Flyers Are Special When It Comes to Developing Defensemen

Flyers Are Special When It Comes to Developing Defensemen

There is plenty of blame to go around this offseason for the Flyers missing the playoffs, but for much of the year defense was their biggest pitfall. The back end was prone to turnovers and complete meltdowns that often led to rushes the other way, a situation no goaltender could possibly thrive.

The thing is, the front office tried to address the problem. The Flyers traded for Chris Pronger in 2009, but his career was cut short by post-concussion syndrome, leaving the club in a bind. They tried to sign Ryan Suter last summer, and gave Shea Weber a huge offer sheet in attempt to steal him away from Nashville. No luck.

Both efforts exposed the Flyers’ real problem though: they haven’t been developing any blueliners on their own. Tim Panaccio wrote at length about the organization’s crippling problem, but the crux of the issue is so powerful in its simplicity.

The Flyers are the only NHL club without a single active defenseman that they drafted since the decade began playing regular minutes for them – not someone else.

Think about that. Thirteen Flyers drafts. Not one every-day player on the Flyers' blue line to show for it.

I would rather not think about that, thank you very much.

Panotch points to the front office’s reluctance to draft defensemen, instead taking the “best player available” approach. He further finds the lack of focus placed on building up the back end from in-house is an approach that dates back to the 1980s. As such, you find very few examples in recent history that the team drafted and developed into a top player.

Honestly, you have to go back to 1990 to find a defenseman drafted and developed by the Flyers who lasted here a significant amount of time and established himself on a No. 1 pairing.

That one player would be Chris Therien, who lasted a decade.

Since Therien was taken with the 47th pick (in the third round), the Flyers have drafted 198 players, including supplemental picks.

Of those 198 players, only three remain as surviving defensemen playing somewhere in the NHL:

It’s a fascinating albeit long read that makes you wonder why there is so little value or at least emphasis placed on the position.

The good news is the Flyers have some promising, young D-men who contributed this year and helped stabilize the back end toward the finish. Erik Gustafsson and Oliver Lauridsen earned more than lip-service opportunities to make the team next season through their performances, outplaying several veterans in the process – at least from this vantage point. Lauridsen was drafted by the team in 2009, while the team signed Gus as a free agent out of Northern Michigan University in 2010.

It’s too early to say whether either player will pan out though, much less become a top blueliner. Perhaps the Flyers should change up their strategy a bit with the 11th pick in the draft this summer.

>> Why haven’t the Flyers drafted and kept top defensemen? [CSN]

Best of NBA: Russell Westbrook posts 5th straight triple-double in Thunder's win over Pelicans

Best of NBA: Russell Westbrook posts 5th straight triple-double in Thunder's win over Pelicans

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Russell Westbrook became the first player with five consecutive triple-doubles since Michael Jordan had seven straight in 1989 and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the New Orleans Pelicans 101-92 on Sunday night.

Westbrook finished with 28 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists. The Thunder have won all five games during Westbrook's triple-double stretch. It was Westbrook's 10th triple-double of the season and the 47th of his career.

Enes Kanter had 17 points and 10 rebounds and Victor Oladipo added 15 points for the Thunder.

Anthony Davis, the NBA's leading scorer, had 37 points and 15 rebounds for the Pelicans. Buddy Hield, who led nearby Oklahoma to the Final Four last season, scored 16 points in his first game back in the state (see full recap).

Rose, Anthony help Knicks hold off Kings
NEW YORK -- Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony each scored 20 points and the New York Knicks held off the Sacramento Kings 106-98 on Sunday night for their eighth win in 11 games.

The Knicks took a 21-point lead in the first half, gave up 18 consecutive points in the third quarter but outplayed the Kings down the stretch to win their third straight overall and improve to 9-3 at home.

Brandon Jennings added 19 points for New York and Kristaps Porzingis finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds.

DeMarcus Cousins had 36 points and 12 rebounds for the Kings, but shot just 9 for 30 and looked fatigued while struggling late while playing the entire second half (see full recap).

Ibaka's big night leads Magic past Pistons
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Serge Ibaka scored 21 points and blocked four shots, helping the Orlando Magic beat the Detroit Pistons 98-92 on Sunday night.

Nikola Vucevic added 16 points and eight rebounds for the Magic.

Pistons guard Reggie Jackson made his season debut after missing Detroit's first 21 games with knee tendinitis. He had 18 points in 23 minutes. Marcus Morris led Detroit with 21 points.

Orlando won for the third time in four games while Detroit had its three-game winning streak snapped.

On Jackson's first possession, the Pistons went to their bread-and-butter play -- he and Andre Drummond running a high pick and roll. Jackson came off the screen and hit a 3-pointer, bringing a cheer from the small crowd. Jackson played the first 5:50 of the quarter as Detroit built a 16-10 lead (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Canadiens avoid winless California trip with SO win over Kings

Best of NHL: Canadiens avoid winless California trip with SO win over Kings

LOS ANGELES -- Paul Byron scored the clinching goal in the fourth round of the shootout, and the Montreal Canadiens avoided a winless swing through California with a 5-4 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday.

Max Pacioretty had two goals and an assist for the Canadiens, who won for just the second time in seven road games. Montreal had only one win in its previous 11 games in California before scoring three times in the four-round shootout.

Alexander Radulov and Andrew Shaw also scored and Carey Price made 27 saves for the Atlantic Division-leading Canadiens.

Jeff Carter and Drew Doughty had a goal and an assist apiece for the Kings, who lost for only the second time in eight games. Peter Budaj stopped 26 shots (see full recap).

DeKeyser gives Red Wings OT win over Isles
NEW YORK -- Danny DeKeyser scored 1:02 into overtime to give Detroit a victory over New York.

Mike Green scored twice and Henrik Zetterberg had a goal and assist for Detroit, which improved to 4-1-2 in its last seven games. Peter Mrazek stopped 32 shots to improve to 3-0-2 in his past five starts.

Anders Lee, Johnny Boychuk and Josh Bailey scored for New York, which had won a season-high three straight. Jaroslav Halak finished with 30 saves.

Detroit's Frans Nielsen had an assist while facing his former team for the first time since leaving the Islanders for a six-year, $31.5 million deal with the Red Wings last summer. The 32-year-old Danish center was selected by the Islanders in the third round of the 2002 draft and had 119 goals and 230 assists over 10 seasons in New York (see full recap).

Late goal lifts Jets over Blackhawks
CHICAGO -- Andrew Copp scored the tiebreaking goal with 4:45 left, Bryan Little got his third goal in three games and Winnipeg edged Chicago.

Copp beat Scott Darling on the stick side with a shot from the right circle that slipped just inside the left post.

Chicago's Artemi Panarin scored with 6:54 remaining to tie it at 1, moments after Copp hit the post, to spoil Connor Hellebuyck's bid for a second shutout against Chicago in less than a month. Panarin completed a give-and-go with Patrick Kane, beating Hellebuyck to the glove side.

Hellebuyck finished with 25 saves and outdueled Darling, who started his second straight game for the Blackhawks in place of No. 1 goalie Corey Crawford. Darling made 30 saves, including three on breakaways.

Little's power-play goal with 43.4 seconds left in the second period was his fourth point in four games since missing 23 with a lower-body injury (see full recap)