Monday, February 20, 2012

Flyers again left searching for missing pieces (UPDATE)

In 2002, it was Adam Oates. In 2003, it was Tony Amonte and Sami Kapanen. In 2004, it was Alex Zhamnov and Vladimir Malakhov. In 2006, it was Peter Nedved. In 2008, it was Vinny Prospal. In 2011, it was Kris Versteeg.

Yes, the Flyers search for in-season missing pieces is a long and storied one. And, as you'll recall, none of those seasons ended in parades. Of those players, only Kapanen made a significant impact past the season in which he was acquired (and boy, did I love me some Sami Kapanen).

And so we find ourselves in 2012, with shiny new toys in Nick Grossman and Pavel Kubina.

Frankly, the moves by GM Paul Holmgren were a little bit surprising. Neither player had generated much Flyers-related deadline buzz. But against every instinct, it feels like these could be more of the same shrewd moves that have defined Holmgren's time at the helm (Bryzgalov contract aside).

With Grossman and Kubina replacing rookies Eric Gustafsson and Marc-Andre Bourdon, both of whom were relegated to the Phantoms, the Flyers have managed to add ten inches, 102 pounds, and 17 full seasons of prior experience to the blue line. When your team can ill afford mistakes or easy access to the front of the net, those are some mighty strong reasons to trust Grossman and Kubina.

Grossman immediately ranks third among Flyers defensemen in both hits and blocked shots this season, and posted eight hits in his debut against the Penguins. Kubina provides a hard, right-handed shot, as well as a potential power play quarterback for a team that desperately needs one.

Gustafsson and Bourdon had played surprisingly well this year, combining to go +9 in 57 games played. But neither is the kind of imposing, physical defenseman the team needs to try to replace Chris Pronger.

And while many have decried the moves as too minor to fix what ails the Flyers, particularly since neither defenseman will likely be manning the pipes any time this year, remember the lessons of the past two seasons.

Two years ago at this time, the Flyers looked buried. A shootout win on the regular season's final day propelled that team to a fantastic, improbable Stanley Cup Finals run. Last year in January, the Flyers were dominating teams on a nightly basis and looked poised to fulfill their Stanley Cup destiny, only to get run out of the building by the Bruins in the playoffs. The Flyers are still a very strong bet to make the playoffs this year, and it's too early to tell what will happen once they get there. Holmgren made two moves that could improve the team for the stretch run, and didn't give up much to do it.

Of greater concern is the fact that both Grossman and Kubina will be free agents after this season. Neither is likely to return, with the Flyers short on cap space and needing to make tough decisions about Matt Carle and Jaromir Jagr.

If Carle and Pronger aren't back next year, and Timonen isn't resigned following next season, a defensive corps that last year looked like one of the deepest in the league is going to have some serious holes to fill. Gustafsson and Bourdon will likely be part of that, but neither looks like a top-three defenseman.

Of course, Holmgren has proven in the past that he's not afraid to be bold and unconventional when it comes to building his teams. Even if Grossman and Kubina don't pan out, it's more than likely that Holmgren will find another way to add that elusive missing piece. In the mean time, don't give up on this year.


I should have stated this more clearly in the original article, but it's worth adding.

Ryan Suter and Shea Weber are clearly not available right now; Nashville is too competitive and too confident it can resign them. Luke Schenn, who leads the league in hits, would have been nice, but I'm willing to bet that if a deal could've been done, Holmgren would have pulled the trigger.

The goaltending is clearly not getting fixed next year, and possibly not for the next eight years (*shudders*). Forwards are not the problem, clearly, as this team is four lines deep on any given night and has a lot of young talent in Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Matt Read, Jakub Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds, not to mention Claude Giroux, all of whom are under team control for multiple additional seasons.

So Holmgren's absolute best bet was to upgrade the defense on the cheap and see if it made a difference. In doing so, he got bigger and more experienced--both of which will help the defensive corps--and picked up two players who were averaging nearly 20 minutes of ice time per night for their respective teams.

He gave up two second round picks, a third round pick, and a fourth round pick. Of those four selections, one second rounder came from the Panthers in the Kris Versteeg trade, and the third rounder came from the Wild in the Darroll Powe trade, so the Flyers only gave up two of their own picks.

As I mentioned earlier, despite the recent gloom-and-doom, it's honestly too late to say what will become of the Flyers this year. They rode Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton to a conference championship two years ago, so it's certainly conceivable that Bryzgalov or Sergei Bobrovsky will heat up enough to help them in the playoffs.

If that happens, Kubina and Grossman will absolutely be difference-makers. If not, then it didn't cost much this season, and it doesn't affect their cap situation at all in the future, leaving Holmgren with complete flexibility. All in all, it was a gamble worth taking.


  1. I like both of the moves, but like you said they aren't under any long term contract. This could to very large holes, and now we are out of draft picks to potentially trade or refill those slots. And like you said these moves could very well be the equivalent of putting a band aid on the Titanic.

  2. Sami Kapanen may be my all-time favorite Flyer

  3. They're not really out of draft picks. They have their own first rounder in each of the next two years, plus a fourth, fifth, and seventh round pick in 2012, and a second, third, fifth, sixth, and seventh round pick in 2013. So over the next two years, they're missing two second-rounders, a third-rounder, and a sixth-rounder, but that's it. And their 2014 draft picks are completely intact.

    The moves may not be enough, but for the price, it's a gamble I'm willing to make. Since they didn't give up any young players, they won't have any more holes than they otherwise would have. These moves have no bearing on Carle returning (though I wouldn't be shocked if they resigned one of these players to a cheaper deal than Carle would command, if nothing else is available), and they still have Gustafsson and Bourdon.