Throughout the years, the Philadelphia Flyers have held some of the most solid defensemen who not only led the team on the blue line but in the locker room as well. Guys like Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen played an essential role as team veterans whose presence was felt throughout the orange and black. In fact, both players played a vital role in the Flyers’ Stanley Cup Final trek in 2010 where they fell short against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Unfortunately for the Flyers, that type of presence has been lacking since the 2013-2014 season, when the team’s roster featured multiple assets defensively. Timonen, Andrej Meszaros, and Braydon Coburn were key contributors to the Flyers’ defensive pairings during that season. Timonen and Coburn were veterans who were able to guide the up-and-coming players with their experience and expertise gained throughout the years. Meanwhile, Meszaros was a wrecking ball to other teams with a strong defensive game. Despite the leadership of former Flyers’ defenseman Matt Niskanen, he was no comparison to honorable vets like Pronger and Timonen. The Flyers haven’t experienced those types of skilled and experienced players in quite some time and are quite overdue for a well-rounded veteran defenseman.
Although the Flyers have been in need of a solid veteran defenseman for some time now, they’ve still had players who’ve contributed to holding the blue line together. As mentioned before, the now-retired Niskanen was a leader for the club during his short tenure with the team for the 2019-2020 season. Other noteworthy mentions include Ivan Provorov, who was a major addition to the team in his first few seasons. Provorov has led the team in time on ice (TOI) and finished his first two seasons with 24 assists.
Flyers’ defenseman and Florida native Shayne Gostisbehere has also had his time in the spotlight, especially during the 2017-2018 season. He finished the year with 65 points in just 78 games and continued to be known as a substantial offensive defenseman for the squad. Between both Provorov and Gostisbehere, the two have been the Flyers’ top defensemen and “leaders” over the past few years.
In addition, Travis Sanheim performed exceptionally well during both the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 seasons. Despite that, the young blueliner has struggled due to the lack of leadership. All three Flyers defensemen have felt the void of a leader on the back end, notably in the last few seasons.
The Numbers Don’t Lie
While many could argue that the Flyers as a whole have weaknesses all throughout, the club has clearly lacked primarily on the defensive end. The orange and black finished last in the league this past 2020-2021 season, with a total of 197 goals against (GA). Prior, they finished 29th in the standings with 280 GA for the 2018-2019 season. Though the team as a unit had a tough go during the shortened season, defensively they just couldn’t figure it out. The constant turnovers and lost puck battles left netminders Carter Hart and Brian Elliot out to dry on far too many occasions.
Behind the numbers is a group of young defensemen that have made every effort to succeed, but failed to do so. On the upside, the same group has years to improve and grow as players. In order to do so, they need a veteran to take the reigns and show them the way.
Seize the Opportunity
As we approach July 28, marking the start of free agency, many teams are looking to make big moves. Although first, the NHL teams will be shaken up on July 21, when the expansion draft takes place as the Seattle Kraken officially choose their roster. Each team will lose certain players that they choose not to protect, which in turn can potentially free up cap space and roster spots. One player in particular who the Flyers have seemingly wanted to cut ties with is Gostisbehere, who has a cap hit of $4.5 million.
Rumors circulated this past season, as he was listed as a healthy scratch multiple times and even was placed on waivers in March. Whether general manager Chuck Fletcher decides to make a trade or chooses not to protect Gostisbehere in the coming weeks, opening up cap space and a defensive spot works in the team’s favor, thus presenting the Flyers an opportunity to upgrade their team and fill that defensive void.
As we’ve heard time and time again, the Flyers are a dangerous team on paper featuring a young, skilled offensive core with even more upcoming talent and a reliable pair of goaltenders. Give the orange and black a veteran defenseman with leadership experience, and they will be a team to be reckoned with.
A 24-year-old Drexel University graduate with a deep love and passion for the game of hockey. Bri grew up around the game, watching the Philadelphia Flyers as a little girl and playing street hockey. It was early on that she knew she was destined to work in sports, more specifically in hockey. Bri spent two seasons working for the Flyers as a Public Relations Game Day Intern. For more on me, check out my website, and be sure to keep up with my work here at THW!