Taking Stock: Defense & Goaltending

Thanks to TCL

Over the past few seasons, the hallmark of the Philadelphia Flyers has been their offense. Notorious for their ability to accumulate and develop high-end offensive talent via the draft, the team has been able to consistently find success based on its robust offensive presence. Yet for all the attention the offense (rightfully) receives, the defense was never truly all that far behind, anchored most recently by the big body of Chris Pronger and the puck-moving prowess of Matt Carle.

Now those two stalwarts are gone, paving the way for a new class of defenders to take the reigns on the Flyers blue line; but will they be able to shoulder the load?

The loss of Chris Pronger cannot be overstated. For the first time since his acquisition from Anaheim in 2009, the Flyers will enter the season without a true #1 defensemen on their roster.

Pronger teaching Schenn

Pronger teaching Schenn.. pic c/o the Flyers

Looking down the depth chart only further cements this reality. While Kimmo Timonen is a fine defenseman in his own right and worthy of primary consideration as his replacement, his lack of size prevents him from filling #20’s skates. Without a replacement present, the Flyers are simply just not as strong on defense as they once were.

In a different sense, the loss of Matt Carle to the sunny streets and open wallets of Tampa Bay is equally daunting. In the up-tempo system that Peter Laviolette likes to play, the Flyers forwards will be relying on a smooth transition from their own zone in order to attack with maximum efficiency. With their best puck mover gone, it’s going to be hard to continue business as usual up front as I mentioned last week.

Even with these two key players gone, the Flyers defense still might stand a chance. What the Flyers now lack in top-tier defensemen, they’ve begun to make up for with mid level depth.

Schenn still has some upside

Schenn has huge upside.. pic c/o facebook

First and foremost, the Flyers added Luke Schenn with the deal that sent JVR to Toronto. Schenn represents the upside on the blue line, with over 300 career games at just 23 years of age. The second smallest man on the rear still standing at 6-foot-2, Schenn provides some defense and grit to a unit that will have no shortage of size and bite. Pegged as a future star in Toronto with shutdown potential, falling just short of his initial expectations could still pay huge dividends for the Flyers.

The addition of Kurtis Foster for the cap friendly one-year contract of $950,000 is also potentially huge. The 6-foot-5 righty is looking for redemption after a tumultuous season with three different clubs last year, and should be able to chip in on the offensive side of the puck. In addition to Foster, the Flyers added Bruno Gervais before the lockout began.

Suddenly, three right-handed shots grace the roster, greeting the wingers at the circles with delicious forehands and options in-stride. Sprinkle in returning big bodies of Brayden Coburn, Niklas Grossmann, and along with the aforementioned Timonen and soon-to-be-healthy Andej Meszaros, and the Flyers defense doesn’t seem as bleek.

While these are not the guys you would necessarily like to see on the ice at opening face-off  having a host of able bodies allows the Flyers to take a more balanced approach on defense, spreading out the ice time as necessary based on the situation at hand. With a variety of different skill-sets at his disposal capable of logging decent minutes, Lavi and the gang might just be able to squeeze a lot out of this veteran unit of skyscrapers if they can stay healthy.

However, the defense won’t matter if the goaltending can’t hold up its HUMANGUS BEEG (I am so sorry I just did that, I don’t know what happened to me, I couldn’t stop it I swear) end of the bargain. It all comes down to Ilya Bryzgalov, back for his second stint between the pipes for the Orange and Black. All eyes will be on Ilya as he looks to rebound from a less than stellar introduction to the East Coast. Hopefully the change in rink size doesn’t throw off his game. The Flyers recently made headlines by bringing Brian Boucher into the fold, but his backup is still scheduled to be Michael Leighton, who signed before the lockout began.

It wouldn’t be a new season in Philadelphia without a complicated situation between the pipes. Look for an in-depth preview of the goaltending situation tomorrow.

Until then, find me on twitter!