The Flyers announced today that defenseman Andrej Meszaros underwent surgery today to repair a torn Achilles tendon that he suffered training in his native Slovakia last week. The recovery timetable is 6-8 months. Ryan Howard tore his Achilles on that fateful October night in Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS and he needed 8 months to recover. Jason Peters tore his Achilles earlier this offseason and he’s nowhere near returning yet. For all intents and purposes, the Flyers need to assume that Meszaros isn’t playing at all this season. 8 months from today would be early April, and assuming that the NHL season starts on time (a big if), that would put Meszaros’ triumphant return to the lineup right around the start of the postseason.
This injury has multiple repercussions for the Flyers. First of all, their already-weakened defense from last season has taken an even bigger step back. They’ve now lost Chris Pronger, Matt Carle, and Meszaros from the unit that started the season. It also makes their inability to land Ryan Suter in free agency and especially Shea Weber in restricted free agency loom even larger. It also eliminates one of their best trade chips in a potential Bobby Ryan deal. A hypothetical deal for Ryan would now have to be based mainly around forwards Wayne Simmonds and Matt Read and defensemen Marc-Andre Bourdon and Erik Gustafsson.
The Flyers have multiple options to try to replace Meszaros. They could simply use the depth already on the roster if they think it’s serviceable. In that case, the top-4 would be Braydon Coburn, Nicklas Grossmann, Kimmo Timonen, and Luke Schenn, with some combination of Bourdon, Gustafsson, Bruno Gervais, and Andreas Lilja rounding out the bottom-2. Erik Gustafsson would be the key here. I think he can replicate what Meszaros does pretty closely (and for a fraction of the cost), but he hasn’t proven he can do it consistently yet. They could try to sign a free agent defenseman if they don’t like the options left on the roster. I covered Carlo Colaiacovo here, and I would highly recommend that the Flyers sign him. There are a few other options out there besides Colaiacovo that the Flyers could bring in.
One is Pavel Kubina, who the Flyers acquired at the trade deadline last season from Tampa Bay. Kubina is a hulking physical defenseman at 6’4, 258, but his offensive game and speed have dramatically declined the past few years. I think Kubina can be effective in certain situations, but struggles in others. For example: I think he matches up well with the Rangers because of his physicality, size, and shotblocking. However, he struggles against faster teams like the Penguins. To maximize his ability if he was signed, the Flyers would have to use him only in certain games, but he could help the team if managed correctly. Other options include Michal Rozsival, who spent last season with the Phoenix Coyotes, and Jaroslav Spacek, who played in Carolina last season. All of these players, however, are marginal upgrades at best. They’d all be 5th, 6th, or 7th defensemen, and none of them would significantly upgrade the overall defensive corps. That’s why I think Holmgren will enter into the trade market to find a defensive upgrade, whether it’s now or during the season.
There are two ways the Flyers could approach the trade market: a solid defenseman, like they did with Nik Grossmann at the deadline last year, or a top pairing one, like they did with Chris Pronger way back in 2009. There’s too many “solid” guys to form a comprehensive list here, but they’ll become available during the season as teams fall out of contention. As far as elite defensemen go, there aren’t too many available. Guys like San Jose’s Dan Boyle and Calgary’s Jay Bouwmeester are the best on the market, but both carry considerable cap hits (north of $6.5M for both) and have flaws in their games. The Flyers could also attempt to sign restricted free agent PK Subban from Montreal to an offer sheet or do the same with Washington’s John Carlson or New York’s Michael Del Zotto, but none of those would seem to be likely.
Any way you look at it, the Flyers are in a difficult position with the injury to Andrej Meszaros. We’ll see how Paul Holmgren and the rest of the Flyers organization decides to deal with it.