The Flyers have been struggling lately, going 2-4-2 in their past eight games. The main problem seems to be their poor defensive play. While defense is an overall team responsibility, the defensemen would seem to bear the largest share of the blame.
Taking a look at the Flyers’ roster, it doesn’t seem like that should be the case. Looking at their roster, my first thought was, “Those guys are all pretty good.” Braydon Coburn, Hall Gill, Nicklas Grossmann, Erik Gustafsson, Andrej Meszaros, Luke Schenn, Mark Streit, and Kimmo Timonen are all solid NHL defensemen, and there’s not one player you can identify as a weak link. In fact, the Flyers often have at least one very talented player as a healthy scratch.
So what’s the problem?
The main issue seems to be that while the Flyers have plenty of NHL-caliber defensemen, they don’t have any who would be considered elite. Just about every one of the Flyers’ defenders would be adequate as part of a second or third pairing, but are miscast on a top unit. As a result, when an opponent brings out their top scoring line, the Flyers don’t have a defensive pairing who can be counted on to shut them down.
To their credit, the Flyers seem to realize this deficiency. If things had gone according to plan, they would have still had Chris Pronger around to anchor their top defensive unit. After Pronger’s career was ended due to a concussion, the Flyers tried to find a replacement. In the summer of 2012, they identified Nashville’s Shea Weber as an elite defenseman, and signed him to a massive offer sheet. Unfortunately, the Predators ended up matching the offer.
The past two seasons, due to salary cap restraints as well as the fact that top defensemen are difficult to find, the Flyers have been unable to find someone who would fit the role. They’ve tried to compensate by accumulating numerous second and third unit players, but as they’ve discovered, that isn’t quite the same thing. So while the overall level of talent on defense is probably good enough to allow the team to make the playoffs, but the lack of an elite player will ultimately lead to their downfall.