Trades happen in the NHL. Good trades, bad trades, middle of the road trades; they happen. They’re a part of life and they’re difficult. For the players, they’re difficult because they often have to leave their families for another location that could be thousands of miles away. They have to make new friends and fit in with a new club, learn a new system. The money’s alright though, and pro hockey is just as much a business as much as it is a sport. Trades are also difficult on fans.
Difficult because they mean that a player you know no longer plays for your team. Difficult because it means that a new player you don’t know is coming to your team. Difficult because who knows who won the trade? Did someone win the trade? Will someone win the trade? Difficult because as fans, we get attached to players and what they do on the ice. Trades are difficult. Especially when they’re players you like.
Within this past week, the Philadelphia Flyers traded two players who have been the anchors of the top defense pairing on the team for the better part of a decade. Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen both have new homes and will likely finish their playing careers, especially in the case of Timonen, donning a different jersey than the one we’re all used to seeing them wear each and every game. The departure of these two players marks the end of an era in Philadelphia. That era was successful and yet also came up just a bit short of the ultimate goal: bringing a Stanley Cup to a city that hasn’t seen one since the mid-1970s.
Coburn was the longer tenured of the two, but not nearly as loved. He was a smooth skating defenseman who never quite used his big, 6’5”, 220 pound frame the way he could have. The hard, heavy shot he possessed was much talked about and rarely seen as well. Coburn certainly bore much more criticism for his play than Timonen did, and justifiably so at times, but when he was the team’s best defenseman on more than a few nights, he was never really praised. Coburn’s game was unfortunate in that it lent itself to criticism as it was more about keeping pucks out of the net than getting them in. His defensive lapses were easy to point out because they led to chances and goals the other way, while rarely did his superb play in the neutral zone and in his own zone lead to offensive contributions. That said, Coburn had an ability to play against the top lines of other teams and was part of a shutdown pair that was equal to many top pairings across the NHL for nearly a decade. That’s impressive any way you slice it.
Timonen was universally loved by every Flyer fan I’ve ever talked with about him during his time in Orange and Black. Sure, last year everyone probably got on him a bit as he had clearly lost a step and took a few more hooking and holding minors than he did in years past, but then he’d sail one past an opposing goalie from the top of the zone on the power play and all was forgiven. There’s really not enough that anyone can say about a guy who played through a billion injuries, seemed to block hard shots, limp off the ice, only to return the very next shift nearly every other game. Timonen was an outstanding defenseman from the moment he arrived until his last game as a Flyer in the playoffs last season. There’s no two ways about it. And it hurts to see both of these guys go.
It hurts because I rooted for both of them for nearly 10 years of my life. I wanted to see Timonen win. I wanted to see Coburn win. I wanted to see the Flyers raise the Cup with both of them in the picture at center ice. It hurts because I thought they would. It hurts because I have to root for the Chicago Blackhawks if the Flyers don’t make it to the playoffs, because I still want Timonen to win before he hangs up the skates for good. It hurts because it didn’t hit me until I saw him play against the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday. It also hurts because the next few years aren’t going to be easier with them gone.
This team will now go through a rebuild. A proper one. One that probably should have happened the moment they knew Chris Pronger would never play hockey again. And that’s okay. It’ll be fun when these kids they select start coming up and playing every night. It’ll be fun to see their career trajectories begin to take shape and to how they impact this team. It’ll be fun to see how things shake out too. We’ll get attached to some of them. We’ll cheer for some of them for 10 years. We’ll see some of them go on to do great things and get close and maybe even win a Stanley Cup. One thing’s for certain though, and it’s an inescapable part of pro hockey: trades will happen. Good trades, bad trades, middle of the road trades; they’ll happen. So brace yourselves accordingly and let’s go Flyers.