So I sit down to begin this article, and I write the headline “Flyers face decisions with crowded blueline” and then I think to myself… “wait, didn’t I write something similar last summer”. Of course I go take a look and, sure enough, I did. I wrote almost the same exact article last summer that I am about to begin now.
It’s the same story, with different players, and some slightly different circumstances. The major difference is timing. Last summer I wrote the article after the Flyers had made their defensive acquisitions. They knew who they had and it was just a matter of deciding who the top-seven were going to be.
Also, while many had their questions about the Flyers defense, I don’t think they expected the defensive mess that we saw in the 2013 season.
So here we are in May of 2013 and the Flyers are not in the playoffs. The defense was a disaster, and many expect some changes to the defense corps. The problem is, it’s crowded.
Marc-Andre Bourdon is also still under contract and, like last year, is not exempt from waivers. If he gets healthy (which may be a long shot) he cannot be freely sent to the Phantoms. The Flyers would have to risk him on waivers if they decide not to keep him with the big club. If he does not get healthy he’d spend the entire year with the Flyers on Injured Reserve (IR) or Long-Term Injured Reserve (LTIR) if they need to replace his cap hit.
Truthfully, even if Bourdon does get healthy and does get waived, I’m not sure anybody would claim him because of the injury questions. So at worst, the Flyers already have seven NHL bodies on defense they have to account for. At best, Bourdon gets sent to the Phantoms and the Flyers only have six.
Erik Gustafsson played some very good hockey with the Flyers at the end of the season when the defensive group was riddled with injuries. Since then, he is playing huge minutes for Team Sweden in the IIHF World Championships. He will be a restricted free agent (RFA) this summer and he should, at the minimum, be given a qualifying offer.
The important thing to remember about Gustafsson is that he is also no longer exempt from waivers. So he cannot be freely sent to the Phantoms. Frankly, it should be a near foregone conclusion that he is a part of the Flyers top six D. So that makes seven NHL bodies on defense for the Flyers (eight if Bourdon ever gets healthy), none of which can be sent to the AHL without first being placed on waivers.
Oliver Lauridsen had a surprisingly good cup of coffee with the Flyers at the end of the season while filling in for all of the injured blueliners. It was a bit of a surprise because it wasn’t too long ago when many thought he would never make it to the NHL, let alone play as well as he did.
He is also a RFA that should be retained. While I don’t think Lauridsen should be given a spot in the top-six, I do think he should compete for a spot. Unlike the other eight names we’ve already mentioned, Lauridsen is exempt from waivers. That fact alone may be his undoing (like I argued in the case of Gustafsson last year), because even if he plays well enough to make the team he may be sent down to the AHL anyway so they don’t risk losing any assets.
It is worth noting that Bruno Gervais makes less than the $925k threshold (minimum salary + $375k) for 2013-2014 that determines whether contracts in the AHL hit the NHL cap. That means that if he were to be placed on waivers, clear, and be sent to the AHL his $825k cap hit would not affect the Flyers’ cap at all. Unlike, for example, Brian Boucher, who while in the AHL last year was hitting the Flyers’ cap for $50k.
While I actually wouldn’t have any issues with Gervais as the seventh defenseman, I’m sure many wouldn’t be upset if the Flyers opted to waive him. If he is claimed, so be it, and you’ve helped resolve your crowded blueline. If he clears, you can then send him to the AHL without an NHL impact. I think this could be a real option for the Flyers.
So to recap the current defenseman for 2013-2014:
- Kimmo Timonen – not waiver exempt
- Luke Schenn - not waiver exempt
- Braydon Coburn - not waiver exempt
- Nicklas Grossmann - not waiver exempt
- Andrej Meszaros - not waiver exempt
- Bruno Gervais - not waiver exempt – waivers candidate
- Marc-Andre Bourdon - not waiver exempt – LTIR candidate – waivers candidate
- Erik Gustafsson – not waiver exempt – deserves to be in NHL
- Oliver Lauridsen – waiver exempt – competing for NHL spot, but probably unlikely
The worst-case scenario (from a “too many bodies, too little space” perspective) would be if A) Lauridsen plays well enough to make the team and B) Bourdon is healthy. Now you’ve got nine defenseman for seven spots. Do you send Lauridsen down even though he earned a spot? Even if you do that, you still probably want to lose one other to get down to seven D. Who gets waived? Bourdon? Gervais?
This doesn’t even consider the possibility that the Flyers take a defenseman with the 11th overall pick in the Draft, and that that player could possibly make the team.
The best-case scenario (from a “too many bodies, too little space” perspective) would be if A) Lauridsen gets sent to the AHL for more seasoning B) Bourdon is not healthy and remains on the roster on IR or LTIR. In this scenario, the Flyers now have seven D.
But…is that the seven D that you want? I certainly don’t think so. Do the Flyers really want to go into next season with, pretty much, the same exact defense as last year except with Gustafsson playing a larger role? I love Gustafsson but I think it’s far-fetched to think he solves the defense. Will Coburn come back from a terrible season or can he simply not handle the role that Matt Carle filled previously? Can Andrej Meszaros ever get healthy, and if he can, which Meszaros will we get, the one from 2010-2011, or the one from this year?
The problem is, if you want to “fix” this defense, even more players have to go. That’s if you can even find defenseman to bring in to “fix” it. The unrestricted free-agent class is really bad this summer. You’d almost certainly have to make a trade for any sort of impact defenseman.
The only sure-things on this defense are Kimmo Timonen, Luke Schenn, and Erik Gustafsson. If the Flyers are determined to make some changes to their blueline, people have to go. That means one or more of Nicklas Grossmann, Braydon Coburn, and Andrej Meszaros. Frankly, I don’t think Grossmann would go (I almost included him as a “sure-thing), but I’m not quite ready to rule it out. Josh Janet wrote a great article recently on the topic of trading Coburn or Meszaros. Would anybody even want Meszaros? Does it make sense to “sell low” on Coburn?
Well, I hope the numerous rhetorical questions I’ve posed here have helped to illustrate all of the decisions the Flyers have to make about their defense this summer. Last year’s defense is unacceptable, but if changes are in store, there are some tough decisions about who stays and who goes.
Who knows, maybe I’ll see you all next year when I complete the trilogy for this article.