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Flyers Are Special When It Comes to Developing Defensemen

May 16, 2013, 2:52 PM EDT


There is plenty of blame to go around this offseason for the Flyers missing the playoffs, but for much of the year defense was their biggest pitfall. The back end was prone to turnovers and complete meltdowns that often led to rushes the other way, a situation no goaltender could possibly thrive.

The thing is, the front office tried to address the problem. The Flyers traded for Chris Pronger in 2009, but his career was cut short by post-concussion syndrome, leaving the club in a bind. They tried to sign Ryan Suter last summer, and gave Shea Weber a huge offer sheet in attempt to steal him away from Nashville. No luck.

Both efforts exposed the Flyers’ real problem though: they haven’t been developing any blueliners on their own. Tim Panaccio wrote at length about the organization’s crippling problem, but the crux of the issue is so powerful in its simplicity.

The Flyers are the only NHL club without a single active defenseman that they drafted since the decade began playing regular minutes for them – not someone else.

Think about that. Thirteen Flyers drafts. Not one every-day player on the Flyers’ blue line to show for it.

I would rather not think about that, thank you very much.

Panotch points to the front office’s reluctance to draft defensemen, instead taking the “best player available” approach. He further finds the lack of focus placed on building up the back end from in-house is an approach that dates back to the 1980s. As such, you find very few examples in recent history that the team drafted and developed into a top player.

Honestly, you have to go back to 1990 to find a defenseman drafted and developed by the Flyers who lasted here a significant amount of time and established himself on a No. 1 pairing.

That one player would be Chris Therien, who lasted a decade.

Since Therien was taken with the 47th pick (in the third round), the Flyers have drafted 198 players, including supplemental picks.

Of those 198 players, only three remain as surviving defensemen playing somewhere in the NHL:

It’s a fascinating albeit long read that makes you wonder why there is so little value or at least emphasis placed on the position.

The good news is the Flyers have some promising, young D-men who contributed this year and helped stabilize the back end toward the finish. Erik Gustafsson and Oliver Lauridsen earned more than lip-service opportunities to make the team next season through their performances, outplaying several veterans in the process – at least from this vantage point. Lauridsen was drafted by the team in 2009, while the team signed Gus as a free agent out of Northern Michigan University in 2010.

It’s too early to say whether either player will pan out though, much less become a top blueliner. Perhaps the Flyers should change up their strategy a bit with the 11th pick in the draft this summer.

>> Why haven’t the Flyers drafted and kept top defensemen? [CSN]

  1. mbtoole - May 16, 2013 at 3:00 PM

    Correction: The Flyers traded for Chris Pronger.

    • Andrew Kulp - May 16, 2013 at 3:03 PM

      My b.

  2. mykhuis - May 16, 2013 at 3:35 PM

    This has certainly been a long-time problem with the Flyers. A big chunk of said problem has to do with patience. Forwards mature the most quickly out of the three main positions; goalies take the longest, and defensemen are somewhere in the middle. You usually know what you’re going to get out of a forward at the NHL level by around age 23; for defensemen, it’s not until 25-26, and for goalies, usually closer to 27-28.

    Joni Pitkänen joined the Flyers when he was 20, and the club had apparently seen enough by the time he was a few months shy of 24. Dennis Seidenberg was traded for Petr Nedved at age 24. Jeff Woywitka is a third-pairing guy at best and the Flyers have those guys in spades so it doesn’t really matter. The point is that they gave up early on Pitkänen and Seidenberg, much like Atlanta did with Braydon Coburn (trading him to the Flyers for rental Alexei Zhitnik). Pitkänen eventually begat Chris Pronger (he was traded for Joffrey Lupul, who was later traded for Pronger) while Seidenberg was wasted on Nedved.

