There are three certainties in life:
3) The Flyers will always be short on quality defensemen
Andrej Meszaros underwent surgery in early August to repair a torn right Achilles tendon. He injured himself while training in Slovakia and did so just weeks after getting over a back issue that allowed him to resume training.
The last time we heard anything about his status was in November, when he was skating with the team in player-organized workouts.
Well, according to Tim Panaccio, Meszaros might not be ready to go when the season gets underway (likely on Jan. 19):
“I don’t know,” Meszaros replied after a player scrimmage Monday. “It’s tough to say. I really didn’t have a full practice with everything. Or a scrimmage.
“The speed of the game … it’s a great tempo but it’s not – I have to try it. Once we start practicing, with the whole team and do scrimmages, then I can actually say whether I can. I can’t really tell right now.”
Erik Gustafsson, meanwhile, has a bone bruise in his foot, and Marc-Andre Bourdon is concussed.
So, who we working with?
Besides Meszaros, Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Nicklas Grossman and Andreas Lilja are joined by newcomers Luke Schenn and Bruno Gervais. Then there's an assortment of guys with varying degrees of potential in Gustafsson, Bourdon, Brandon Manning and Danny Syvret — the first Flyer to ever officially score a goal outside.
Will they hold up?
Starting with Kimmo, Timonen's been the Flyers' best defenseman since he got here, other than Chris Pronger, who doesn't figure to ever see the ice again. But Timonen, 37, is getting older, and this condensed season is going to take its toll on everyone. The Flyers will obviously need to Timonen in the playoffs, meaning Peter Laviolette may want to take a page out of Gregg Popovich's book when it comes to managing his aging defenseman's minutes.
As for Grossmann, who signed a four-year extension with the Flyers early last April, he was a vital cog on a Flyers blue line that, prior to his arrival from Dallas, desperately needed size and grit. And over the latter part of the season, he was arguably their most important piece — when healthy. Grossmann battled knee injuries and was concussed following an Evgeni Malkin elbow to the head — there's a shocker — during last year's playoffs. Rather than undergo knee surgery, Grossmann opted for physical therapy in Sweden and is apparently OK.
The Flyers will need him to stay that way. They were a radically different team with and without his presence in the lineup and figure to be again this year.
And, of course, the three guys mentioned at the top are already injured.
While most will focus on Timonen and Grossmann, Braydon Coburn, much as he did last season, will need to quietly go about logging a bulk of the minutes on the back end. Coburn's play can be a little inconsistent at times, but his low moments are usually blown out proportion relative to his value. He averaged 22 minutes per night in the regular season last year and 27 minutes per game in the playoffs. Playing under a new contract, and with Timonen figuring to require maintenance time, Coburn and Grossmann are the likely candidates to lead the Flyers in TOI.
Luke Schenn brings additional depth, size and physicality, but Flyers and
Leafs traded two young guys with tons of potential for one another
because neither of the two has found a way in their early careers to
channel their talent into a consistent product on the ice.
A change of scenery will hopefully help, as the Flyers need someone other than Grossmann to clear the porch in front of Bryzgalov (just think back to some of Rangers games last year).
His contributions, if he can put his game together, could prove vital.
Don't know what you've got 'til it's gone
One other small note, internet commenters are obliged to hate him, but Matt Carle was severely undervalued in Philadelphia, his turnover issues were greatly exaggerated and, unless Erik Gustafsson is ready to take a big step forward, the Flyers will run into an all-too-familiar problem, albeit one they haven't had in a few years:
A distinct lack of puck-carrying defenseman who can skate the team out of its own zone.
The NHL doesn't even have an official agreement to resume play, so it's naturally time to start worrying about the Flyers' blue line.
It's good to be back.