With Gustafsson deal done, who are you picking for the Flyers’ starting lineup? [Poll]

Erik Gustafsson
Image via Wikimedia Commons

24-year old Erik Gustafsson signed a 1-year, $1M offer to remain with the Flyers through this season. His new contract is a 1-way deal. Barring injury, Gus is almost certain to start the season in the NHL, and it seems likely he’ll slot in on the third pairing and 2nd-line power play.

But with 10 defenders now under contract for 2013-14, at a total of $34.2 million against the cap, Paul Holmgren and Peter Laviolette are now facing some very interesting decisions when it comes time for camp. Who’s gonna make it?

There are a couple things we can get out of the way. First, barring a miraculous resurrection, Chris Pronger’s contract is going to come off the books as soon as possible. The Flyers are currently $2.05 million over the cap, but Pronger’s contract still counts for $4.94M (CapGeek). Moving Prongs to Long Term Injured Reserve will free up that space and make the Flyers cap compliant in one fell swoop. This takes some pressure off of the front office to pursue trades, because a salary dump – at least for the upcoming season – is not really necessary.

Beyond that, the Flyers have some roster locks:

  • Kimmo Timonen
  • Mark Streit
  • Luke Schenn

Lock, lock, lock. Not even worth discussing whether they’ll start the year as three of the top four. How they’re paired, however, is a bit more iffy. Schenn is a big thumping defender who tends to hang near the crease and relishes contact, while Timonen and Streit both work better by taking away space and cutting off passing lanes.

Kimmo is a superior all-around player, while Streit at times plays like a 4th forward, but both have offensive skills that pair up pretty well with Schenn’s bruising character. Lavy may opt to continue to take advantage of what seemed like some good chemistry between the Timonen and Schenn last season, when they generated a 53.1% 5v5 Corsi For* while on ice together, but 49.7% and 46.6% respectively while apart.

*For the uninitiated, quick definitions of Corsi found here

This still leaves us with five defenders vying for the final two active roster spots, one of whom will see big minutes on the second line — unless a non-roster player impresses in camp and leapfrogs the group, which is possible, but let’s stick with what we’ve got for now.

Braydon Coburn — 6’5″ 225 lb – age 28 – $4.5M cap hit through 2016

Last year was a terrible year for the otherwise consistent Coburn. It didn’t take a seasoned scout to see that he looked out of sorts, and he notched career worsts in nearly every traditional statistic to match.

I won’t go into his analysis too much because I did that already, but for those who didn’t read that I’ll make a long story short: Saddling Coburn with Nick Grossmann for the whole season was a failure, and the blame for that mess falls squarely on Peter Laviolette’s shoulders.

Now Coburn has been the subject of trade rumors for a while during the offseason — primarily because he’s slated to make $4.5M per season for the next three years and was truly godawful last year — but with Gustafsson returning and Streit now in the fold, Coburn may turn out to be much more valuable on the roster than off it.

Coburn has historically been most effective when paired with a puck-moving defenseman. He is a decent skater for his size, but puck handling — especially making breakout passes — has never been a particular strength. Coburn’s best seasons as a Flyer all came while he was primarily paired with Kimmo Timonen. Now with three (at least) puck-movers on the roster, Coburn could conceivably slot in on any of the three lines and never have to worry about taking on the offensive responsibility.

If I were constructing this roster, I’d call Braydon Coburn a keeper.

Andrej Meszároš — 6’2″ 220lb. – age 27 – $4M cap hit, UFA at end of season

Meszároš is an odd case. Coming off a second consecutive injury-shortened year, he was an ugly mess during his limited stretch in the NHL last year. He was timid, slow, and skated himself out of the play with alarming frequency. When he re-injured his shoulder late in the season, it almost seemed like a mercy.

A productive offensive defenseman for much of his career (.4 PPG through 2012), Meszároš notched just two helpers – one primary assist on the PP – in 11 games.

His advanced stats were absolutely horrific. Yes, 11 appearances and only 14.3 min. of 5v5 TOI/60 is a very small sample, but among defensemen who played in at least 10 games, Meszároš’s -25.2 Corsi was 3rd worst in the league and his -26.2 Corsi Rel was dead last. All this despite routinely facing the opposing team’s worst players (-.479 Corsi Rel QoC). That is some appalling stuff.

Meszároš is also the only Flyer who has not yet been medically cleared to play, although he’s expected to be given the green light sometime later this summer. All in all, it would be a shock if he made the NHL roster out of camp.

The upshot here is that Meszároš is now nearly a year removed from surgery for a torn Achilles tendon. The Achilles is the thickest tendon in the whole body, and full recovery from an injury that severe is unlikely to take less than 12 months. There is a chance that his abysmal play last season can be partly blamed on coming back too quickly, and with an extra six months of recovery and strengthening, it’s possible we could see a speedier, more physically confident Mez return later in the season.

But I still wouldn’t play him any higher than the third pairing.

