Photo credit: Amy Irvin (38Photography)
First and foremost: let’s admire what a beautiful shot the above photograph is… Absolutely stunning. Now, let’s get down to business: a 39 year-old defenseman who has been the backbone for the Philadelphia Flyers’ defense corps since 2007 is back on the ice today. The guy in the picture above actually. Kimmo Timonen is skating for the first time this season since being sidelined with blood clots. For all intents and purposes this is good news. It’s good that Kimmo is healthy. It’s good for hockey too because Kimmo is still a good player, even if he is older. But what does this all mean for the Philadelphia Flyers?
The Flyers are very close to the cap, or over it really at this point. If Timonen re-joins the team and is activated from LTIR then the team will no doubt have to make moves and there have been multiple stories written about how if he plays, the contract he signed was bonus-laiden and will absolutely do a number on the Flyers’ spending ability next year which is already in all sorts of trouble due to reports of how the cap won’t be rising all that much if at all. That being said, Timonen almost instantly makes every team he joins better. His skill with the puck, his ability to defend the zone, his outlet passing expertise, his vision, his shot, his calming veteran presence, all of these things will contribute to helping a team be a better version of the current one it is now and that includes Philadelphia.
The other thing is that the Flyers still sit nine points out of the playoffs after last night’s shootout loss to the New York Islanders. That said, they are 6-3-1 in their last 10 and if they continue that trend up, they will likely find themselves just a few points out of a playoff spot when March rolls around, and that kind of is the problem: do the Flyers trade Timonen for what should be a pretty good return, or do they hold onto him and hope that they can sneak into the playoffs in a year where the Eastern Conference is absolutely wide open?
It’s an interesting conundrum. The numbers say that the Flyers won’t make the playoffs and in all likelihood, being nine points out in early February is a death knell. Let’s face it, this team isn’t a contender against most teams in the Eastern Conference right now… Except for the part where they are, especially when they play like they have the last six games or so.
Reaching a level of consistency has been a season-long, or few years long depending on how you look at it, issue for this club. They are inconsistent. They don’t have an identity other than a team who rarely gets up for games and then sometime in the second period they get their shit together and start playing like an actual, bonafide National Hockey League team. They have their warts. But so do the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Detroit Red Wings, the Montreal Canadiens, the New York Islanders, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the New York Rangers, the Washington Capitals, the Boston Bruins, and the Florida Panthers. Those are all teams ahead of the Flyers in the standings.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are, top to bottom, the best team in the Eastern Conference. They have the best record. They’ve won the most games in real game scenarios with 31 regulation or overtime wins. But they are 21-4-1 at home and only 12-11-4 on the road. Meaning if they play another team, say like the Boston Bruins, who are also quite good at home, and that series goes the distance, well what then?
Then there’s the New York Islanders who lead the Metropolitan Division. They’ve been a pleasant surprise and have a balanced record at home and away. They have a ton of offensive talent and outshoot opponents on a consistent basis. They score a ton of goals doing that. 163 in fact. The thing is that while they score a ton of goals, they also allow a lot of goals, especially at even strength, where most of the games in the playoffs are played. The Islanders have scored 107 goals at five-on-five, while they’ve allowed 97. They also don’t have a ton of playoff experience and well, that can hurt a team just as much as it can help one.
As far as the other playoff teams: the Flyers own the Penguins, can skate with Detroit and Montreal, are even with the Capitals, but are hit or miss against the Bruins. The only team that’s a really, really bad draw for this club would be the Rangers who, even if Philadelphia did sneak in, probably wouldn’t be facing them until the semi-finals or the Eastern Conference Final. The thing with the East is that there are no Boston Bruins of years past in that no team is worlds better than any other. So what to do with Timonen… hmm…
Trading him to a team is probably the best option and there are options, but most of them should be out West considering the highly volatile nature of the Eastern Conference. The Nashville Predators, Timonen’s first and longest tenured home in the NHL. The Anaheim Ducks, a powerhouse offensive team with a need for a second pairing defenseman who can contribute. The San Jose Sharks, who could use a veteran presence and some character on the blue line. The Chicago Blackhawks, because why not?
All of these teams could certainly use a guy who can quarterback a power play, take tough minutes on the penalty kill, and provide depth, experience, and skill to a defense corps. It also gives Timonen a shot, a real, tangible shot at winning the Stanley Cup, which he’s publicly stated as the reason he’s even attempting a return to the ice this year besides being a great player and wanting to go out with his skates on rather than a pair of loafers. Regardless of the outcome of the next month of hockey, I just hope that whatever the team and Timonen decide is the best course of action, that Kimmo gets his chance to put his name on the Stanley Cup again because he deserves it.