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.