For whatever reason, Flyer fans don’t want to talk about how well the team has played, the team’s impressive offensive stats, Claude Giroux’s MVP caliber season, or how remarkable the team’s rookies have been.
But is goaltending the Flyers’ most pressing issue right now? I don’t believe so. Instead, the focus should be centered on the area in front of the crease and the void left by the absence of Chris Pronger.
Chris Pronger is a once in a lifetime defenseman. He is the perfect mixture of size, skill, intensity and physicality that can’t be replicated. He is the intimidating anchor to the Flyers’ core of defensemen. Simply put, he is irreplaceable.
While he is irreplaceable, the attributes of physicality and intimidation are not. No disrespect at all to the likes of Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle, and Andrej Meszaros. They are all excellent defensemen in their own manner, especially Timonen, who was named to his fifth (he was elected to play in 2000 but didn’t play due to injury) NHL All-Star Game Wednesday afternoon.
Do the goaltenders have to step their game up? Absolutely, no question about it. But, have you seen some of the goals the Flyers have let in lately and the defensive breakdowns surrounding them? Flyer defenseman have been getting pushed around in the crease area allowing bigger, stronger opposing forwards to swoop in and push the puck across the goal line with relative ease.
Don’t believe me? Take a look back at the goal Ottawa forward Chris Neil scored on Sunday evening. There was a scrum in front of the net and Neil is able to come in, take advantage of the smaller Flyers defenders and slip the puck past a fallen Ilya Bryzgalov. This is the type of goal the Flyers have been giving up way too often without Pronger in the lineup.
Also, save for Kimmo Timonen, have you noticed the increase in defensive breakdowns and poor puck decisions by Flyer defenseman since Pronger has gone down? It’s not a coincidence.
Regrettably, Chris Pronger is likely gone the rest of the season with his post-concussion issues. So, with the trade deadline approaching, what move, or moves, should the Flyers make to remedy this issue?
First, let’s take a look inside the organization. Erik Gustafsson is finally fully healed from his wrist injury and called up earlier this week, but I don’t think he’s the answer. Does he deserve to be in the lineup? Absolutely. Tough luck, Andreas Lilja. But, at 5’ 10”, 180lbs., Gustafsson is more from the Kimmo Timonen mold and wouldn’t answer the physicality and intimidation questions.
The name everyone wants to see in Orange and Black is Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators. The 26-year-old, 6’ 4”, 232 lbs. Weber is an intimidating force with a bomb of a shot and would solve all of the Flyers’ defensive problems. Sorry to break it to you, but keep dreaming. Weber in Philly is unrealistic for a multitude of reasons. It would take so much to get him here. Figure JVR, a young defenseman, and more. Is it really worth harming the young, talented core of your team for a guy on the last year of his contract that isn’t guaranteed to be here past this season? NO. His $7.5 million cap hit doesn’t help either.
Ryan Suter, also of the Nashville Predators, is an intriguing name. The 26-year old, 6’ 1”, 198 lbs. Suter is an excellent d-man also in the last year of his contract. While it won’t take as much for the Flyers to get their hands on Suter as it would for Weber, I still don’t see it happening. It would still be too much to give up at this point in time.
Earlier this week, an intriguing name was brought up by Frank Seravalli of the Philadelphia Daily News. The name is that of Toronto Maple Leaf Luke Schenn, the older brother of Flyers’ rookie Brayden Schenn. Once thought of as the future in Toronto, Luke seems to have fallen out of favor within the Maple Leafs organization, as evidenced by his decreased ice time mentioned in Seravalli’s post. The 22-year-old, 6’ 2”, 229lbs. defenseman is a very good player that may just need a change of scenery. If the Flyers have their chance at him, they should jump. It could be too good of an opportunity to pass up. His five-year deal with a cap hit of $3.5 million per is very reasonable and could work in Philadelphia’s favor.
So, what move do I think the Flyers will make? Easy. It’s the name that has been tied most with the Flyers in the media over few weeks: Carolina’s Tim Gleason. The soon to be 29-year-old, 6 foot, 217lbs defenseman is the enforcing back-end guy the Flyers need. He is in the last year of his $2.75 million per year deal so he would be the perfect rental type for the Flyers. Carolina’s season is basically over and their G.M. Jim Rutherford has been itching to deal. Gleason isn’t a goal scorer and isn’t offensively minded. He is just what the Flyers need. He won’t back down from anyone and will certainly clear the crease in front of whoever is in net. This deal just makes too much sense to not happen.
Something will happen. The Flyers will make a move to sure up the defense before the trade deadline. It’s all in Paul Holmgren’s hands now. Let’s see what he has up his sleeve.