When Nicklas Grossmann left game four with an injury and didn't return people began to wonder who might replace him in game five if he was unable to play. The initial favorite among many was Erik Gustafsson. The dark horse was veteran, and a Nicklas Grossmann-like player in Hal Gill. Well, news has come out that Grossmann won't play and it is certainly looking like Gill will be the one to take his spot in the lineup.
There's been a bit of backlash at the thought of continuing to sit the more skilled and mobile, yet inconsistent, Gustafsson in favor of the slow and steady Gill. I personally would have opted for Gustafsson, at least initially, because I prefer a more skilled game and attempting to prevent goals, and score your own, by controlling the puck. I feel that's something Gustafsson's play is more conducive to than Gill's.
Truthfully though, my concern isn't really about replacing Grossmann. I don't want to pile on a guy that has had a bit of a rough season, including a particularly bad month. He's a lunch-pail kind of player who was probably playing with injuries that many players couldn't. But ... I'm not entirely convinced he's that hard to replace.
For analytically-inclined folks, his possession numbers were quite poor this season. Among Flyers defenseman only Andrew MacDonald has been worse.
If you aren't particularly fond of possession numbers, perhaps scoring-chances are more up your alley. Thanks to Andrew D for tracking these. If you're curious as to what defines a scoring chance, you can find the season in review post here. You can see Grossmann is only "bested" by Schenn in scoring chance plus-minus.
I think it goes without saying that Grossmann doesn't contribute offensively, and that's fine. The two areas where he does excel are hits and blocked shots.
Grossmann was second among Flyer defenseman in hits with 189, trailing only Luke Schenn's 260. That is also good for the fifteenth most among defenseman in the NHL. Some argue, Dallas Eakins of the Edmonton Oilers among them, that hits aren't particularly the most telling statistic.
"You know what the perfect game is? The perfect game is no hits. You know why that is? It's because you have the puck. You don't have to hit anybody. You have the puck."
He was also second on the team in blocked shots with 174, trailing only Andrew MacDonald if you account for his time spent in New York. That's good for ninth most in the NHL. However some argue, Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues among them, that blocked shots aren't exactly the best statistic either.
"If you're blocking shots it means the puck is in your zone a lot. When you're a shot-blocking team, you never get it back."
I'm not particularly concerned with the decision to play Gill over Gustafasson. Grossmann isn't a dynamic player with a skillset that is hard to replicate. If anything, Gill should be able to most effectively replace exactly what Grossman brings to the Flyers' blueline.
Grossmann, however, really did improve after the Olympic break. For all of his struggles earlier in the season, he really turned it around after the break. He and Mark Streit combined to become a very effective pairing.
The bigger concern should be Mark Streit, and making sure he continues to be able to the active blueliner he has been, and has been excelling in. Grossmann enabled Streit to play to his strengths, while making sure that Grossmann was sticking to his.
For that reason, perhaps Gill is the better choice. Regardless, my concern isn't exactly about replacing Grossmann, but rather ensuring Mark Streit can continue to be the dynamic defenseman he's been for two months now.