Flyers' defenseman Andrej Meszaros
When an agreement between the NHL and NHLPA to end the league's lockout was tentatively agreed on yesterday, many Flyers' fans donned orange and black with pride to celebrate the late arrival of a 2013 season.
After allowing a much needed day for rejoice, it's time to dive into the issues that the team faces heading into the 48-game season that begins in about two weeks.
The glaring weakness to start the season?
The Flyers face a scenario in which two of their top six defensemen will most likely not start the season and their seventh defenseman out as well.
Andrej Meszaros, who the Flyers consider one of their top 3/4 defensemen, tore his Achilles tendon over the summer and required surgery. Delaying the season a few months has certainly alloted Meszaros more time to nurture his injury, but he's still not 100%. Saying that he will miss a lot of time in the beginning of the season is pessimistic, but saying he plays in the opener is optimistic.
24-year-old Erik Gustafsson (+12 in 30 games in 2012) is still recovering from an ankle injury, and will likely start the season as a scratch for the Adirondack Phantoms. According to Phantoms writer Michael Cignoli, Gustafsson suffered a setback last week and is currently walking with crutches.
When he returns, he will need a few games with the Flyers' AHL affiliate to reacclimate himself to the game and work on his conditioning. Expect him back in Flyers' orange a few weeks into the season.
Marc-André Bourdon is another young defensive talent that the Flyers' organization will be without come the season opener. Bourdon suffered a concussion 17 games into the Phantoms' season and remains out indefinitely. He had four points (1 goal, 3 assists) for Adirondack before the injury.
Chris Pronger will most likely never play another game in the National Hockey League, so consider him out as a defensive candidate.
So who will Peter Laviolette plug into the glaring holes on defense?
The top candidates to fill-in at this point are veteran Andreas Lilja and free agent signee Bruno Gervais.
Lilja was a plus-9 with six assists and 34 asssists with the Flyers last season, average 13:41 of ice team in his 46 games played. The 37-year-old, who had offseason hip surgery, said that he "feels new again" and that he feels much younger than he did before the surgery. He is a solid plug-in blue liner that could help hold the Flyers' defense together until they're healthy again.
Gervais, who is Max Talbot's childhood best friend, is a 28-year-old right-handed defenseman that the Flyers signed to a two-year, $1.65 million contract this offseason. He played in just 50 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning last season, scoring 13 points (6 goals, 7 assists).
At full-strength, neither Lilja or Gervais would be in the Flyers' top three defensive pairings, but that's not the case. As it stands, they will most likely be the team's third defensive pair heading into the shortened 2013 season:
First pairing: Kimmo Timonen/Nicklas Grossmann
Second pairing: Braydon Coburn/Luke Schenn
Third pairing: Andreas Lilja/Bruno Gervais
C.J. Burns is a Flyers contributor for Buzz on Broad. Follow him on Twitter @CJBurns215.