When Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren blew up the team this summer and took them in a different direction, there were question about whether the team had improved, or in fact gotten worse. There are no questions now.
The Flyers are first in the NHL in points earned per game, nabbing nearly 72% of all points that have been available to them (the Minnesota Wild are second, just under 69%). They score more goals-per-game than any other team in the NHL (3.67). They’ve won seven straight contests, and lead the Eastern Conference.
But now, with Chris Pronger out for the season due to post-concussion syndrome, it’s time to take a look at their roster and decide if they’ve got enough hoist the Stanley Cup at the end of the season without filling that void.
The Flyers are finally where the Washington Capitals have been for years: anything less than winning it all will be deemed failure (they’ve been on the fringe of that label for years). There’s no doubt that this team can continue winning and be a home-ice team come playoffs, but depth is crucial to win once you get there, and without Pronger the Flyers defense looks alright, but uncomfortably thin.
They’re left with Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Matt Carle, Andrej Meszaros, Andreas Lilja, and some other guys. Seriously, they have names (Marshall, Bourdon…um, I think Gustafsson is one?), but none of them exactly have a positive VORP at this point in their careers (value over replacement player). Actually, I probably should’ve left Lilja in that group too.
If one of those first four names goes down, good luck keeping pucks out of the net.
The Flyers have been just fine without Pronger to date, but there are at least three areas where they’re going to desperately miss him come playoffs:
Team Snarl: This isn’t quanifiable, of course, but there’s nobody I’d rather play against less as a forward in the NHL than Chris Pronger. Zero people. Chris Pronger does not give a damn about your physical well-being, and would prefer that you be in pain at all times. You can handle playing a guy like that once in awhile. In a playoff series? That intimidation factor can wear some individuals down.
Penalty Kill: The Flyers are a middle of the pack team on the PK right now – that means that by the time you get to playoffs, you have one of the worst PKs of teams still alive. Pronger’s long stick is annoying to pass around, but worse, his physical presense makes parking in front of the net an absolute misery. You have to make teams pay for dirty play in the post-season, and while it hurts enough not having him on your powerplay, it hurts more not having him on the kill.
Leadership: I don’t care for the guy personally, but when Carter and Richards were shipped out, this became his team. They’re skilled enough to zip around teams and keep winning in the regular season, but playoffs get downright dirty. This is where it being his team was supposed to be the difference. He’s been there, done that, and able to lead by example, being that he’s one of the best playoff performers I can ever remember watching.
You can roll six D in the regular season and survive, especially when you’re threatening an average of four goals a game and have one of the League’s better goaltenders in net. But you can’t be rolling six against the Bruins in May. Rolling four is an even worse idea over the multi-month marathon that takes you through the Cup Final. Simply put, if he really is done for the year (and by all accounts he is), they need to add a piece.
The Flyers won’t fall off the map without the guy, but if their goal is what they say it is, Pronger has to go on LTIR, and they need themselves a defenseman.