The Philadelphia Flyers' defense was an obvious fault in their game, leading to their subsequent elimination by the New Jersey Devils in 5 games in the Conference Semi-Finals. This was a problem during the season, however it was masked by their winning ways, as well as the inconsistent play of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. During the season, the defense would bail him out of situations and play fairly well. However, if they messed up he was not bailing them out except for largely the month of March. However, during the playoffs you saw Bryz's spectrum of abilities. He could be an absolute bonehead and sloppily play the puck, or he could play stellar and keep his team in the game. The Devils series, besides for the meltdown in the first period of game 5, really showed the good in his game. However, that did not align with a good performance by the skaters in front of him on either side of the puck, but mainly the defense was the problem. Countless times did the Devils have long shifts in the Flyer's zone.
The Flyers know they will have to retool in order to compete for a Stanley Cup. Let's start with the six defenders:
1. Kimmo Timonen
The 37-year-old will be in the final year of his contract. A former captain of the Nashville Predators, Timonen is a reliable penalty killer and was not afraid to get in front of a few shots last year. However, this wore on him, and it was clear he was nowhere near prime shape during the playoffs.
2. Brayden Coburn
Braydon Coburn has a solid future with the Flyers as he signed a 4 year, $18 million extension during the season. He played considerably well during the playoffs. He is not afraid to use his size and at 27 years old will be important for years to come.
3. Andrej Meszaros
With Chris Pronger's absence, Meszaros is the next defender to play crucial power play minutes. His first year with the Flyers was amazing with a team-leading +30 rating, but this past season he was not as effective and the main highlight was his injury that kept him out of 20 regular season games and all but the last playoff game. When healthy, he will be important to this team's success.
4. Nicklas Grossmann
Nick has a 4 year, $14 million deal with the Flyers that he signed after being acquired from the Dallas Stars in February. He is the specialty shot blocker and penalty killer the Flyers need long-term. At 6'4", 230lbs, his size is imposing as well.
5. Andreas Lilja
At age 36, this slow defender is a good maybe 3rd pair or 7th defender.
6. Erik Gustafsson
At 23 years old, he has a long way to go before he is a seasoned NHL player. That being said there is plenty of room to improve and he can find his defensive niche by possibly making the team outright during the preseason.
I only listed 4 defenders who are certain NHL starters above, so let's talk about the free agents:
The Flyers need to get him signed. No, he does not play as well without being paired with Pronger, but his skills are still important to the team. With reports that Suter is not interested in going East, and Brad Stuart being traded and signing with the Sharks, this means potential UFA Dennis Wideman is going to have a higher price tag, meaning the Flyers will most likely be outbid for him. Shea Weber earned $7.5 million so even if he doesn't sign right away, the team could throw out an offer sheet that would likely be outbid by a team with higher cap, not to mention the fact that if Suter does not resign, the Predators will have more room to match most offers. Long story short, Carle is going to be one of the top defenders on the market. He could be last year's Ville Leino. You aren't going to find anyone else out there like Matt Carle so it would be wise if they resigned him.
Before I talk about other UFA defenders, it should be noted that any move is going to depend on what happens in regards to resigning Voracek, and the possible resignings of Carle and Jagr.
Let's start with the obvious choices:
Behind Suter, he is probably the most touted defender this July. Many teams will be prepared to show him the money, but being on a contender like the Flyers may be more lucrative to him especially if Matt Carle does not resign.
This defender for the Florida Panthers had a breakout year last year, and will certainly command a salary much higher than the $700k he made last year. He will not command as much as a defender like Matt Carle but could be important to the power play. He had a career year, compiling 33 points in 77 games.
At 32 years old, this Canes defender is pretty under the radar and could go for about the same money as Garrison, maybe less. While he hasn't really made a splash with the Hurricanes, a change of scenery and role could make him a bang for his buck in Philadelphia.
Now here are some that could be available/a nice option for the Flyers:
At age 35, Kuba would be a more temporary fix, which, considering the age of most of the other defenders, wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. He may not be able to resign with the Senators depending on how much they pay fellow defender Erik Karlsson. As I am typing this actually, the Senators have signed Karlsson to a 7-year deal, no cap hit announced yet but I would expect a lot of money going to this Norris candidate. Anyway, Kuba has had a nice career and posted a +28 rating last year, showing he can still do it and that not many goals are scored when he's on the ice.
This recent Stanley Cup Champion defender may be available if the Kings don't resign him. He went +20 last year and could clearly be an important part of a cup winning team.
Bryce Salvador recently was part of the Stanley Cup finalist Devils. There may not be room for him on that team anymore if they have to resign other free agents.
Joe Corvo, Hall Gill, Sheldon Souray, and Scott Hannan are all older, but cheaper veteran options to fill the defensive gaps. Each bring experience and skill. I would definitely like to see Gill in a Flyer's jersey given his size and abilities.
Now aside from forming a solid 6 defensive core, the Flyers are going to need to bring in a defensive minded forward who can bring size to the front. Who better than Paul Gaustad? He would be an affordable center. This would not only bring defense up front which was there with guys like Couturier, Talbot, and Schenn, but bring in a formidable center to move Schenn up to #2 center and Briere to the wing. There are obviously other priorities in Nashville between Suter, Weber, and a search for some scoring forwards, so he could very well be available and would certainly be a good choice for the Flyers to go with.
Those are just some of the free agent possibilities, depending on who signs where before/on July 1st. The Flyers could also draft one of the many defensive prospects in the first round, and may even trade up for a higher pick. A prospect would not solve answers overnight but could bring some hope/clarity for the future. Whether they stay at the 20th pick or move up, they will draft the best available player to their team.
No matter which way the Flyers go, us fans only have the power to watch, so let's all enjoy the ride.
Thank you for reading. Share your opinions or bring more information my way that I didn't mention in this blog below.