He last played a full season with the Detroit Red Wings in 2005-06, which was a post-lockout hockey year. In 2007-08, he was seen in 79 of Detroit's regular season games. Since then, he has appeared in far less than a full slate of National Hockey League contests each season and was only expected to serve as a depth defenseman for the Flyers in 2012-13.
Due to a degenerative hip condition that required recent surgery, the 37-year-old veteran isn't expected to be able to play until December.
Flyers' defensive issues
Andrej Meszaros' Achilles tendon surgery represented more bad news that general manager Paul Holmgren didn't need to hear this summer. When this member of head coach Peter Laviolette's defensive core was lost for the foreseeable future, Lilja's presence became more important. Now that he won't be available to start the season, the opportunity for a younger player to make the team (even as a healthy scratch) naturally increased.
The Flyers ever-diminishing blue line contingent now includes: Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Nicklas Grossmann, Luke Schenn, Bruno Gervais, Marc-Andre Bourdon, Erik Gustafsson and Brandon Manning. It's possible that the last three names on that list will all play important roles this year even if Holmgren signs another veteran free agent defenseman, or trades for one.
With all speculation concerning Nashville Predators' captain Shea Weber now over, the reality of living with such a thin defense doesn't feel good. Will the Flyers' defensive efforts in the upcoming regular season resemble those that were seen during the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series against the Pittsburgh Penguins? Let's hope not.
While Laviolette's squad still boasts four good forward lines, he will need most of those twelve men to play steady two-way games in order to improve his team's overall defensive scheme. Clearly questions about Ilya Bryzgalov and Michael Leighton will also persist unless they consistently lock down the crease.
Of course concerns about the Flyers' roster, or any NHL team's players, will be suspended if a new collective bargaining agreement isn't reached.
No one truly wants to see the League go dark this fall. However, a compressed season proved to be highly successful in 1994-95. A similarly condensed schedule might offer the Flyers' organization its best chance to succeed.
If this hockey year doesn't start on time, a chunk of highly emotional fans will react in a variety of understandable and expected ways. Loyalists who are also logical are currently preparing for the future. Their plans involve shifting interest to minor league team(s) and money to their local hockey economies.
Sean O'Brien is based in the Philadelphia region. He has written professionally for over two decades and is currently a Featured Contributor for Yahoo! You can follow him on Twitter @SeanyOB and also read his daily Sports Blog: Insight.
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