The Flyers biggest need is painfully obvious: mobility at the blue line. While Braydon Coburn and Erik Gustafsson are good skaters, the rest of the Flyers defense corps consists of guys who are older (Timonen), slower (Schenn, Meszaros, Grossmann), or both old and slow (Hal Gill). In a perfect world, the Flyers would be able to trade for someone like St. Louis’s Alex Pietrangelo or Phoenix’s Keith Yandle without giving up a king’s ransom, but it’s unlikely they’ll get any star-quality defenseman without giving up multiple assets (ie. two of either Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, or Scott Laughton would be the starting point). As I’ve mentioned, Sean Couturier should be untouchable and while I’m not against trading Schenn or Laughton in the right move, I’d hate to see them both shipped out for one player in return. So instead of forcing a blockbuster trade, I’m going to list a few under-the-radar defensemen who aren’t superstars, but can certainly improve the Flyers’ defense. (Note: We’ll be discussing players’ Corsi Percentage and Corsi Relative along with traditional stats, so be sure to familiarize yourself with advanced stats here)
Age - 30
Contract - $4.5 million cap hit through 2017-18
Stats - 4G, 12A – 16 Pts; Corsi For %: 45.2; Corsi For % Relative: -4.8%
Tyutin has been one of the more underrated defensemen in the league during his tenure in Columbus. He takes on the toughest opponents every night and has the fewest percentage of offensive zone starts of any Blue Jackets defenseman. His overall Corsi percentage (shot attempts for vs. shot attempts against) is down due the dead-weight he carries every night in the form of Jack Johnson. Last year, Tyutin spent most his ice-time paired with either Johnson or Nikita Nikitin (who has an awesome James Bond villain name) and from the results, we can tell Tyutin was the one driving the bus. Both Johnson and Nikitin saw their Corsi percentages drop away from Tyutin, while Tyutin’s stayed the same when away from Nikitin and jumped to over 50% when he was away from Johnson. In short, Jack Johnson stinks and Tyutin would greatly benefit getting away from him. Putting Tyutin with Braydon Coburn would definitely improve his numbers.
Age - 24
Contract - $1.5 million through this season (RFA)
Stats - 4G, 8A: 12 pts; CF %: 52.1; CF% Relative: +1.7
Tanev is an impressive young defenseman from Vancouver who would certainly fit in on the Flyers blue line. Tanev faces tough competition in Vancouver every night and manages to keep his head above water. While Dan Hamhuis does most of the heavy lifting on the pairing, Tanev has shown improvement every year and has a bright future in the NHL. With Vancouver locked in to $4.5+ million salaries on four other defensemen through 2015-16, Tanev might be difficult to keep once he hits restricted free agency. If Vancouver tries to trade him, the Flyers should definitely be one of the first suitors in line.
Age - 30
Contract - $900,000 through this season (UFA)
Stats - 2G, 11A: 13 pts; CF%: 52.5; CF% Relative: +2.5
Tom Gilbert was one of this past summer’s biggest bargains, getting only a one-year, $900,000 deal from the Panthers despite a solid 2013 season with the Wild carrying around Clayton Stoner. In Florida, Gilbert partners with the much-better Brian Campbell and his numbers have gone up in nearly every measurable way. Lots of defensemen would get better playing next to Campbell, but Gilbert is holding his own with a 50.5% Corsi For when apart from him this season. He won’t set the world on fire with points, but Gilbert would be a valuable addition to the Flyers top-4 (and he’s unbelievably cheap).
Age - 23
Contract - $2.125 million through next season (RFA)
Stats - 3G, 9A – 12 pts; CF%: 47.1; CF% Relative: +3.9
Flyers fans got a look at TJ Brodie on New Year’s Eve in the 4-1 win over Calgary. Brodie was a 4th round pick by the Flames in 2008 and has been slowly working his way up the depth chart. In 2011, Brodie entered the NHL playing 16 minutes a night against weak competition in a third pairing role. Fast-forward to this season, Brodie is playing nearly 24 minutes a night against much tougher opponents and is keeping his head above water despite unfavorable zone starts. He’s a young, improving defenseman and Calgary again looks to be a seller at the trade deadline. Definitely worth an inquiry.
Age – 32
Contract – $2 million through this year (UFA)
Stats – 3G, 7A: 10 pts; CF%: 53.3; CF% Relative: +4.1
Ron Hainsey was available deep into the summer before signing a one-year, $2 million deal with Carolina and he’s played well following a somewhat down year in Winnipeg. Hainsey faced the toughest competition with unfavorable zone starts with the Jets in 2013 and his possession stats suffered. In Carolina this year, he’s facing a bit easier competition and has found himself back on the positive side of the shot attempt metrics. The Hurricanes and Flyers are in the same division, but Carolina has struggled of late and likely will find themselves out of the playoff picture around the trade deadline. Hainsey could easily slide into the Flyers second or third pairing.
The Flyers defense likely needs a superstar puck-mover to become a contender, but that doesn’t mean a smaller, periphery move couldn’t help the team either. This is just a short list of lesser known defensemen who could improve the weakest link on the Flyers blue line (coughMeszaroscough). The Flyers wouldn’t have to give up a major asset like Scott Laughton to acquire these players either. The team seems to be headed in the right direction of late, but that doesn’t mean they have a perfect roster. Grabbing any of these defensemen would make them better off for the stretch run.
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