Defensive depth – both blessing and curse?

By JAY BOEHMER
Senior Hockey Insider — jboehmer@highhopesblog.com
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Matt Walker will miss 10-12 weeks, according to GM Paul Holmgren. (Photo: AP)

Coming into this season, the Flyers were touted as having one of the strongest and deepest defensive corps in the league. With veteran stars such as Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen backed up by young studs like Braydon Coburn, Matt Carle, and Andrej Meszaros, their blue line is one of the most intimidating around.

Early on in the year, that’s already proving itself to be a major blessing. GM Paul Holmgren announced today that 30-year-old defenseman Matt Walker – acquired in the trade that sent Simon Gagne to Tampa Bay – will undergo hip surgery that will keep him on the sidelines for the next 10-12 weeks.

Walker’s injury, sustained during a fight with New Jersey’s Pierre-Luc Leblond in the Flyers’ preseason opener on September 21st, has kept him out of play until this point. His spot has been filled by Sean O’Donnell.

Given the Flyers’ almost excessive depth at the position, it will be difficult for Walker to find a spot on the roster even when he returns from this injury sometime around the start of 2011. Aside from Walker and O’Donnell, Oskars Bartulis continues to vie for the sixth spot on this eight man defensive squad. Last season, after playing only ten games through the injury-ridden fall of 2009, the the 23 year old Latvian was impressive enough to earn a 3 year contract extension.

Bartulis still has developing to do, and he will need more game experience to truly accomplish that. Unfortunately, with a safer and more reliable option in O’Donnell, he’s only been in the lineup for two games, playing until Chris Pronger’s return bumped him back down to a healthy scratch. Barring another injury or a severe drop in the play of O’Donnell, Bartulis appears stuck there as a victim of this team’s immense depth.

So while this talented lineup has already shown its worth with a major injury like this being taken in stride, it may also be a curse with the possibly stunted growth of young talent such as Bartulis. It’s a sacrifice that must be made, however, as this team finally has the strength on all three lines to be a major contender come time for the playoffs.

In the meantime, it’s a matter of taking it game by game for this team – focusing on simply making it there.

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Filed under Breaking News, Jay Boehmer

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