The Flyers defense was outstanding in the regular season. For most of it, their bottom pairing of Meszaros-O’Donnell led the league in plus-minus and helped shorten the minutes of Timonen and Pronger (when he played) after their heavy workload in 2009-2010. The Flyers head into this off-season with Timonen and Pronger needing the off-season to rehabilitate their injuries sustained during this season, and hopefully they’ll be 100% ready when next season starts. Meszaros, Carle, and Coburn are all locked up for next year at least, even though the potential for one of them to be moved is still there for cap reasons. O’Donnell did an admirable job for us, but I don’t see the Flyers re-signing him on July 1st. Same with Boynton, who was an insurance policy at the end of the year.
Matt Walker is buried in the minors, and I think he’ll stay there because of his $1.7 million cap hit when they could have AHL standouts Danny Syvret or Erik Gustafsson fill his spot. If the Flyers were to move on of their top defenders (probably Carle), then maybe they would sign a cheap free-agent or move Walker up to help the third pairing. Another thing we might be forgetting is that Oskars Bartulis has come a long way since he entered our organization, and should be ready to go this year after sustaining a season-ending injury late in the year. Bartulis and Syvret are likely the best candidates to fill the void left by O’Donnell, but will there be veteran to pair with them if Timonen and Pronger are not able to go come the start of the season? If the rosters stay the same, my pairings would be something like this:
I could also see switching Meszaros and Timonen and re-uniting Coburn and Timonen. But I really like the idea of a strong veteran pair and a physical mid-aged pair with great skating. That’s probably all fantasy though, because they’ll likely split Timonen and Pronger up. Syvret has more offensive skill than Bartulis while Bartulis has a slight height advantage. I personally haven’t seen enough of either to figure out which one works better, but I have always stood by the thought that Bartulis will be a solid 3rd pairing guy for us in the coming years. In my mind, Meszaros and Coburn are the mesh of our defensive corps and will become anchors when Timonen and Pronger are long gone. Of course, we will need some prospects like Bourdon, Hostetter, or Gustafsson to pan out, and probably some free-agent signings/trades. But that’s in the future. Timonen for another two seasons, Pronger is locked up for a while, and we have Coburn and Carle for next year. Meszaros has three years remaining on his contract, so our core is in place if everyone places to their potential and remains healthy.
As far as ability, it’s there. A few tweaks to fix our third pairing, limiting injuries, and execution should all equal another strong year defensively for us. If the goaltending issue is addressed, our defenders should even be stronger with more faith in a proven, new goaltender that can make timely saves to bail them out if need be.