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Philadelphia Flyers season preview: Health leads to question marks for Nicklas Grossmann

Question marks surround Nicklas Grossmann after a sub-par year was ended with concussion problems last season.

Jeff Zelevansky

Nicklas Grossmann

Age: 28 (29 in January)
Depth Chart: Third-pairing defenseman
Contract Status: $3.5 million per year through 2016
2013 Frequent Partners: Braydon Coburn (57.5% of time), Kurtis Foster (20.6%)

2013 Stats

GP TOI/GP Goals Assists Points
30 18:20 1 3 4
Corsi On Corsi Rel Corsi Rel QoC OZ Start % PDO
-6.3 -6.5 0.630 43.6 985

The bad from 2013

You may notice that this preview looks a lot like Braydon Coburn's from Tuesday, because their seasons had pretty eerily similar tracks last year. Grossmann's first full season (well, sort of) with the Flyers was a bit of a tough campaign. He and Coburn had too many times where they just couldn't get the puck out of their own end, he generated basically nothing offensively, and his season came to a premature end when he came out of a five-day break with concussion problems. When a guy's season ends because he has concussion issues that he picks up during a week off, he's probably not having a great year, and it's a sign that his health is a huge question mark going forward.

The good from 2013

Again, like Coburn, for a guy who was buried in his own end against relatively strong opponents, his possession numbers weren't horrendous. Not particularly good, but not cringe-worthy. He still is probably a player who can patrol his own end relatively well if he's paired with someone who can pass the puck and initiate offense (which probably isn't Coburn), and he was a pretty good penalty-killing defenseman.

What should we expect this season?

Can we expect him to stay healthy? There's the question for Grossmann. It sure sounds like his concussion from last spring was pretty damn serious. Via the Daily News, from last April:

Grossmann has been wearing glasses and his head trauma has wreaked havoc on his vestibular (balance) system. Like Meszaros, Grossmann has missed a fair amount of time since joining the Flyers. He has played in just 61 of a possible 89 games (69 percent) since being acquired via trade with Dallas in 2012. Grossmann just finished the first of a 4-year, $16 million deal with the Flyers. [Ed. note: the deal was actually four years and $14 million.]

"It's safe to say he's doing better but not 100 percent," Holmgren said. "Vestibular rehab is what he continues to do. Any rapid movement creates balance issues for him. Nicklas today said he's coming along nicely, he would have liked to play at the end but needed a little more time."

That sounds scary, and if I recall correctly it's actually somewhat similar to the kind of thing that Chris Pronger has been suffering from lately. Evidently it's not as serious as that, because Grossmann was cleared to play last June. But you never know how those can linger.

But let's assume for the sake of this exercise that he can stay largely healthy. Then what? It's still tough to say, in my opinion, where we can realistically peg Grossmann. He's had some good seasons and some bad seasons in the recent past, and I think with his style of play a lot of his performance is going to be tied to whoever he's paired with.

That said, though, if everyone else is healthy I can't imagine him being higher than fifth on the defensive depth chart (Timonen, Schenn, Coburn and Streit all probably have precedence over him). And as a defensive-minded third-pairing player with Erik Gustafsson or Andrej Meszaros, you could certainly do worse. He can probably do a good job against lower-level competition.

Best case...

Grossmann can stay healthy, bounce back to the level he played at around the time the Flyers traded for him, and make the third pairing a strength, chips in on the top-4 on occasion when needed, and does a good job on the penalty kill.

Worst case...

Grossmann continues to have significant trouble staying on the ice, and while he's on it, whatever strengths he has in his own end continue to be outweighed by his lack of mobility and ability to get the puck out of the defensive zone like they were last season.

Bottom line

Grossmann's a question mark in a lot of ways, but he can certainly be a good fifth defenseman, which may be all the Flyers need from him. If he can manage to stay on the ice, he may be in line for a bit of a bounce-back.

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