Pre-Olympics (Games 1 through 59) 48.1%
Post-Olympics (Games 60 through 79) 55.7%

(A reminder: "Corsi-For %" refers to the percentage of shot attempts taken with a player on the ice that go in favor of his team. So this table means that the Flyers took 48.1 percent of all shot attempts with Streit on the ice, but since the Olympics they have got 55.7% of attempts with Streit on the ice, a significant improvement.)

Streit was brought in to fill the role of puck-moving, offensively-oriented defenseman left by Carle when he went to Tampa in the 2012 offseason. When Paul Holmgren had a press conference introducing him last July, he said that the Flyers needed a player like Streit "very badly" -- and he was right. It took a while for that player to show up, but he has, and he's been a huge part of the team's good play in the past couple months.

***

Those three are pretty much the only realistic candidates to win the award. Timonen is probably the favorite to win the award, with Coburn as the next-most-likely and Streit is a dark horse. After those three, there's a bit of a drop-off.

We'll find out who wins on Sunday. You can see our votes below, and you can vote in the poll at the bottom. Who's been the Flyers' best defenseman this season?

Who we voted for to win the Ashbee Trophy:

Albert Allison Charlie Collin Kelly Kevin Kurt Travis
Timonen Timonen Timonen Timonen Timonen Coburn Timonen Timonen
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