Philadelphia Flyers 2013-14 Year In Review: Mark Streit

Elsa

The Flyers' big free-agent acquisition on defense from last summer needed some time to get going, but he probably was the Flyers' best defenseman by the time the season ended. How do we read into that?

Mark Streit

Age: 36 (December 11, 1977)
Contract Status: $5.25 million per year through 2017

2013-14 Stats

GP TOI/GP Goals Assists Points
82 20:39 10 34 44
Corsi For % Corsi Rel % Quality of Comp. (TOI%) Zone Start % PDO
50.4% (3) 0.7% (4) 28.3% (4) 52.6% (4) 101.3% (3)

(Numbers in parentheses indicate descending rank among regular Flyers players at his position, i.e. one of the team's top eight defensemen or top 13 forwards.)

Most frequent defensive partners

Partner Goals For% Corsi For% OZ/DZ%
Nicklas Grossmann 47.3% (+26 / -29) 49.7% 51.2%
Luke Schenn 40.0% (+6 / -9) 50.5% 57.9%
Andrej Meszaros 63.6% (+7 / -4) 49.2% 50.7%

A key role to fill

The Flyers' first playoffs-less season in six years brought about a lot of questions about their roster, the most prevalent of which was what they should to to fix their shoddy defense. A defense that was a combination of old, slow, and mediocre-at-best needed an infusion of, well ... youth, mobility, and puck-moving skill.

In trading for and then signing Mark Streit, the former captain and top defenseman on the New York Islanders, the Flyers didn't exactly address the "youth" part of things. And we had some reservations on the trade (and subsequent four-year contract) based largely on that. However, the logic behind getting him was pretty sound. He's a solid puck-mover, he was the team's best offensive defenseman (at least at even strength) upon his arrival, and he can get around the ice pretty well for a 35-going-on-36-year-old -- not an outstanding skater, but probably as good as or better of one than any regular Flyers defenseman not named Braydon Coburn.

He wasn't the alpha-dog, all-situations defenseman that the Flyers truly needed, and the fact that he was their only blue-line upgrade in the summer was a bit of a disappointment. But his acquisition addressed and improved on a clear weakness, and knowing that he -- at 35 -- was likely to see his play fall off before it improved, the pressure was on him to put together a really good first year as the Flyers' main 5-on-5 puck-mover.

An unwelcomed introduction

A couple of weeks ago, Charlie wrote up Nicklas Grossmann's year-in-review piece here on this site. If you may recall, the stay-at-home Swede's season started out decent-ish, took a drastic turn for the worse around December and January, and then turned around a bit in the season's final months.

If you read that, you likely won't be surprised to hear about how Streit's season sometimes trended in a similar pattern, given that the two were, of course, partners on defense for more than half of the season.

Much like the Flyers in general, Streit had a pretty bad start to the season. It took him nearly a month to record his first even-strength point of the year. The smart puck-moving skill that the Flyers were hoping for wasn't there, and his decision-making was just rough.

While it's not necessarily a bad thing that Streit took some risks in trying to get/sustain offense, sometimes Streit took it a bit too far. Both the timing and the execution of various maneuvers in all three zones (i.e. blue-line pinches, dumb spin-o-rama moves with the puck) were often really bad, leading to quality chances the other way. And while you can live with the mistakes if production comes with them, the production wasn't coming -- Streit was in the red in possession despite easy minutes, he wasn't scoring near the clip he usually was (10 points through the team's first 30 games), and ultimately was failing by pretty much any test imaginable.

So with both Streit's offensive and defensive ability under question, the decision to bring him on looked like a major flop for his first three or four months or so in the organization. With Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen holding down the fort on the top pair, the struggles of the Streit-Grossmann pairing looked like one of the main things holding this team back.

The Streit we were hoping for

However, Berube stuck to his guns, never bumping Streit below the second pairing (usually keeping him with Grossmann) and tasking him with 20-plus minutes more often than not. And by the time mid-to-late January rolled around, Streit slowly started to get more comfortable and learn his role with the Flyers.

More Mark Streit

His acquisition really started to pay dividends in the post-Olympic break portion of the schedule -- after posting a Corsi-for of 48.1 percent in the season's first four months, Streit dominated possession to the tune of 55.7% of all shot attempts in the team's last 23 regular-season games.

The offense was there, the possession and play-driving ability was there, and you could pretty easily make the case that he was the Flyers' best defenseman in their last 30 games or so. The Flyers may not even make the playoffs at all if his subpar play from the first part of the season had continued -- but instead, he was a huge part of their successful month of March that ultimately secured their spot in the postseason, and was also probably the team's best defenseman in their series against the Rangers (not a high bar to clear given how poorly most of the defense played, but a truth regardless).

So what happened? Ultimately, as our own Charlie O'Connor discussed right after the regular season ended, it may have just been a matter of time and getting acclimated with Craig Berube's system:

After analyzing video, the answer is clear in Streit and Grossmann's cases. Their success since late February is directly tied to a team-wide commitment to coach Craig Berube's system and improved communication between the forwards and defensemen, with Streit in particular as a key beneficiary.

