Flyers face decisions with crowded blue line

erik gusAs I’m sure you are now aware, yesterday the Flyers signed Bruno Gervais to a two-year contract with a cap hit of $825k.

That fact in itself isn’t too terrible. The guy is 27 years old, right handed (which must be Homer’s #1 requirement this offseason), and played over 14 minutes a night last season with Tampa Bay. In fact, he had two seasons with the Islanders where he averaged over 20 minutes a night. So the guy is probably a relatively adequate third pairing guy, that comes at a good price. However, that isn’t the problem.

As Bill Meltzer put it “I think Gervais is serviceable on 3rd pairing but Flyers now have nine defensemen competing for seven spots with only one waiver-exempt player.

And that my friends, is why this is a real head-scratcher. Barring a trade — which would almost make the most sense at this point, even though I think it’s unlikely — the top five is quite obvious, and frankly, quite good (when healthy). Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Nick Grossmann (my fellow -mann), Andrej Meszaros, and Brayden Schenn form a more than respectable front five with a good mix of talent and grit. So the question really becomes who wins the sixth spot, and who will serve as the seventh defenseman?

Andreas Lilja was signed last year to a two-year $737k contract. That qualifies as a 35+ contract which means Lilja is all but guaranteed a spot on the roster. They can’t be rid of his cap hit unless he were to be traded or claimed on waivers (or if they wanted to invent an injury and stash him on LTIR). Even if he were to clear waivers and be sent to the AHL, he would still count against the cap (less $100k). So again, that means he’s a lock. Truth to be told, Lilja is perfectly acceptable as a seventh defenseman.

The Flyers extended a qualifying over to restricted free agent Marc-Andre Bourdon who took full advantage of the Flyers’ injuries on the blue line last year, and showed himself to have a future in the NHL. Unfortunately, Bourdon is no longer exempt from waivers so he either has to make the team, or clear waivers before being sent to the AHL, which means the Flyers could lose him for nothing.

They also still have Erik Gustafsson who saw some respectable minutes with the big club, even during the playoffs. I think many would rate Gustafsson above Bourdon, however unlike Bourdon, he is exempt from waivers which means he can be sent to the AHL without the risk of losing him to another team. So even though he probably deserves a chance with the Flyers, it doesn’t look promising for him.

So even if you remove Gustafsson from the equation, you have three guys (including Gervais) vying for the bottom two spots. If they could somehow convince someone to take Lilja (or convince him to get/be hurt), then all is well. That only leaves the waiving of either Gervais or Bourdon, unless they keep eight. If it’s Gervais, why did you sign him? If it’s Bourdon, why are you risking a promising prospect, even if his ceiling isn’t very high? Frankly, it isn’t going to be Gervais. He’s pretty clearly the sixth best defenseman in my mind.

Roster battles aside, what I can’t seem to figure out is why the Flyers absolutely refuse to hand one of their young blue-liners a spot on the bottom pairing? Seriously, I genuinely can’t remember (without looking it up) when the last time a Flyer defensive prospect (that wasn’t a first rounder Luca Sbisa, Ryan Parent, Joni Pitkanen) was awarded a spot to start the season. Was it Randy Jones? Maybe, just maybe, this could be part of the reason the Flyers seem to struggle at developing their own defensive prospects.

Two years ago after losing in the Cup Finals, the Flyers had a glaring weakness on the third pairing; Parent and Krajicek weren’t cutting it. They decided to solve that problem by acquiring three players (Meszaros, O’Donnell, and Walker) at a total cost of $7 million (and Simon Gagne and a second rounder). They never even considered giving a shot to someone like Bourdon, or Kevin Marshall, or perhaps the favorite of many at the time, Joonas Lehtivuori.

After missing out on Suter and Carle, I see nothing wrong with giving the sixth spot to someone like Bourdon or Gustafsson (probably the former, because he isn’t waiver exempt), to see if he can build upon his promising year last year.

I truly can’t understand why the Flyers feel the need to so completely commit themselves to their 6th, 7th, and perhaps even 8th defenseman in July. Give yourself the flexibility. Give a young guy a chance, and if it isn’t working out in a few months, there will be a ton of Bruno Gervais clones you can probably pick up for almost nothing. Instead — barring a trade — you’ve created a problem for yourself and risk losing an asset for nothing.

  • ADK

    It’s obvious you never saw Joonas Lehtivuori play more than a handful of times. #Soft #TurnoverMachine #AfraidToBlockShots #Plug

    • Kevin Christmann

      You’re right I hadn’t, but it doesn’t change the fact that he was highly thought of for a time before falling completely out of favor. Thanks for reading!

  • Tomahawk

    I believe we made similar assumptions regarding Bartulis when he lost his waiver exemption… some team was sure to pick him up on the way down, or most assuredly on re-entry. He was cheap, had some upside, but It didn’t happen.

    The same could be said about MAB. Love the way he filled in last season, but he was and remains more of a fringe talent than a sought-after prospect.

  • Jeff

    Note to editor: “Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Nick Grossmann (my fellow -mann), Andrej Meszaros, and Brayden Schenn form a more than respectable front five with a good mix of talent and grit.” YOu mean Luke?

  • Dingo

    Luke schenn?

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