At 39-years of age, Kimmo Timonen has been around the block a time or two. In 15 seasons, seven with the Flyers, the Finnish defenseman has played in over 1,000 NHL games, while joining the league’s 500 point club. But as he skates in what is likely to be his final season in the league, the Flyers will soon have an opportunity to properly commemorate the end of an era in Philadelphia.
End Of An Era For A Hockey Iron Man?
At 5-10, 194 pounds, Kimmo Timonen is far from the prototypical big-bodied defenseman that are not in short supply in the NHL. Despite his lack of size on the blue line, Timonen has maintained a high level of play for 15 seasons in the league with the type of durability that leaves most of his peers envious. With the exception of his first two seasons in Nashville, and last year’s lockout-shortened season, Timonen has played in at least 70 games each year, which includes a stretch of 248 consecutive games played in between.
“To come in and see him every day and every game and what he goes through to get himself ready to play – he’s the complete professional on and off the ice,” said former Flyers coach Peter Laviolette back in 2012. “He’s a good teammate and a good person. He’s a heckuva hockey player.”
While missing only four games this season, Timonen is second in points by Flyers defenseman, scoring five goals and adding 33 assists. His plus-six rating is equal to team captain Claude Giroux, and his 20:21 of average time on ice makes him one of five Flyers who average over 20 minutes on a game-to-game basis, despite being the oldest active member of the team.
“Once you get to 39, you do feel old sometimes,” Timonen admitted. “But that’s the truth. It’s been a long year, with the Olympics and the travel and the time changes and everything, but that’s passed. We’re in the playoffs, which is my goal. Now is not the time to relax.”
The Flyers will enter the playoffs with their assistant captain’s familiar presence. Along with Brayden Coburn, who leads all Flyers in average time on ice, Timonen will make up Philadelphia’s top defensive pairing. Timonen’s minutes, however, are only a portion of explaining his value to a team that moved a mountain to gain postseason eligibility.
“Timonen is 23rd among NHL defensemen this season in terms of quality of competition faced. He spends nearly as much time on the ice with shutdown center Sean Couturier (32 percent) as he does Claude Giroux (40 percent).
“Despite all of that, since the advanced statistics began being tracked in 2011-12, Timonen has a career-high relative Corsi rating this season. In layman’s terms, that means the Flyers average 6.6 percent more shots than opponents when Timonen is on the ice than when he is on the bench.” — Philly.com
An End Of An Era, Or One More Season?
Considering his age and contract status, expiring at the end of the playoffs, much speculation has amassed as to whether or not this would be it for the four-time All-Star. While the answer is anything but definite at this point, predicting Timonen’s decision can best be done by evaluating two things: Whether or not the Flyers win the Stanley Cup, and whether or not he feels he can compete at the level he’s established throughout his career.
“To be honest, I’m going into the summer thinking this might be my last year,” Timonen declared last offseason. “The mindset I have right now is that I just want to enjoy every moment next year because that could be it…I’m not saying this is 100 percent my last year, but it could be. It’s definitely pretty close to the end.”
At 39, Timonen has naturally declined in scoring and speed, despite his consistent availability. And as the years add up, Timonen, like any professional athlete his age, is finding out just how much more difficult it is to get the expected output from his aging frame.
“I talked with Paul before the season started and he wanted to know where I’m at with playing one more year, and I said, ‘Well coming off the lockout, coming out from back surgery, give me about 10 games. I want to see how I feel,’” added Timonen. “I want to still feel like I can play (at a) top level and a couple days ago I talked to (Paul Holmgren), I said I feel pretty good and it was (a pretty easy decision) after.”
Should Timonen not feel satisfied enough to walk away this year, re-signing the long-time Flyer shouldn’t pose any difficulty to GM Paul Holmgren, as well as the team’s salary cap status. With Holmgren commited to locking up fellow defenseman Andrew MacDonald, allocating the funds to keep Timonen in orange and black would more than likely stand as one of Holmgren’s easiest tasks of the offseason. With the cap increasing, and Timonen’s value of around $6 million, the decision is strictly up to Timonen himself.
An End Of An Era Worthy Of A Proper Send-Off
Entering his ninth playoff appearance, Kimmo Timonen is 0-for-8 in his quest to lift hockey’s most coveted prize. In fact, Philadelphia’s six-game Stanley Cup defeat at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 was the closest he’s gotten to the ultimate goal. So what better way to end an era than by hoisting the Stanley Cup a la Ray Bourque in 2001?
“That would be a dream way to leave the game for anybody,” said Timonen. “I’m not saying what’s gonna happen because nobody can see the future, but that would be the perfect way to leave the game.”
Not only would a Stanley Cup Championship hush the lame “1975” insults hurled at the Flyers and their fans, it would be the proper send-off to cap off an end of an era for Timonen and the Flyers. Capturing the elusive Stanley Cup would justifiably reward Timonen for his services, whether it be in production or mentorship.
“The younger players really look up to him,” said current Flyers coach Craig Berube. “He’s been around a long time and done a lot of good things.”
Timonen’s invaluable intangibles would certainly be enough for the Flyers to welcome him back next season. But if the two parties had it their way, the issue of unsettled business would finally be settled come June. Until then, the guessing game will only have to continue. Whether it’s this year or next, retirement is inevitable; and when you’re Kimmo Timonen, you’re just fine with that.
“It’s never easy to leave the game,” said Timonen. “But sometimes it gets to the point where you have to say, ‘OK, that’s enough,’ and move on and do some other stuff in your life and focus on your family, because this job takes a lot of time away from your family. But winning the Stanley cup is the ultimate goal, and hopefully we can do it this year and move on.”