But Hey, Losing Andrej Meszaros Now Beats Losing Him in March, Right?

But Hey, Losing Andrej Meszaros Now Beats Losing Him in March, Right?

Philadelphia
has seen its fair share of Achilles injuries over the past year. First
it was Ryan Howard crumbling out of the batter's box to close down the
Phillies' 2011 playoff hopes. In the normally quiet days of the NFL
off-season, Eagles All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters ruptured his
achilles as well
, an injury compounded when a Roll-A-Bout mishap landed him a second surgery.

This week, it was the Flyers' turn. Already
appearing to need some help to bolster their defense, the team announced
that Andrej Meszaros tore his achilles while training in Slovakia.
After a surgical repair, he could miss most of the upcoming season.
Timelines are difficult to pin down, with setbacks and revisions a
relative part of any athlete's recovery, so we really don't know when
we'll see Andrej the Giant on patrolling the blue line again. 

There's no silver lining in significant injury news.
This obviously sucks. However, the timing could be worse. In fact, the
timing of Meszaros' last injury was. Below the jump, we go in search of a
bright side, if there is any to be found. 

In March of last season, Meszaros required surgery to remove disc fragments in his back. He missed a few weeks of the regular season and all but one game of
the playoffs. Paul Holmgren did what we could to insure against
defensive injuries by adding Nick Grossmann and Pavel Kubina before the
deadline, with Grossmann in particular helping to keep the back end
moderately stable while himself battling some knee issues after Joe
Vitale went hunting in the prelude to the playoffs
.

Free agent options to fill Meszaros' spot are
limited at this point. Carlo Colaiacovo appears to be the favorite if
the Flyers go this route. Even if the injury had come before the market
opened, there may not have been much more Paul Holmgren could have done.
He traded JVR for Luke Schenn. He put $100 million on the table for
Ryan Suter. He put more than that in an offer sheet for Shea Weber.
Homer was working nearly every angle possible to bring more defensive
help to the Flyers, short of retaining Matt Carle, who took a lucrative
deal as the Flyers looked at better options. 

For two reasons, the timing of this injury isn't so
bad. Yes, it means Meszaros won't suit up for most if not all of the
upcoming regular season—maybe longer—and that prospect is certainly
bleak. But at least the Flyers know well before the campaign starts what
they're up against, rather than dealing with the loss after the trade
deadline, just before the playoffs, or in the middle of the opening
round. 

We're all big hockey fans, and we'll watch anything
from a skate-around to a mid-February game against the Panthers and look
for what's great about it. But with 16 teams making the cut for a
two-month playoffs, a mark the Flyers rarely miss, the games taking place
between early October and early April constitute a long battle of
attrition that has more to do with enjoyment of the sport and gate/TV
revenues than who will ultimately be champions. Ask the 8th seeded LA
Kings. Sure, the vital chemistry built during this time is huge for the
team that ultimately wins it all, but it's rarely mentioned for the
teams that don't. 

The injuries that matter most when it comes time for
deciding who will go deep into the playoffs or raise a Cup are those
that derail a contender's chances by sidelining key players in the
spring. With the strong potential for a shortened season due to labor
disputes, the next postseason seems even farther away than usual, though it actually isn't. Still, the
Flyers have time to develop a gameplan to bolster their defense, be it
via trade, another minor signing or two, or just waiting to see what
they have in their young bodies. While they have some depth to
temporarily fill the third pairing, things get downright scary when
injury strikes any other defenseman, which is not unlikely given the
nature of the game, age of Kimmo Timonen, and history of others like
Grossmann. The Fly-toms group likely isn't ready to make the jump to
extended top-4 minutes. 

I mean, watch as the usually effusive Homer tries to bridle the enthusiasm he has for the youngsters!

In all seriousness, there are some young blueliners
worth a longer look, including Marc-Andre Bourdon, who got a new deal
yesterday. And, once the season opens, the team will start to get a
better idea of what Schenn brings to the table. Will he re-emerge as a
top-4 guy? Right now, they'll need him to. Can the young guys develop
quickly? Or will more minutes expose them? Either way, if things aren't
working out, Homer will likely know well before the next trade deadline
just how badly he needs help (if he hasn't dealt for it already). He'll
also know better what he can afford to trade away if needs arise. 

We know Homer was already looking to get better on
defense before the Meszaros injury, so it's unlikely he's suddenly OK
with the situation. Now, with one fewer bona fide top-4ish NHL
defenseman fewer than when he opened the war chest last month, Homer
will likely be back to work, if he'd even stopped at all. The downside
here is, there may be more likelihood of overpayment. Where before
certain players were untouchable even in exchange for blue-chip talent,
there may be more desperation now. There probably shouldn't be, given
how much time there is between now and the postseason.

Of course, there are a few other things working against
Homer with the timing of this injury too. First, the uncertain labor
situation slowed the off-season to a crawl. While a delayed start could
give the Flyers fewer games over which to manage the loss of Meszaros,
uncertainty could be slowing the market. Other teams who don't have
mid-summer injuries emerging may not be as interested in dealing right
now, and free agency and the value of current contracts seem less
certain with a new CBA being hammered out. And, importantly, if Homer
does manage a deal that brings a steady defenseman to Philly, that player will
bring a cap hit with him. The uncertainty as to when Meszaros returns
and a $4 million cap hit of his own from LTIR makes long-term planning
difficult. I've referred to "uncertainty" a lot in this paragraph, and
not because I lack a thesaurus. It's a major obstacle in the way of
Homer's planning. 