    Erik Gustafsson will turn 25 this year, and this past season we’ve begun to see what he is capable of. He was effective when paired with Luke Schenn, and he has shown glimpses of promise in the past as well (last season’s series against Pittsburgh comes to mind). The Flyers would do well to hold onto him. Lauridsen just turned 24, but unless Marc-Andre Bourdon is done I don’t see him having much more than a cup of coffee with the Flyers next year. Keep in mind he was only called up because Bourdon and Brandon Manning were out; he stayed because of injuries to Coburn, Grossmann, and Meszaros.

    Gustafsson will likely be a regular with the Flyers next year. The rest depends on what they do this offseason.

  3. TruthSayer - May 16, 2013 at 3:44 PM

    I don’t think this Flyers problem is limited to just defensemen, although they appear to be much worse on the blueliners for sure. How many bona fide stud centers/wingers have they drafted and developed on their own since 1990 that lasted more than 1-2 years with the club? They recently hit pay dirt with Giroux; and Richards and Carter were also pretty good picks. Prior to these 3 recent examples, name me an impact player drafted and developed by the Flyers who lasted here 5+ years. This stems from the Flyers being owned by a really rich guy, then a really rich corporate conglomerate with a mentality that they could “buy” whatever they needed. Lindros, LeCalir – trades. Rechhi – trade. Brind’Amour -trade. I’ll give em Gagne, Renberg.

    • Brett - May 16, 2013 at 4:05 PM

      Remember when Patrick Sharp was a Flyer? Unfortunately he was stuck behind Richards and Carter on the depth chart.

    • JoeSchmoe - May 16, 2013 at 5:14 PM

      There aren’t too many players that last more than five years on the club let alone so called studs since 1990. If you’re making that more open to interpretation, I’d say that Zuburus, Williams and van Riemsdyk all would fit into that category.

      The problem with the Flyers is they’re constantly a playoff team that can’t get beyond the first/second round. They constantly fill in the proper holes with the occasional free-agent or youth player but don’t seem to be built for long-term dominance. To me, this club needs to stink for five to ten years (i.e., the late 90′s-early 00′s Penguins or Capitals) and draft key guys that management and coaches will stick to. But that will never happen as the fans will be screaming bloody murder for putting a terrible team on the ice. Catch-22 in a city that over-reacts to everything.

      • Mary Samsonite - May 17, 2013 at 9:50 AM

        you might get your wish… with the new division format, the Flyers will have to be better than 4 teams in their own division to make the playoffs. A division that includes Caps, Pens, Rangers, Isles (all playoff teams this year) + the Devils. Not scared of the Canes or Blue jackets.

      • JoeSchmoe - May 17, 2013 at 11:10 AM

        That’s the thing. The Flyers will still make the playoffs, but get bounced out by a team like Jersey or the Rangers or something because they still have enough talent with guys like Giroux and Simmonds and Voracek and both Schenns and Mason and whoever else they roll out there. This team would have to be BAD… I mean trade off everyone to get awful and develop talent through the draft and the odd trade. That’s the only way this team can build for continued winning and dominance. And there’s no way management or the fans would buy into that plan especially with an existing team that constantly is getting tweeked and getting by on mediocre effort.

        Plus I think the Blue Jackets are going to suprise some people. They barely missed the playoffs and have a good foundation of young players. You only get better by playing tougher teams which is the way this new Atlantic division is shaping up to look like.

  4. Keith - May 16, 2013 at 4:50 PM

    What I find even more alarming is that Panotch can cram 13+ years into a decade.

  5. Hatter12 - May 16, 2013 at 4:56 PM

    FWIW – a lot of what I’ve read have the Flyers drafting for D this year at 11. Eithe this big Russian kid (Zadorov) or Darnell Nurse (McNabb’s nephew – you read that correctly).

    • TruthSayer - May 16, 2013 at 6:21 PM

      Nurse will be gone before No. 11 (by winning 6 of their last 7, these knuckleheads caused themselves to be at least 4-5 draft positions worse off). Russian defensemen scare me, and I do NOT mean the way Pronger scared wingers heading into his corner for a puck. If they are going for a Dman, and the Swede Ristolainen is still there, I’d take him.


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