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Is the Flyers' defense the best in the League?

Friday, 07.02.2010 / 12:43 PM / 2010 Offseason News

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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Is the Flyers' defense the best in the League?
Philadelphia's defense corps already was strong, but do the additions of Andrej Meszaros and Sean O'Donnell to the Chris Pronger-led group make them the best in the League?
If it's true that defense wins championships, the Philadelphia Flyers look to be in pretty good shape.

With Thursday's additions of Andrej Meszaros and Sean O'Donnell, plus re-signing Braydon Coburn, Philadelphia's top six -- Chris Pronger, Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen, Coburn, Meszaros and O'Donnell -- could be the best in the NHL.

It's a group that includes two Stanley Cup champions, a Norris Trophy winner, a Hart Trophy winner, a Hobey Baker winner, three first-round draft picks, a combined eight All-Star appearances and 10 Olympics.

"Anytime you can have Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen anchoring your blue line, that's a good start," Coburn said. "I like the group we've got. With the additions, I think that makes our (defense) corps … it's got to be one of the top in the League, I think."

It all starts with Pronger, who turned in another outstanding season. At age 35, he had 55 points and played all 82 games, but he was fifth in the League with an average of 25:55 per game, and in the postseason that number went up over 29 minutes per game.

"Over the course of the regular season, does Chris need to play 27 minutes a night?" asked Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren. "Probably not."

That's where Meszaros could step in. The 24-year-old averaged just over 20 minutes per game with the Lightning last season, when he finished with 17 points in 81 games. Prior to joining Tampa two seasons ago, he had three straight 30-point seasons with Ottawa.

"We are excited to add Andrej to our team and defensive group," Holmgren said. "Andrej is a young, durable defenseman who can play in all situations and will be a good fit on our club."

Meszaros was lauded by Rick Tocchet, his coach in Tampa, as well as Lightning teammate Martin St. Louis, for his toughness.

"He's just a guy that will play through any injury," St. Louis said. "He's tough kid. … He's a really tough kid who can take a lot of pain and play through a lot of pain."

"He's still a young player who's developing in the League," Holmgren said. "We know he's going to be a good player … he's going to help us a lot because of the way he skates, the way he can move the puck, and the way he can shoot. (Assistant GM) John Paddock was in Ottawa, he had him, he coached him, he knows him quite well. We just believe he’s a really, really good fit for our team."

He could team with O'Donnell on a new-look third pairing. The Flyers ended the Stanley Cup Final with Lukas Krajicek and Oskars Bartulis as a third set that rarely saw the ice, and when it did, Chicago was able to take advantage.

The 39-year-old O'Donnell won a Stanley Cup playing alongside Pronger in Anaheim in 2007, and spent the last two seasons in Los Angeles helping Drew Doughty grow into a Norris Trophy finalist. In 15 seasons with the Kings, Wild, Devils, Bruins, Coyotes and Ducks, he has 204 points, 1,699 penalty minutes and a plus-85 rating in 1,092 games.

"I think I'm a steady guy," O'Donnell said. "I think if something needs to be addressed as far as toughness out there, I don't mind doing that. I used to do it more than I do now, but I don't mind doing it. I know it's something the people in Philly enjoy and kind of expect from some of their players, but I think it's more of a calming thing.

"I think I can really bring a steady presence to that last defensive unit, and I think I can help on the penalty kill.  I've been a plus player pretty much my whole career, so I'm responsible in my own end. I think I calm things down. You're not going to see a lot of flashy stuff, and I think it's going to be one of those games where you don't notice me, but that's a good thing -- after 10 or 15 games, you're like, 'You know, we've never really talked about this guy, but he's been there every game.'"

Re-signing the 25-year-old Coburn also was a big move. The 6-foot-5, 220-pounder has developed into a solid second-pairing blueliner, and plays a big role on both the power-play and penalty-killing units. He averaged 25:09 per game during the postseason.

"I think this six-man defense, and with Bartulis also, matches up as well as anybody in the League."
-- Sean O'Donnell

"I love playing in Philly," Coburn said. "It's a great place to play. … For me to stay in Philly, obviously we've got an unbelievable team, and for me that's the first thing.  Right out of the starting gate, we're right back with contenders, and that's all you can ask for when you want to win."

All that blue-line bulk should make it far easier for whoever ends up in the Flyers' net. The team re-signed Michael Leighton, who backstopped them to the Stanley Cup Final, and have investigated bringing in Evgeni Nabokov and Marty Turco.

"I think this six-man defense, and with Bartulis also, matches up as well as anybody in the League," O'Donnell said. "I was fortunate enough to win a Cup with Anaheim, and that team was built on defense with Pronger, who you all know, and (Scott) Niedermayer and (Francois) Beauchemin and myself and some other guys. … With Chicago this year and with Philly getting to the (Stanley Cup) Final, I think it starts on the back end. That was one of the things that made the team really attractive, and I don't see why the team can't build on what happened last year and move forward."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com


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