Finally, whenever the season starts, there is
obviously still plenty of time for new injuries to other players to set
in at more critical junctures. Meszaros' return for the playoffs is far
from certain, what with all the infections and Roll-A-Bout accidents
we've come to learn are par for the course with this particular injury.
So again, we're not talking about there being an actual advantage to any
of this. But it's possible the Meszaros injury will have little impact
on the truly meaningful games played in the postseason—as long as he
recovers, rehabs, and is back at game strength by then, and/or Holmgren
makes a savvy move he may have been on the fence about before losing Big
Mesz.

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane scored three goals for his third career hat trick to lead the surging Chicago Blackhawks past the Arizona Coyotes 6-3 on Thursday night for their third straight win and eighth in nine games.

Kane has 23 goals to lead Chicago, which closed within three points behind first-place Minnesota in the Central Division and Western Conference.

Rookies Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman each had a goal and assist. Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival scored his first goal of the season in his first game since Jan. 15.

Chicago captain Jonathan Toews added two assists to extend his points scoring streak to five games and increase his output to 22 points in his past 13.

Jakob Chychrun, Ryan White and Radim Vrbata scored for the Coyotes. Chychrun and Vrbata each scored for the second straight game (see full recap).

Rangers outlast Maple Leafs in shootout
TORONTO -- Mika Zibanejad scored the shootout winner and the New York Rangers continued a strong February with a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves and J.T. Miller scored the game-tying goal in the third period for the Rangers, who improved to 8-1-1 this month.

New York moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division with 80 points.

Connor Brown scored for Toronto, which fell to 1-7 in shootouts this season. Frederik Andersen had a stellar performance in defeat with 37 saves.

The Leafs hold the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division (68 points), two points back of Ottawa (70) and four back of Montreal (see full recap).

Islanders shut out Canadiens
MONTREAL -- Rookie Anthony Beauvillier scored in the first period, Thomas Greiss made 24 saves, and the New York Islanders beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 Thursday night.

Anders Lee scored in the second period and John Tavares added an empty-netter in the final minute to seal the Islanders' third straight win. New York has won the first two games on a crucial nine-game road swing and improved to 12-4-2 since interim coach Doug Weight replaced the fired Jack Capuano.

Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson each had two assists, and Greiss got his third shutout of the season.

Carey Price finished with 21 saves as the Canadiens lost coach Claude Julien's 1,000th NHL game. Montreal is 1-2-0 since Julien replaced Michel Therrien last week and has totaled just 14 goals while going 2-7-1 in the last 10 games, including four shutouts (see full recap).

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

NEW ORLEANS -- The Boogie-and-Brow era in New Orleans is off to a highly inauspicious start.

The Pelicans' tandem of newly acquired All-Star DeMarcus Cousins and All-Star Game MVP Anthony Davis was no match for the surging Houston Rockets on Thursday night.

Reserve Lou Williams hit seven 3-pointers and scored 27 points in his Rockets debut, and Houston crushed New Orleans, 129-99.

Davis had 29 points, and Cousins finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds. But New Orleans turned the ball over 20 times couldn't keep pace with the firepower of the Rockets, who hit 20 3-pointers.

Eric Gordon scored 19 points and Ryan Anderson added 17 in both players' first game in New Orleans since leaving the Pelicans. James Harden had 13 points and 14 assists (see full recap).

LeBron triple-double powers Cavs past Knicks
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James recorded his 48th career triple-double and Kyrie Irving scored 23 points, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 119-104 victory over the New York Knicks, who hung on to superstar Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose at Thursday's trade deadline.

James scored 18 points and had 13 rebounds with 15 assists for his sixth triple-double of the season.

Anthony, the subject of trade rumors because of a strained relationship with Knicks President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson, scored 20 points, going 9 of 25 from the field.

Kyle Korver scored 20 points for Cleveland, which is 8-1 in February and has beaten New York 10 straight times.

Courtney Lee had 25 points for New York, which has lost six of seven and is 12th in the Eastern Conference playoff race (see full recap).

Pistons rally from 18 down to beat Hornets in OT
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 33 points, including three 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter during a pulsating Detroit rally, and the Pistons outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 114-108 in overtime Thursday night.

Caldwell-Pope scored Detroit's last 11 points of regulation, and his 3-pointer with 18.2 seconds to play tied the game at 100. Kemba Walker scored Charlotte's final nine points of the fourth, but the Pistons forced him to give up the ball on the last possession, and Marco Belinelli missed a 3-pointer that could have won it.

Detroit, which was behind by 18 in the third quarter, never trailed in the overtime. Caldwell-Pope's 3-pointer with 55 seconds remaining put the Pistons up 110-102.

Charlotte led 85-70 at the start of the fourth but missed 14 of its first 15 shots in the period, enabling Detroit to cut into the lead.

Walker scored 34 points. Tobias Harris had 25 for the Pistons (see full recap).