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On Locking Up The Defensemann

Apr 7, 2012, 11:46 AM EDT

Thankfully, I've never been sick enough to warrant a Get Well Soon card. I have, however, gotten the requisite birthday cards, always opened with that "Will some cash or a check fall out?" anticipation. Well, yesterday, Nick Grossmann got a combination of both. Sidelined with a knee injury, The Defensemann received and signed a 4-year contract to stay in Philadelphia.
Thankfully, I’ve never been sick enough to warrant a Get Well Soon card. I have, however, gotten the requisite birthday cards, always opened with that “Will some cash or a check fall out?” anticipation. Well, yesterday, Nick Grossmann got a combination of both. Sidelined with a knee injury, The Defensemann received and signed a 4-year contract to stay in Philadelphia, as Nick covered yesterday
The digits appear relatively favorable for the club (4 years, $14 mil; $3.5 mil cap hit), which has seen improved rearguarding since trade deadline deals brought Grossmann and Pavel Kubina to town. The Flyers had steadily been among the league’s worst in allowing goals, surviving on their ability to light the lamp at a higher clip than most nights’ opponents. But Grossmann and Kubina brought size and experience to the blue line, and along with improved goaltending, the Flyers have become a more balanced team. 
As I imagine was the case for most Flyers fans, Kubina was the more recognizable commodity at the time. We’ve seen much more of him over the years, and his name is usually thrown around when deadlines approach. However, it’s been Grossmann who’s had the bigger impact since coming over. 

Without Chris Pronger, the Flyers had only two bigs on the blue line—Coburn and Andrej Meszaros. Grossmann’s impact was immediate, bringing an ability to clear the porch and reliably manage the attacker under his charge. Puck-moving ability is key for defensemen in the Flyers’ system, and it’s not a particular strength of Grossmann’s. But the team already had vertical mobility, and it’s not as though Grossmann is a sieve with the puck on his stick. In fact, he’s appeared better than advertised in nearly every way. 

Our intel on Grossmann was decidedly thin when he came over. Due to the NHL’s conference-heavy scheduling and his playing in Dallas, we knew little of him before reading the trade-day descriptions that basically all said the same things. Dallas dealt him in part due to a perceived inability to retain him when he became a free agent this coming summer; his star had also fallen in Big D, where he was moved from the top pairing to the second. 
It appeared at the time of the deal that the Flyers would give the 27-year-old, 6’3″/227 Grossmann a solid look, and if he panned out as expected, bolster the defense for the next few seasons by inking him to an extension. 
That’s exactly how it has played out, despite the interesting timing of his signing coinciding with a knee injury. Grossmann already wears a brace on one knee, and Joe Vitale’s hit injured the other one. There’s no definite timetable on his return (or at least, one has not been given aside from “day to day”). The Flyers must be pretty confident that the injury is minor and transient though, or they wouldn’t have consummated the deal. 
BLUE LINE LANDSCAPE
What the Grossmann contract says about the team’s overall defense plan is unclear. 
Uncertainty abounds on the blue line’s horizon, where Kimmo Timonen has one year left on his contract and quite possibly his NHL career. Chris Pronger’s NHL future is uncertain at best, though the book is not yet closed. Matt Carle will be a coveted free agent when the spending season opens this summer, unless the Flyers extend him first, which could be tough with the market often friendly to players who fit his description. Pavel Kubina has said he’d like to be re-signed by Philly, but if that happens, it’d likely have to be at a much lower cap hit than his current $3.8 mil. Andrej Meszaros has two more seasons left on his current deal, both at $4 mil per, though he could always be dealt, and the Flyers made Braydon Coburn their cornerstone this past fall when they extended him through 2015-2016 at $4.5 mil per season. (Figures in this section courtesy of CapGeek.com.)
Hamstrung by the uncertainty of Pronger’s future and the permanence of his 35+ contract, the Flyers have lined up Coburn and Grossmann as fixtures, but most other slots could be in play going forward. As usual, they’ll be linked to any defenseman looking to change addresses this summer. 
The team has overcome tremendous bad luck with their defensemen, from Pronger’s severe concussion to a slew of injuries throughout the season. Meszaros is likely out until the second round timeframe at best, Grossmann is “day to day,” and a career’s worth of long minutes has taken its toll on Timonen. And yet, the Flyers are a contender when the playoffs begin next week. Paul Holmgren’s deals to bring on defensive depth may have saved the season, as well as being tryouts for the future. 
Yesterday, the team anted up on Grossmann, who appears to be a safe bet provided his knees hold up.