2013-14 Flyers evaluation: Defense

uspresswire-flyers-coburn-timonen-schenn.jpg

2013-14 Flyers evaluation: Defense

This is the second of three parts reviewing the Flyers roster from 2013-14. Previously: A look back at the goaltenders.

Flyers president (then general manager) Paul Holmgren sounded a lot like coach Craig Berube when speaking about his defense on breakup day.

It’s not about the speed of your players, he said, but the ability to pass the puck -- quickly and precisely.

Holmgren said things were fine on the blue line, admitted every team could use more speed as well as a No. 1 impact guy, and didn’t seem all that alarmed at how easily the Rangers made the Flyers look slow during the playoffs.

Defense was an issue last summer. And the summer before. And it remains an issue this summer, as well.

Many NHL clubs have pushed their young defensive prospects into the NHL ahead of schedule and allowed them to develop there.

Club chairman Ed Snider strongly hinted he wanted the Flyers to do that with Shayne Gostisbehere.

What was true last May remains true this May, too: The Flyers are the only NHL club without a single active drafted defenseman since the decade began playing regular minutes for them -- not someone else.

Which is why some people feel Gostisbehere has to play this fall regardless. 

Braydon Coburn
Age: Turns 29
Stats:
82 GP; 5G, 4A, 17 Pts., minus-6, 22:26 MIN
Cap hit: $4.5 million
Offensively, Coburn saw his numbers continue to decline despite obvious mobility talents and a strong shot he seldom seems to use anymore. His output was a disappointing 17 points. His five goals were the most in four years, however. He played OK much of the regular season, but had a terrible playoffs (minus-6), as did most of the Flyers' defense. His mental lapses, at times, were a concern. He has two years left on his current contract and his name often comes up in trade discussions with clubs in Western Canada, where he was born and resides during the offseason. Coburn played most of the season with Kimmo Timonen, who has pretty much been his longtime partner during their seven-plus years here.

Hal Gill
Age: 39
Stats: 6 GP, no stats, 14:50 MIN
Status: 
Unrestricted free agent
One of the true professionals in the game, Gill is a quiet leader in the room who served as a mentor for Erik Gustafsson and other young players. He was the ideal seventh man on defense and never complained about his role, even after sitting 44 consecutive games through the second half of the season. Nick Grossmann’s ankle injury forced Gill into the lineup during the playoffs, where his lack of speed was a decisive factor in two goals against during a painful Game 5 loss to the Rangers. The Flyers need younger legs moving forward. Gill is closer to retirement than being re-signed.

Nick Grossmann
Age:
29
Stats:
78 GP, 1G, 13A, 14 Pts., minus-6; 19:06 MIN
Cap hit: $3.5 million
Grossmann was the second-leading shot blocker on the club with a career-high 174 -- the third time he has eclipsed his record. He was the first defenseman in the NHL this season to reach 100 hits (189) and 100 blocked shots. A right ankle (tendon) injury was costly in the playoffs, as he missed the final three games against the Rangers. Grossmann is tough as nails, but lacks speed. That said, his pairing with Mark Streit was very effective.

Erik Gustafsson
Age: 24
Stats:
31 GP; 2G, 8A, 10 Pts., plus-7; 17:30 MIN
Status: Restricted free agent
Berube’s staff gave Gustafsson every opportunity this season to force himself into the lineup but the young Swede’s confidence with the puck seemed to wane this year, which is why he spent more time in the press box than on the ice. He's still the quickest defenseman the Flyers have and has very good skills in moving the puck up ice provided he doesn’t get boxed into double-teams. His performance against Pittsburgh in the playoffs a few years ago should have jump-started his continued development. That hasn’t happened -- the Flyers expect more of him. He should be re-signed. His cap hit this season was $1 million.

Andrew MacDonald
Age: 27
Stats:
19 GP as a Flyer (82 overall); OG, 4A, 4 Pts., minus-3, 21:59 MIN
Cap hit: $5 million
MacDonald gave the Flyers more flexibility, speed and puck movement once he arrived, but his play against the Rangers in the playoffs took a severe nosedive. He was a minus player in four of the seven games. He led the NHL in blocked shots with a mind-boggling 242 during the regular season, though. Had 24 points in 63 games with the Islanders before being traded. A big factor is that he made Luke Schenn a better player, and the pairing was actually very sound most games. His new six-year, $30 million contract kicks in this fall.

