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The more things change, the more they stay the same

Posted by Chris Shafer On July - 1 - 2010

The Answer Is Always More Depth

You might want to get a good look at defenseman Andrej Meszaros. After all, he will be helping to anchor the Philadelphia blueline for the next four years at a cool $4.00m per year in cap hit.

The Flyers’ gave up their 2nd rounder in 2012, which normally has just about the same value as a 3rd rounder in 2011. That 3rd round pick is ironically what the Flyers’ got for shipping the rights of recently acquired Dan Hamhuis off to the division rival Pittsburgh Penguins. So in the end it looks roughly like we gave up Ryan Parent for Andrej Meszaros. That’s not too shabby right?

Well, Meszaros was the great two-way defenseman that the Flyers were after two years ago. That was before we acquired Matt Carle and eventually Chris Pronger of course. At that point, Meszaros was a 22-year-old who had three incredible seasons with the Ottawa Senators under his belt. When things looked like they were turning downward, Ottawa sent him to Tampa Bay for San Jose’s 1st round pick in 2009, former Flyer Alexandre Picard, and veteran defenseman Filip Kuba.

So how did we get him two years later for a distant 2nd rounder when he would have cost us an arm and a leg as a restricted free-agent?

As fate would have it, right after the Czech-born stud defenseman signed a lucrative contract totaling 6 years at a cap hit of $4.00m per, he found out that it was not so easy to anchor a defense, particularly on a weak team like Tampa Bay, all by himself. He dropped from a guaranteed 35 points to a weak 16 followed by another season where he notched only 17. For a puck-moving defenseman getting loads of powerplay time, this disaster was akin to a total meltdown.

It is still hard to blame Meszaros entirely. His plus/minus rating all those years in Ottawa was respectable enough. The former first round pick from 2004 could certainly play his part defensively and work physically along the boards. In Tampa, he dropped quietly to a minus 4 in his first year but plummeted to a minus 14 last year.

In 2008-09, his top defensive partners were a respectable top four defenseman named Paul Ranger, our throw-away in the Matt Carle trade Steve Eminger, and Lukas Krajicek, who we just picked off waivers only to drop this offseason for his poor performances. This year, he split time with veteran Mattias Ohlund, second overall selection Victor Hedman, and Mike Lundin. Neither defense is spectacular. In fact, those defenses make the Washington Capitals’ defense look NHL-caliber and credible.

At such a young age, it’s almost impossible to expect that Meszaros anchor a terrible blueline. That said, he won’t have to do the anchoring in Philadelphia.

All things out of Holmgren seem to imply that the Flyers are keeping Pronger, Timonen, Carle, Coburn, and the newly added Meszaros to fill out the top 5 despite various rumors that one will be shipped out. If that wasn’t enough, Holmgren went out and got Sean O’Donnell, a rough shut-down defenseman who won a cup with Pronger in Anaheim, to play as the 6th for $1.00m on a one-year deal. That puts Bartulis as the 7th, likely earning only call-up duty.

Pronger -- Carle
Timonen -- Coburn
Meszaros -- O’Donnell

That’s probably fairly easily the best defense in the NHL. We were arguably the best before the Meszaros trade, but now we’re spectacular on the blueline.

Holmgren consistently noted that it was our inability to play our third pairing in the playoffs, which consisted as some disastrous combination of Ryan Parent, Lukas Krajicak, and rookie Oskars Bartulis, that cost us the Stanley Cup. Many people will say it was goaltending due to the weak goals Leighton let in against the Blackhawks. It’s hard to argue that Leighton didn’t appear too sharp, but you could not hope to keep playing four defensemen for entire games at a time with almost no relief. That certainly isn’t any way to prolong the careers of Pronger and Timonen, who as aging veterans are counted on to lead our defense.

The other part of the equation was certainly the Coburn re-signing. After so many rumors involving his apparent desire to get paid handsomely for his troubles, the two sides finally agreed on a two-year deal at $3.20m per season. Eventually, between Coburn, Carle, and Meszaros, the Flyers will push to replace Timonen and Pronger down the road as their contracts expire. It is always good news to have your future lined up and in place before it arrives.

Still No Goalie In Sight

Unless you count Michael Leighton as a goalie, the Flyers are still in a bit of a pickle at the goaltending position. They signed Leighton an expensive deal for someone of his background just before the opening of free agency at two years for $1.55m per season.

It became a little problematic when more talented goaltenders began coming off the boards at bargain prices. Dan Ellis, who would have likely been a better option than Leighton, signed in Tampa Bay at $1.50m a year for two years. Former Flyer Antero Niittymaki, who also would have been a better option than Leighton, signed in San Jose for $2.00m a year on a two-year deal. Our other former goalie, Martin Biron, who would have been a far better option, signed in New York with the Rangers as a back-up for two years and $0.88m a year. The last goalie to come off the boards was Chris Mason, another who many Flyers’ fans were hoping would save their team. He signed for two years at $1.85m each.

Of the respectable starters still available, that leaves only Evgeni Nabokov and Marty Turco. Both were offered minuscule contracts by the Flyers’ organization, and both respectfully declined. Now, with almost no possible starting jobs left on the market but Philadelphia, they may have wished that had accepted Holmgren’s offer.

Unfortunately now for the Flyers, if they want to get one of the goalies, they either have to sign them to an absolute bargain at around Michael Leighton money or be forced to move another piece to sign one of them. It is possible that, if the Flyers manage to get Nabokov or Turco cheap, Boucher could be waived to clear up room.

There are rumors that we are still sifting through the market, but there is also a wide belief that Leighton, Boucher, recently signed young KHL star Sergei Bobrovsky, and veteran Johan Backlund will battle it out for an NHL job.

Even though our team is now pressed up tight against the salary cap, it is important to remember that we are only one day in. There is still an entire summer to toy with things. Still, comments now say Holmgren is pretty much done.

Overall our team is better and deeper than it was before. Our goaltending, however, remains a severe issue. What else is new?

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