To contend, Flyers need an impact defenseman

To contend, Flyers need an impact defenseman

Dropping the Gloves: Will Flyers make a trade?

February 24, 2014, 1:45 pm
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The Flyers have allowed 167 goals, third-most in the Eastern Conference this season. (USA Today Images)

If there is a weak link on the Flyers that could prevent a long playoff run -- assuming they make it -- look no further than their blue line.

It’s been a source of concern since training camp.

While the Flyers have an adequate blue line, it’s not a dominating one, and more to the point, it’s one that has struggled this season getting the puck out of the zone cleanly and playing consistently well in front of its goaltenders.

Put it this way: Without an impact defenseman, it’s going to be a genuine challenge for the Flyers to advance deep in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

With next Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline fast approaching, defense is what disqualifies the Flyers from being considered a true Stanley Cup contender.

“I like the way our defense has played,” general manager Paul Holmgren said on Monday. “I know it’s not a sexy defense.

“Is there a Bobby Orr out there we can get? Probably not. Our defense has played pretty good as a group, overall. Could we improve it? I don’t know.”

When Holmgren refers to Orr, just substitute the name Shea Weber, who had a superb Olympics for Team Canada.

The Nashville defenseman almost certainly won’t be available until perhaps before the NHL draft if the Predators decide to move him because of his long-term and very expensive contract.

In the salary cap world of the new NHL, and with realignment responsible for changing the standings on a daily basis, there are far too many clubs still vying for a playoff spot.

That implies many teams will see themselves as buyers rather than sellers next week.

Also, the biggest and best deals seldom come at the deadline anymore. They occur at or around the NHL draft, just before free agency.

These days, it’s actually harder for GMs to pinpoint the kind of impact players that can push a team over the top at the deadline.

“That’s probably fair,” Holmgren said. “This year, it might be magnified a little bit because, particularly in our conference, how close it is. There’s a lot of teams in the fight here.”

That said, John Tavares' season-ending knee injury at the Olympics could turn the Islanders into sellers.

One defenseman who Isles GM Garth Snow may put on the block is Andrew MacDonald, who would be a very nice upgrade for any club at a steal of a price.

MacDonald’s salary cap hit is just $550,000.

“I like our team and the way we were playing at the Olympic break,” Holmgren said, adding he would not comment on the Isles' situation.

“Right now, if there is something we can do that can help our team a little bit down the stretch, we would look at doing it as long as it doesn’t disrupt what we have stockpiled. I don’t foresee anything major.”

Other defensemen perhaps on the move are the same players who teams have been shopping since before the break: Winnipeg’s swingman Dustin Byfuglien, Dallas' Trevor Daley, Edmonton's Nick Schultz and Calgary's Dennis Wideman.

Their cap hits are substantially higher than MacDonald's.

Holmgren said he had some trade discussions with other GMs during the Olympics, but many of them were in Sochi and it was hard getting hold of them.

While he expects there will be players available, they may not be the kind of players that can necessarily improve the Flyers' defense enough to warrant making a deal, Holmgren added.