Nicklas Grossmann — 6’4″ 230 lb. – age 28 – $3.5M cap hit through 2016

Nick Grossmann is the most defensive of defensive defensemen. He is slow, not very skillful with his stick, and basically a pylon on offense. But goddammit can he block a shot and lay a hit. Grossmann logged 81 hits and 82 blocked shots in 30 games last season.

That’s Philly-tough Flyers hockey! That’s why he’ll make the roster out of camp.

And that’s why Grossmann should never, ever be given more than third-pairing ice time.

It’s been said over and over again: you can’t block a shot or make a hit if you have possession of the puck. When Nick Grossman is on the ice, the Flyers don’t tend to gain or maintain possession. When you don’t have possession, you can’t score goals. Blocked shots and hits each have a negative correlation to winning.

Does this mean it’s a bad thing that Grossmann is willing to get in the way of a shot before it gets to the goaltender? Of course not.

It means that Grossmann doesn’t tend to do much to help regain possession before or after said blocked shot. That’s the problem.

While we’re at it, what’s the problem with hits?

Well, you already don’t have the puck when you go to make a hit. So when you take a guy into the boards, if you don’t immediately get the puck back as a result, what have you done?

You’ve created a temporary 4v4. You’ve taken yourself out of the play and actually created more space on ice for the opponent to pass and maneuver.

All this is reflected by Grossman’s fancy stats. In 2013 he logged a -6.29 5v5 Corsi (-6.5 Corsi Rel) while facing above-average but unspectacular competition (.630 Corsi Rel QoC). Granted, some of this can certainly be blamed on the disastrous Grossburn line.

But for Grossman’s career, his teammates have generally had worse possession numbers while he’s on the ice.

Grossmann's 2007-2012 CF% With or Without YouDots to the lower right is betterImage via Hockey Analysis

Grossmann’s 2007-2012 CF% With or Without You
Dots to the lower right is better
Image via Hockey Analysis

Because of the aforementioned “toughness” stats, I fully expect Grossmann to make the roster. But if he gets paired with Coburn again or plays more than 3rd-line minutes, I’m staging a coup.

Bruno Gervais — 6’0″ 188 lb. – age 28 – $825K cap hit, UFA at end of season

Gervais is a fringe NHLer who appeared in 37 games last season as a third-pairing D-man. You don’t really want him as a starter, but he’s actually a decent depth player.

His -17 +/- rating last year certainly doesn’t look good on its face, but Gervais suffered from some abysmal luck. Goalies playing behind him saved only 88.5% of shots, while the Flyers shot just 6.6% while he was on the ice. Considering that Gervais averaged just 1.32 shots per game (1.89 shot attempts), it’s not as if you can blame the low on-ice S% on Gervais peppering the net from the blue line.

Gervais was sheltered for the last three seasons. He was consistently matched up against below-average competition (-.179 QoC in 2013). After an impressive season of possession metrics for Tampa Bay in 2011-12, Gervais registered a -4.19 Corsi and -1.5 Corsi Rel while starting shifts in the offensive zone just 45% of the time. That’s not so bad. So if you don’t play him against really good players, at the very least he won’t really hurt you.

I figure Gervais doesn’t have the greatest chance of making the roster, but I wouldn’t dive off the Betsy Ross if he did. There’s a chance he could be stashed away as an injury call-up.

Marc-Andre Bourdon — 6’0″ 206 lb. – age 23 – $612.5K cap hit, RFA at end of season

Bourdon is sort of an enigma. Mostly because it’s hard to tell what the Flyers have.

The young Québécois defenseman has appeared in just 45 NHL games, all in 2011-2012. He suffered a concussion that year, and then re-injured his brain in an admirable but misguided attempt to stay on the NHL roster. He sat out all of 2013 with persistent headaches and blurry vision.

While Bourdon was in the NHL, early returns were pretty impressive. He seemed to “play bigger than his size,” and showed some ability in puck possession, although nothing particularly flashy. He scored 4 goals and 3 assists, all at even strength.

Thing is, it’s tough to evaluate anything based on that small a sample. Likewise, it’s entirely possible that he seemed to play so well because he was mostly paired with Matt Carle.

In 452 minutes on the ice together in 2011-12, Bourdon and Carle logged a 53.0% Corsi For at 5v5. Bourdon without Carle registered just 47.6 CF%. Oddly enough, Bourdon’s second most frequent pairing was with Andreas Lilja, with just under 60 total minutes of even strength ice time together. The two somehow combined for a slightly positive 50.4% CF, but the sample size is really tiny.

If Bourdon finds himself fully recovered by the time preseason rolls around, he’s an intriguing option that might be able to make the jump onto the roster. But he remains a long shot for the active roster this year. With Kimmo Timonen retiring at the end of the season, Bourdon figures to have a much better shot at the NHL roster if he re-signs for 2014-15.

All stats taken from behindthenet.ca, stats.hockeyanalysis.com, and hockey-reference.com

Posted on July 10, 2013, in Flyers, Hank Mushinski, Posts, Stats Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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