Throughout his miraculous 24-year professional hockey career (eight overseas), the diminutive Kimmo Timonen has battled countless ailments, sprains, fractures, contusions, and lacerations, just to name a few; but he has always come out on top. Nothing has ever stopped the 5’10” 194-pound warrior from giving his all to complete the task at hand. That is, until the news hit the presses on Tuesday afternoon that Philadelphia’s longtime beloved Finn may, in fact, be human after all.
After years of forcing his undersized frame through superhuman tests of endurance, strength, and determination, the 39-year old’s body can no longer match the youth of his spirit. And in a surprising turn of events, it appears as if #44’s playing days may have come abruptly to an end.
It wasn’t a bone-jarring blow that did him in; nor a sacrificial torso donation made in an attempt to slow, divert, or altogether stop a vulcanized piece of rubber destined for the twine behind his goalie; no, this appears to have been nothing more than a spontaneously occurring episode of the human body gone amok.
Who would have thought that a professional athlete, in peak physical condition, would be subject to such an arbitrary, and yet dangerous, affliction such as multiple blood clots? But that is the situation that both the Flyers and their linchpin defenseman find themselves in going forward.
Most importantly, are these multiple blood clots life-threatening? career-threatening? Season-ending? Too many questions, little or no answers.
But despite Timonen’s salubrity, or lack thereof, the 14-15 NHL season will go on and that brings us to the question of what now to do with the Flyers already thin D-corps?
Welcome Back to the Metropolitan Division, Mr. Michael Del Zotto
I have long been one of the local Philadelphians who believe that the 24-year old, former Rangers defender Michael Del Zotto would be the perfect reclamation project for town often glorified for its comeback stories. And with one of the clubs top-4 blueliners facing career-threatening health concerns, it didn’t take long for General Manager Ron Hextall to bring in the enigmatic young player on a 1-year, $1.3 million deal.
Del Zotto, or “MDZ” as he is commonly referred, burst onto the the NHL scene as a 20-year old rookie during the 08-09 season, as he posted 9 goals and 28 assists and was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team. Just two seasons later he became an even more integral part of the Rangers dynamic defense crew as he managed 10 goals and 31 assists.
Stacking up statistics of that magnitude before the age of 23 would fast track most young defenders to stardom but a series of setbacks and miscues sent MDZ from blossoming star (mentioned alongside names like P.K. Subban and Erik Karlsson) into John Tortorella’s doghouse, Alaign Vigneault’s bottom pairing, and finally, after being dealt to Nashville, a regular on Barry Trotz’s list of healthy scratches.
It was a precipitous and unceremonious fall for the former first round pick, but if there’s one team in the NHL that can utilize Del Zotto and revitalize his career it’s probably these Philadelphia Flyers.
How the Blue Line Looks to Shape Out Now
Though the Flyers lose a ton of experience and leadership without Timonen in the locker-room, his time on the long-term injury reserve may actually be somewhat of a blessing in disguise. I would never wish injury on any player (especially something as serious as this), but it was clear towards the end of the 2013-14 season that Kimmo had lost more than a few steps. He was an absolute liability against the smaller, quicker forwards in the Rangers series; and it cost the team dearly. I was an advocate for letting him walk during free agency.
Now I’m not implying that a player (MDZ) with a career +/- of “-9” is the answer to all the Flyers defensive ills but Del Zotto brings a skill set that the Flyers blueline has sorely missed over the past several years. Far too often this team has found itself pinned deep in their own zone because of a lack of mobility on the part of the defenders, but that should be no issue with Del Zotto. He is essentially a fourth forward on the ice (which can be a double-edged sword).
Without Timonen’s lack of mobility the Flyers will now have Streit, Coburn, MacDonald, and Del Zotto, all mobile defenders who are capable of creating forward momentum with crisp and accurate outlet passes. That will leave Nicklas Grossmann, Luke Schenn, and Nick Schultz as the steady, stay-at-home types.
One major issue that Head Coach Craig Berube will face without Timonen going forward is how the powerplay functions. It’s probably a safe assumption that Mark Streit (10 goals 34 assists) will assume the role as #1 PP QB, while the likes of MacDonald and Del Zotto will battle to run the second PP unit.
And it’s not out of the realm of possibility that a youngster such as Union College hero/offensive dynamo Shayne Gostisbehere, slick Swede Robert Hagg, or steady two-way Phantom defender Mark Alt challenge for a spot out of training camp.
Although it’s never ideal to suffer potential career-ending injuries, it can be important to look at the bright side of these negative episodes. After all, it was the New York Yankees removal of star first baseman Wally Pipp in 1925 due to a headache that led to the implementation of the mythical Lou Gehrig. And the rest is history. Of course no one should have any misconceptions about Michael Del Zotto overtaking Kimmo Timonen on the list of Flyers greats; but sometimes new blood is a necessity.