Saturday, February 18, 2012
Blue-line depth won't fix Flyers' goalie issue
By Scott Burnside
It was a most curious day for the Philadelphia Flyers. They got even deeper across the blue line by adding veteran big-bodied Stanley Cup winner Pavel Kubina, but once again, despite all the building and tinkering, appear to be lacking that one critical ingredient that has denied them a Cup for 36 years.
The Flyers jumped the queue ahead of teams like Boston, Chicago and the New York Rangers in the quest to add defensive depth before the Feb. 27 trade deadline by adding their second defenseman in the past 48 hours. They sent prospect Jon Kalinski, a conditional second-round pick acquired from Florida in the Kris Versteeg deal and their own fourth-round pick in 2013 to grab Kubina, who obviously included the Flyers on a list of teams to which he would agree to be traded.
The Flyers earlier picked up Nicklas Grossman from Dallas, making their blue line as deep as any in the Eastern Conference even without the services of captain Chris Pronger, who is lost for the season due to concussion issues.
But the trade came on a day when the Flyers were beaten 6-4 by the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins, a day in which "franchise" netminder Ilya Bryzgalov was once again pulled by head coach Peter Laviolette, this time after allowing three goals on 13 shots. Two of the goals were short-handed and one was on a rare 5-on-3 advantage for the Flyers. Not that backup Sergei Bobrovsky fared much better as he allowed three goals on 17 shots in just over a period’s worth of play.
The Flyers have won just three times in their past 10 games. In five of those games, they have given up four or more goals.
Although the Flyers signed Bryzgalov to a nine-year deal last summer, a deal that is paying him $10 million this season, the enigmatic netminder seems to have been overwhelmed by his move to Philadelphia. He became something of a sensation during the HBO "24/7" reality series with his ruminations on the universe and his love for his dog (and family). On Saturday, Bryzgalov followed that up by cryptically telling reporters that, "I will try and find peace in my soul to play in this city."
Not sure if Flyers GM Paul Holmgren rushed out to make the Kubina deal after he heard Bryzgalov’s musings or if he rushed back into his office to call Tampa GM Steve Yzerman and beg him to take Kubina back.
Still, one can’t fault Holmgren for once again being among the boldest of NHL GMs.
With Pronger and his all-world presence gone, Holmgren knew he had to beef up a blue line that still boasts battle-tested veterans like Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle, Braydon Coburn and Andrej Meszaros.
Throw in the solid play and shot-blocking ability of Grossman, who didn’t fit into the Dallas Stars’ long-term plans, and Kubina, who won a Cup in 2004 with Tampa, and this is -- or should be -- a unit that is built for the long haul in the spring.
Perhaps, even, the kind of blue line that can overcome pedestrian goaltending.
Kubina, 34, was second on the Lightning in hits and third in blocked shots. He missed four games to injury in early December and suffered a concussion in Game 1 of the second round of the playoffs last spring against Washington and did not play again in the postseason.
He’s not going to generate much offense -- he has one assist in his past 15 games -- but he will chew up the minutes for the Flyers as he averages 19:54 a night.
He is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, so the Flyers aren’t exposed financially beyond this season.
Although the Flyers have been one of the teams to inquire about Columbus winger Rick Nash, it’s not believed they are a serious player in the Nash sweepstakes. If that’s the case and Holmgren decides to hang on to what has emerged as a dynamic group of young talent mostly among his forward personnel, his acquisition of Grossman and Kubina should help provide more than a little ballast for the postseason grind.
The ripple effect of the Flyers’ acquisitions, along with Nashville’s addition Friday of veteran defenseman Hal Gill, is that it significantly narrows the focus for a number of top teams looking to add blue-line help; and the Flyers may encounter a couple of those teams in the postseason, such as the Rangers, leaders of the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference, and the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins.
The Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks and Detroit Red Wings will be in the hunt for significantly less attractive options to bolster their blue lines before the 27th given the recent run on defensemen.
So, a job well done once again by Holmgren.
Now, if the Flyers could just get someone to occasionally stop the puck, they might just be on their way.
Sadly for Flyers fans, that is a much bigger "if" than anyone could have imagined last offseason.