For the past few seasons, when the Philadelphia Flyers’ season ends with the beloved Broad Street Bullies returning home empty-handed–again– fingers have quickly been pointed in every which way. “None of the depth players contributed!” “The special teams were terrible!” “The goaltending was awful!” These reasons, especially the last one, are common issues that Flyers’ faithful have had with the team. One issue that has especially plagued the Flyers over the past three seasons, is that the defense has been sub-par at best. And that’s putting it nicely.
What would it take to fix the Flyer’s blue line? A blockbuster trade involving some of the Flyer’s top prospects and draft picks to corral Nashville’s Shea Weber, or a player of similar pedigree (of which there aren’t many)? Could they wait until the likes of Samuel Morin, Robert Hagg, Shane Gostisbehere and Mark Alt to develop and mature into a formidable top four?
The answer is no. As Philadelphia sports fans, it has been 39 long years since Lord Stanley has visited Broad Street. The answer to the Flyers’ defensive woes, the head chef who could bring order to disjointed kitchen on the Flyer’s blue line, must be found soon to end that drought. We can only pray for a Shea Weber trade for so many seasons, until we start to look in a new direction. Is it wishful thinking to perhaps suggest that one of the Flyer’s current defensemen could step up, and assume the role as the Number one defenseman on the Flyer’s blue line? Who could be the mobile, mean, defensively dependable and offensively adept Shea Weber or new Chris Pronger for the Flyers? I nominate Braydon Coburn.
Looking at the above qualifications, Coburn shouldn’t be far off the mark. He has size at 6’5” and weighs in at 220 lbs. He is a very smooth skater for his size, and one of the fastest skaters on the Flyers’ blue line. He’s not an incredibly physical player, but has an edge when necessary. In the first round of the 2011-2012 playoffs, Sean Couturier stole the spotlight as the man who shut down Evgeni Malkin. People forget that Coburn and Nicklas Grossmann were on the ice for every shift that featured Malkin. Any shift that involved a frustrated Malkin, usually came courtesy of Coburn. So the potential is there.
Problems arise when we look at Coburn’s defensive dependability, but I attribute this to mistakes on offense. Offense is the greatest defense in any sport, so every turnover, missed pass and mishandled puck becomes a defensive shortcoming on Coburn’s part. These issues all boil down to reading the play and being able to make passes. Coburn’s current inability to anchor the Flyer’s blue line stems from subpar fundamentals.
In Sunday, March 3rd’s game against the Washington Capitals, Coburn’s assist on Claude Giroux’s tying goal late in the third period showcased the fact that Coburn has the natural talent, but he is inconsistent on fundamental plays. If he can calmly jump into the play, spin along the blue line and make a blind pass on the tape to setup Jake Voracek’s shot, he should be able to replicate these results when he has his head up, more space, and more time during a break out.
If he continues to squeeze his stick in the defensive zone, he will continue to tread water as a mediocre defenseman. But if he upgrades his fundamentals, he can be key in fixing the Flyers’ blue line. He doesn’t have to be Bobby Orr; he just needs to relax and make the simple passes.