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Flyers have several options in patching up blue line

by Dave Lozo

The Philadelphia Flyers haven't played a game since May, yet they've suffered more catastrophic losses to their blue line during the summer than most teams face throughout a season.

Matt Carle signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning as a free agent. The news on Chris Pronger's concussion hasn't been positive and he can't be counted on this season. Now Andrej Meszaros is out indefinitely -- perhaps the entire regular season -- after surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon Tuesday.

That doesn't even include the failed attempt to sign Shea Weber, who put his name to a lucrative offer sheet only to see it matched by the Nashville Predators.

The loss of Meszaros, who averaged 20:39 of ice time last season, leaves the Flyers' defense corps with Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn at the top, Luke Schenn and Nicklas Grossman as the second pairing, and Andreas Lilja and Bruno Gervais rounding out the six blueliners.

The Flyers have plenty of cap room to either sign a free agent or make a deal to bolster the back end. What will general manager Paul Holmgren do? Here are some of his options.


Meszaros out indefinitely after surgery
Philadelphia Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren announced on Tuesday that defenseman Andrej Meszaros will be sidelined indefinitely after undergoing surgery to repair a torn right Achilles' tendon. READ MORE ›

1. Sign an unrestricted free agent: The pickings were slim on July 1 and it's bare bones out there in early August.

Pavel Kubina joined the Flyers at the trade deadline but has gone unsigned. The best of what's left on the market includes Carlo Colaiacovo, Chris Campoli, Michal Rozsival and Jaroslav Spacek.

Meszaros (25 points in 62 games) brings an offensive element to his position, as does Spacek, but at 38 years old, he's not the equal of Meszaros defensively. There are questions about every available d-man out there, so Holmgren will likely look for someone inexpensive to take a one-year deal to bolster the potential Gervais-Lilja combo.

2. Sign a restricted free agent: Not much of an option. It's one thing to give arguably the best defenseman in the NHL a mega-offer sheet, but going after P.K. Subban or Michael Del Zotto would be fruitless.

The Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers would match almost any offer sheet to retain them, unless it's a long-term deal for far more money than the players are worth. That wouldn't make sense for Holmgren, who could have Meszaros back by the end of the regular season. Even if Meszaros is lost for the season, signing an RFA to a long-term deal is going too far to replace someone for one season. Besides, if Holmgren wanted to make a run at an RFA defenseman not named Weber, he would have done it already and it wouldn't have been a reactionary move after an injury.

3. Make a trade: Holmgren has shown his willingness to go the trade route, and that may be his best chance to land an impact player if he can find a willing partner.

One name getting attention is Dan Boyle of the San Jose Sharks, who has two years and a little more than $13 million left on his deal. But at 36, Boyle hasn't shown any signs of slowing and the Sharks fancy themselves Stanley Cup contenders. Stanley Cup contenders don't part with one of their top two defensemen without getting something great in return. Also, Sharks GM Doug Wilson just made a big move last summer by adding Brent Burns because he wanted to improve his defense, so it's not likely he'd retreat from that belief after one season.

If Holmgren does make a trade for a defenseman, it will probably be for depth.

Erik Gustafsson
Erik Gustafsson
Defense - PHI
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 5
SOG: 18 | +/-: 12
4. Go with what he's got: Marc-Andre Bourdon, 22, and Erik Gustafsson, 23, might be the best, most cost- and asset-effective options.

Gustafsson played in 30 games for the Flyers last season as a rookie and had five points and a plus-12 rating. He also played in seven Stanley Cup Playoff games and had a goal and an assist.

Bourdon, who is an RFA, had four goals and three assists in 45 games in his first NHL season and brings a more physical aspect to the game than Gustafsson.

"We've got young kids we like," Holmgren said on the Flyers' website Tuesday. "Marc-Andre Bourdon played a lot of games for us last year. Erik Gustafsson played a fair amount. Brandon Manning (zero points in four games) got his feet wet. So we do have some kids that we like. We have four guys with a lot of experience in front of them. We'll see where it goes."

Holmgren sounds content to give his young defensemen a chance. If the options via free agency and trade aren't significantly better than what he has, it might be his best option.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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