While we’re still sorting out the latest version of the Flyers defense, what seems clear after two games is that the Flyers’ blue line may be no better than the collective unit they put on the ice last season.
Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere are a bonafide top pairing that blends Provorov’s steady unflappable presence to go along with Ghost’s dazzling playmaking ability, and together they have found a successful workable chemistry.
Although not ideal, Andrew MacDonald and Robert Hägg are a serviceable second pairing as Hägg continues his development.
However, this defense could be a slight downgrade if Christian Folin continues to have the adventurous moments that led to a rough and bumpy first period in Colorado Saturday, where the Avalanche came hard at the Flyers with an aggressive forecheck. Folin appeared to wilt under the pressure with a number of turnovers and costly mistakes, including one that led to J.T. Compher’s goal and a 2-1 Colorado lead.
By the looks of Monday’s practice, Radko Gudas appears to be the right defenseman on that third pairing with Travis Sanheim for the home opener, but it’s only a matter of time before an injury beckons Folin back into the lineup.
Remember, last season, Dave Hakstol was forced to employ ten different defensemen through the first 14 games as they attempted to fill in the holes left by a myriad of injuries. Extreme as that may have been, it was also an eye-opener to how vital depth at defense can be.
If you want to know how quickly the wheels can fall off, the Flyers finished with a 3-6-6 record last season just in the games Andrew MacDonald missed from October to December, so one can only imagine how the Flyers would be crippled if they had to make due without Provorov or Gostisbehere for an extended period.
Folin’s one-year, $800,000 agreement suggests he was willing to accept just slightly more than the league minimum to stay in the league, and for the Flyers it was a depth signing to replace Brandon Manning, who the team chose not to bring back, and eventually signed with the Chicago Blackhawks for two years and $4.5 million.
Still, there was money to spend.
With their current 23-man roster, according to CapFriendly.com, the Flyers are a healthy $8.7 million under the cap ceiling.
One can argue the Flyers should have looked long and hard at Calvin de Haan, who opted to sign in Carolina for four years and $18.2 million, or possibly pursued Ian Cole, who elected to join the Colorado Avalanche on a three-year contract for $12.75 million.
In all likelihood, Ron Hextall explored the idea of spending up in an effort to upgrade his defense, but only on his terms, which would have required moving outside his comfort zone of term and cost. However, that’s typically the nature of free agency, where the marketplace is one that favors the player, not the buyer.
While no one regretted Manning’s departure, there was certainly hesitation surrounding Folin’s arrival and how he could stabilize a third pairing regardless of who he was teamed with.
Even if the Flyers had added de Haan or Cole over the next three to four years, their presence wouldn’t have necessarily held back a younger player like Phillipe Myers from making and even contributing to next year’s team. In addition, MacDonald and Gudas will be free agents after the 2019-2020 season, so unless they’re re-signed, Hextall will be searching for an alternative.
But there’s quite the spending disparity heading into a season with increased expectations. The Flyers are paying just $16.5 million for their defense, which puts them at 25th in the league, compared to the $47.4 million allocated to the forward position, which ranks as the fourth-highest.
The Flyers can only hope that keeping that money in their back pocket won’t eventually bite them in the butt.