At the start of the 2013 off-season, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren had four primary items on his agenda: upgrade the blueline, add size to the forward corps, offset the impending buyout of Danny Briere with a skilled forward for the second line and decide what to do with Ilya Bryzgalov and then find a more cost-efficient replacement in goal.
The acquisition of Vincent Lecavalier added a big and skilled center to the second line. Lecavalier may also see time time at wing on an experimental basis. The addition of Ray Emery in tandem with Steve Mason should give the club decent goaltending if the club improves its team defense.
As for the team defense, the team re-signed Adam Hall to offset the departure of Ruslan Fedotenko from the bottom end of the forward lineup. The blueline itself has only had one change to date: the addition of Mark Streit.
There is little doubt that Streit will help the team on breakouts and as a scoring threat on the power play. Those are the things he does very well. In terms of being a defender, however, Streit has always left something to be desired. He is an average skater, which means that he won't be able to recover when some of the offensive gambles he takes backfire. He's gotten better positionally over the years -- and is adept at blocking shots with his stick -- but would never a coach's first choice to guard the opposition's most dangerous players.
The ideal use for Streit at five-on-five play is as a defenseman who gets a lot of offensive zone starts. He started 56.4 percent of his even-strength shifts in the offensive zone last year with the Islanders; tops among New York defensemen who played 20 or more games. Islanders coach Jack Capuano also tried to keep Streit away from other teams' best attackers. Streit was fifth among Islanders' defensemen in terms of the offensive quality of opposition he faced in 2013.
Even so, Streit was a minus-14 at even strength this past season, which is partially a reflection of the Islanders' lack of depth beyond the Tavares line and partially a reflection of the fact that Streit himself is just not very good defensively. Streit averaged 23:20 of ice time per game last season (18:15 at even strength, 3:43 on the power power play, and 1:20 on the penalty kill), but the Flyers may not want to give the 35-year-old defenseman penalty killing duties except in situations where it's unavoidable.
Streit's best NHL career offensive season was a 13-goal, 62-point, minus-6 campaign for Montreal in 2007-08 (11:48 average even strength ice time, 4:52 average power play time, 0:49 average penalty killing time, 17:31 average overall ice time). That year, he led all Habs defensemen in 5-on-5 offensive zone starts (51 percent) and faced the lowest quality of offensive opposition (ranking sixth among Montreal's six most frequently used defensemen).
The Swiss defenseman's best all-around NHL season came with the Islanders the following year. In 2008-09, Streit posted a career-high 16 goals and a plus-six rating (one of just two plus-rated seasons in his NHL career to date) to go along with 56 points. He averaged 25:13 of total ice time (17:34 at even strength, 5:09 on the power play and 2:29 on the penalty kill). Streit led the Islanders defense corps with 56.4 percent of his even-strength shifts starting in the offensive zone and ranked third among the team's top six defensemen in terms of the defensive difficulty of the opposition he faced. He performed his job to the hilt that season.
Ideally, the Flyers would be able to use Streit in easier defensive matchups with frequent offensive zone starts. While many folks seem to have him penciled in to be paired with Braydon Coburn (assuming Coburn isn't traded this summer), doing that would mean Streit would see a lot more defensive zone starts than he would in a third-pairing role with heavy power play time. However, a Streit pairing with Coburn might work in terms of allowing Coburn to get back to more of the role he's been most effective playing rather than trying to make him into more of a puck mover.
Philly would also ideally like to have one puck-mover and one big-bodied defensive defenseman on each pairing, which would suggest the possibility of Kimmo Timonen being paired with Luke Schenn, Streit with either Coburn or Nicklas Grossmann and Erik Gustafsson with Grossmann or Coburn. Late last season, Gustafsson played a lot with Timonen (before Timonen sat out the final week of the regular season due to a foot injury) and the undersized pairing worked surprisingly well. So there's also a chance that Peter Laviolette could take another look at Gustafsson with Timonen and give Streit some shifts with Luke Schenn.
However, no matter how the particular combos shake out, pairing Streit with a defensive-minded defenseman is almost a necessity. Likewise, Laviolette will want to deploy Streit whenever possible in shifts that start with an offensive-zone faceoff.
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