Streit's early season struggles are understandable when viewed in this light. After all, he signed with a team coached by Peter Laviolette, and prepared during the offseason to play in that system. With the abrupt firing of Laviolette, Streit was then forced to learn yet another system on the fly. His occasional overaggressive pinches make more sense in light of the fact that Laviolette's system often encouraged such plays.

As the season progressed, Streit slowly became more comfortable on the ice. But it did not truly come together for him until after the Olympic break, as the results show.

Streit's role next year

Obviously, there was some good and some bad with Streit's season, all of which have implications for his role on the team next year. Let's run through the implications of both sides of everything.

As mentioned, the fact that Streit got better as the season went on is a good sign, especially for a player his age. Streit probably is not going to be a 55-plus-percent Corsi guy moving forward, but if something really did click for him down the road, it would be a huge boost for the second pair of a defense that, on paper, is not looking pretty as it heads into next season.

And in fact, there could even be reasons to think he might improve next year. A full offseason and training camp of working with Berube could serve him well. Streit's play could also vary (read: get better) depending on who his primary defensive partner is -- while he and Grossmann performed well together in the later stages of the year, you can't help but wonder how much of that was simply Streit carrying the water, and how much better he'd be with someone more skilled.

But even acknowledging the possible steps forward, there are some questions about Streit, and some things that need to break right for him to be successful again next year. The most obvious point of concern, of course, is his age. Under contract for three more years, one can't help but wonder how much he may fall victim to the aging curve next season. He's not exceptionally mobile, but he's a decent skater (again, one of the better ones on the Flyers), and he's active enough with the puck on his stick that any noticeable drop-off in speed could be a problem.

And there's also the matter of how exactly Craig Berube can handle and deploy Streit next year. Streit was given some of the easier minutes on the team -- among the team's five year-round defensive mainstays in the lineup, only Luke Schenn got easier minutes (i.e. against worse opposing players, in the offensive zone) than Streit did.

Streit took advantage of the chances he was given -- but eyeballing the Flyers' projected defensive lineup next year, is anyone other than Braydon Coburn someone you confidently think can take on tough minutes? Especially if Timonen retires, I don't think that there is -- and that could have a big impact on what Streit will have to do next year.

What if Streit, due to weaknesses elsewhere in the lineup, is thrust into that tough-minutes role as a puck-mover who can help Coburn? I like what he did this year, but I'm not at all convinced he can handle that. Or, alternatively, what if Streit's play as a whole falls off, and the Flyers need to shelter him even more, forcing them to throw someone else (Andrew MacDonald? Nicklas Grossmann? Yikes) into the fire defensively?

Essentially, for Streit, the Flyers really need to hope that what he showed towards the tail end of the season was pretty close to real. If it is, they'll be fine -- good, even. If he falls off a tiny bit, but is still a serviceable top-4 defenseman scoring at a half-point-per-game-or better clip? They'll live. If he gets any worse than that ... uh-oh.

Preseason expectations

We didn't have a season preview on Mark Streit because for some reason when we were doing season previews we missed some dudes at the end of the alphabet. But personally, my expectation for Streit was that he would improve the team's second pairing, be the team's top offensive defenseman at even strength, and make the team's second power play unit a fair bit more formidable.

Further speaking in hindsight a bit, I'd say that the best case would have been that he ends up logging huge minutes at both evens and the power play, pushing possession and topping 50 points. Worst case, he already falls off the aging cliff, doesn't do much at evens, and isn't anything more than a third-pair guy.

Verdict

It took a while to get going, and with Streit's play in some of the earlier parts of the season, there were concerns that the worst-case scenario would be a bit closer to a best-case scenario. Forget looking old -- Streit just looked plain bad, by just about any rational measure, and he wasn't producing the offense at even strength or the power play to make up for it.

But as he continued going through the season and got a bit more comfortable in Philadelphia, Streit started to fill the role that he was supposed to, and then some -- to the point where he was probably the Flyers' best defenseman from the moment the Olympic break ended to the moment the Flyers' season ended in New York City. (Even though the second power play unit never really came around.)

So when you take the bad and good into account, Streit probably was in the middle of the two extremes. His performance on the whole was maybe a bit underwhelming, but if you put a little more emphasis on the later part of the season, maybe you'd give him a bit more credit.

There are a lot of questions and a lot of variables surrounding Streit, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him trend significantly up or down next year. But all in all I'd say we got about what we were hoping for with Streit this season, and the fact that he trended upwards as the season went on gives some reasons for optimism even as he reaches the final years of his career.

***

Feel free to vote in the poll below to grade Mark Streit's season on a scale from 1 to 10. Vote based on your expectations for him coming into the season -- i.e. 1 being "he was incredibly disappointing and I want him out now", 10 being "he was outstanding even beyond my craziest expectations".

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