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January 14, 2015

Hextall’s deadline dilemma

Injuries to potential chips Coburn, Grossman muddy trade waters

The Flyers start an interesting stretch of games starting tonight in Washington without staring goalie Steve Mason, along with regular defensemen Nicklas Grossmann and (more importantly) Braydon Coburn.

Although the season is only at its midpoint, the Flyers have an enormous hill to climb in terms of getting back in the playoff race. It is not in the club’s DNA to sacrifice a season in the hopes of improving its future success, but that might be the Flyers’ most logical direction.

The situation with Coburn is extremely interesting. He is again down with what is presumably -- and obviously -- a broken foot for the next four weeks. The irony here is that when most teams lose their top defenseman the team is seriously harmed.

But that is not the case here with Coburn.

From the start of the season, Coburn has been seriously hampered by the loss of Kimmo Timonen and the resulting status as the top guy. Coburn is not a No. 1, and that fact has shown up time and again on the ice. He has made critical mistakes and horrendous turnovers that you just don’t see with a team’s mainstay.
Grossmann would be a solid addition to a top-echelon team intent on making long playoff run, while Coburn would be both a short- and long-term solution.

And the reason is that he is not a mainstay. The mainstay was Timonen; all you have to do is look at the state of the Flyers’ penalty killing to see Timonen’s value.

If Coburn was viewed and used the way he should be – as a complimentary defenseman -- there wouldn’t be the errors, let alone the spotlight on the errors. The fact that the Flyers are 7-4-2 with him out of the lineup would not be such a grim fact.

There are no denying Coburn’s physical abilities and his workhorse capabilities in terms of ice time. He would be an incredibly valuable commodity to a team with a top defenseman or a top pair to play with him or in front of him.

For that reason, general manager Ron Hextall should be using Coburn as a huge chip at the trade deadline, with Grossmann as a lesser chip. Grossmann has lost enough of a step to cause a problem in gapping up the defense. Too often there is an exit alley into the neutral zone for opposition forwards.

However, Grossmann would be a solid addition to a top-echelon team intent on making long playoff run, while Coburn would be both a short- and long-term solution.

This is Hextall’s dilemma. He has a player who he knows will be coveted, and a player who he knows will be a solid addition to another team. There would be a very good chance you could see Coburn with a team like Boston or Detroit in a playoff series.

On the other hand, the Flyers have an incoming class of young defensemen due to arrive in the NHL over the next few seasons. It is up to Hextall to decide if Coburn is the guy they can lean upon; if he can add another defenseman to put Coburn in a more comfortable slot; or if Coburn’s biggest asset is as a trade chip.

And it is even more complicated by the injury status. Welcome to the job Mr. Hextall.