If the Olympics have taught us anything, it’s that glory can evaporate in minutes, even seconds. For the Philadelphia Flyers, they haven’t even reached the starting line yet and the news is awful. Well, relatively awful.
Defenseman Andrej Meszaros may not play in 2012-13 due to an Achilles tendon tear that required surgery. At the least, he’ll miss most of the campaign. With Chris Pronger an uncertainty due to concussion symptoms, Matt Carle back in Tampa with the Lightning and Shea Weber still a member of the Nashville Predators, the Flyers’ blueline looks perilously thin. All due respect to new additions Bruno Gervais and Luke Schenn, of course.
As it is now, things could go very bad very fast for Philly’s ‘D’ corps. Kimmo Timonen is the No. 1 rearguard right now, but he was also expected to have back surgery in the off-season and is now 37. The Flyers do have young talent such as Marc-Andre Bourdon and Erik Gustafsson, but neither are the impact players Philly has up front in Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn and Matt Read. And therein lies the challenge for GM Paul Holmgren.
With the Weber offer sheet, Holmgren made a bold statement to the rest of the NHL’s managers and I’d have to think there are more than a few now looking back in Philly’s direction, wondering which talented young forward they can snatch up in a trade. Which, of course, would be horrible for the Flyers.
This is a team built to last. Sure, the goaltending of Ilya Bryzgalov was more roller-coaster than any fan would have liked, but the Flyers still boast an impressive array of weapons up front, from the trio of kids mentioned prior to Danny Briere, Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell. This team will score. We know that.
But if the Flyers don’t make a run to or near the Stanley Cup this season because of a bullet-ridden blueline, it’s not the end of the world. And the threat of an early post-season exit should not predicate any rash moves by Holmgren.
Flipping through the past few installments of our annual Future Watch issue, I was struck by something: the Flyers are usually one of the worst represented, especially on the back end. Whereas most teams have at least one or two D-men flourishing as teens in junior, vying for spots on world junior squads, Philly’s top hopes were already in the American League, floundering in Adirondack.
The bizarre thing is the Flyers have still managed to churn out great young players lately. Brayden Schenn was on the cover of Future Watch, while still property of the L.A. Kings, before the Mike Richards trade. Couturier never made the issue because he went straight from the draft to the NHL – thanks to the high selection Holmgren garnered in the Jeff Carter deal with Columbus. And Read was signed as a college free agent out of Bemidji State, playing 11 games with Adirondack after his year in Minnesota was finished, then jumping right up to the Flyers for his stellar 47-point freshman campaign. So the Flyers can find talent – and they should hold on to it.
I recognize the Philadelphia fan base wants a winner now – despite some close calls, it has been decades since the last Cup victory in town – but sometimes fate just tells you to slow down. The same Orange and Black franchise was killed in 2006-07 by injuries, but rebounded with the signing of Briere and the goodies accrued from players shipped out during the freefall.
I still don’t think the Flyers will be bad this season, despite their run of bad luck. You’re still looking at a playoff team, just not one that gets home-ice advantage. And hot teams can still win the Cup if they peak at the right time. So try not to worry, Philly fans…or at least try to try.
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN's associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.