Luke Schenn
Age: 24
Stats:
79 GP, 4G, 8 A, 12 Pts., even, 16:32 MIN
Cap hit: $3.6 million
Schenn led the club with 260 hits. He has to learn to stay closer to the crease, however, as he still tends to get caught outside the dots where he lacks the lateral speed to recover at the net. MacDonald’s arrival allowed him to do what he does best: Hit and block shots (113 blocks). He was far more relaxed once MacDonald arrived and was the Flyers' most consistent defensemen in the playoffs. Both he and brother Brayden, a restricted free agent this summer, could be packaged in a deal somewhere for a more mobile, faster defenseman. He's not a lock to return.

Mark Streit
Age: 36
Stats: 82 GP, 10G, 34 A, 44 Pts., plus-3, 20:38 MIN
Cap hit: $5.25 million
Streit showed flashes of outstanding play this season and then would have a series of games in which he was a turnover machine. He has a strong skating ability and can eat up more minutes (20:38 average) if Timonen retires. He was signed to bolster the power play, but had just 15 power-play points (four goals, 11 assists) and should be able to get 20-15 points there. His overall stats, however, were strong and he improved the Flyers' defense. 

Kimmo Timonen
Age: 
39
Stats: 77 GP, 6G, 29 A, 35 Pts., plus-5, 20:19 MIN
Status: Unrestricted free agent
Timonen won his fifth Barry Ashbee Trophy, and deservedly so. Had a remarkably healthy season without the usual back injuries, and participated in the Olympics. He has lost a couple steps but is still a fine skater. He was ninth in the NHL with 19 power-play assists, and seemed to be rejuvenated by his selection to Team Finland at the Sochi Olympics, where he picked up a bronze medal. Timonen’s point production has gone steadily down as he’s gotten older. He’s no longer a $6 million defenseman, yet the Flyers would consider resigning him for half that much in a reduced role. His minutes this year were reduced by one minute a game. The Rangers' speed made him and others on the blue line look slow in the playoffs. He may retire; re-signing may hinge on cap hit and on whether to keep a younger player around instead.

Previously: A look back at the goaltenders.
Next: A look back at the forwards.

Flyers' poor division record biggest factor in being out of playoff picture

Flyers' poor division record biggest factor in being out of playoff picture

PITTSBURGH -- There's a bit of tragic irony to how the Flyers' season will end over the next two-plus weeks.
 
They have seven games left on the schedule. Six of them are teams residing in the Metro Division. Tuesday's opponent, Ottawa, is the lone exception.
 
There are so many reasons why the Flyers are scrambling now, clinging to the desperate belief they can still make the playoffs -- mathematically, they're alive -- against all rational thought.
 
They're six points behind Boston for the second wild-card spot, but they still have to hurdle Carolina, Tampa Bay and the Islanders just to get to Boston.
 
Yet one major reason for the Flyers' dilemma seems pretty obvious: They've been simply awful in head-to-head play against their own division.
 
The Flyers have a winning record against both divisions in the Western Conference.
 
That's not the case, however, in the East where the Metro Division is the only division with three teams over 100 points and where the Flyers have failed miserably to challenge from within.
 
Sunday's 6-2 rout of the Penguins in Pittsburgh left the Flyers with a poor 9-13-2 record against the Metro. It's the only division they have a losing record against.
 
Last season, Dave Hakstol's group finished 14-10-6 against their own division. That was a critical factor in enabling the Flyers to make the playoffs.
 
"We know where we are in the standings and it's not going to be easy to make the playoffs," Jakub Voracek said. "We all know that. We have to work off results of the other teams and try to play relaxed and loose."
 
Against the Eastern Conference overall, the Flyers are close to .500 (21-22-4) yet realize they should be better.
 
These two records represent a very large reason why the Flyers are sitting on the outside looking in as the playoffs near.
 
Right now, at least four clubs from the Metro -- half the division -- will make the playoffs. That says a lot about why games within your section are so pivotal at season's end.
 
"The numbers don't lie," Hakstol admitted on Sunday. "It's a tough road every single night. You've got to do a good job within your division, within your conference.
 
"We've played a lot of tight, hard games. The reality is, we're a number of points out of the playoffs and those points within your division are very valuable."
 
It's something the Flyers have to greatly improve upon next season if they want to be sitting in a playoff spot a month before the season ends instead of playing catch-up when the odds are hopelessly against them.
 
Pens killers
Every team in the NHL has a couple players who have fairly impressive career numbers against other teams.
 
Voracek averages better than a point against the Penguins. His goal Sunday gave him 17 goals and 34 points in 32 career games against Pittsburgh.
 
Voracek admitted after the game he's not sure why.
 
Claude Giroux also has excellent numbers against the Pens -- his two assists in the win left the Flyers' captain with 41 points (14 goals) in 40 career games vs. Pittsburgh.
 
Shayne Gostisbehere has been around a fraction as long as either Giroux or Voracek -- eight career games vs. the Pens -- yet has two goals and nine points in those games.
 
Brayden Schenn doesn't average a point a game against the Pens, but he's close. His assist on Sunday left the winger/center with 20 points (8 goals) in 26 games.
 
The only Flyer who has solid numbers against Pittsburgh and didn't make Sunday's score sheet was Wayne Simmonds. He has 23 points in 28 games. 

Dave Hakstol: Travis Konecny on 4th line 'makes sense in a lot of respects'

Dave Hakstol: Travis Konecny on 4th line 'makes sense in a lot of respects'

PITTSBURGH -- The curious line juggling of Travis Konecny continued Sunday night.

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol again started Konecny on Pierre-Edouard Bellemare's fourth line with Chris VandeVelde, but just as he did in Columbus, Hakstol moved the rookie around.

This was Konecny's third straight game off Valtteri Filppula's unit with Jakub Voracek at the start. The obvious message to Konecny seems to be: Get yourself into a more defensive-minded role early and then let the offense come to you.

Konecny has made some defensive strides.

"It makes sense in a lot of respects," Hakstol said of the move to Bellemare's unit. "He's playing with two players with a lot of structure. He excels in that type of setting.

"If you look at [Saturday], he can bounce around the lineup with different lines and we used him that way. He didn't just play with his two linemates. He moved around a little bit. He's very effective in that role when we're able to get him out there. He gives us a good boost, a good push."

Against Columbus on Saturday, Konecny played on two units with Sean Couturier -- one featuring Jordan Weal and the other, Dale Weise. He also played a few shifts with Filppula and Wayne Simmonds.

The same thing happened Sunday in the Flyers' 6-2 rout of the Penguins (see game story). Konecny finished with an assist and plus-1 in just 8:02. He is one of the very, very few Flyers who is an even. Most are minus.

Konecny, who just turned 20, and Weal, 24, gave the Flyers a lift on Sunday. Weal had a goal and an assist in 13:06.

"No matter who it is contributing, everyone is excited for everybody," Konecny said. "A lot of guys put up some numbers tonight and contributed. It was a good team effort. That's what we want to see."
 
The Flyers were so relaxed it makes you wonder if the pressure of trying to make the playoffs is gone because their odds are so stacked against them.
 
"We’re at that point where you just need to win and just show up," Konecny said. "There's nerves in the back of your mind. We're pretty loose and trying to enjoy it as much as we can going through a stressful time.
 
"We've handled it well. We played a good team, we knew they would push but we pushed harder."
 
Konecny said he's not fazed by the different line combinations he's a part of, often in the same period.
 
"It's not too bad," he said. "I kind of expected it going into a game. I know when I am playing with Belly and Vandy that throughout the game, there's going to be times like penalty kills come up and he'll fill me in with another line.
 
"At the start of the third [tonight], I filled in another line. I know it's going to come. I just expect it. I've played with pretty much everybody on the team. I'm comfortable out there."
 
Loose pucks
The six goals on the road against Pittsburgh last happened on Feb. 20, 2013, when the Flyers won, 6-5. ... Sunday was the Flyers' largest margin of victory in Pittsburgh since March 31, 2003, when they beat the Penguins, 6-1, at Mellon Arena. ... Weal picked up the second two-point game of his career -- both of which have taken place this month. ... Weise has three goals in his last seven games. ... Claude Giroux had two assists, and now has two goals and eight assists for 10 points in 13 games this month.