VOORHEES - Remember Shea Weber?
Before the 113-day NHL lockout, the Philadelphia Flyers struck out in their bid to acquire an elite defenseman to replace Chris Pronger. Instead, they settled for what they hope is the next-best thing: A bunch of guys who at least are built like Pronger.
The Flyers likely will open the season (3 p.m. Saturday at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins) with five of their six defensemen checking in at 6-foot-2 or taller, counting on sheer size to help compensate for a relative lack of talent.
"We had some big guys here before," coach Peter Laviolette said this week after a practice at Flyers Skate Zone. "Pronger, obviously, is a towering person, and there's been others as well. It's nice to get big guys back there - especially if they can skate and move, and move the puck efficiently out of our end. It can be a little bit more difficult to play against."
The 6-foot-6 Pronger's Hall of Fame career likely is over due to post-concussion syndrome. The 38-year-old has not played since November 2011.
The Flyers also lost Pronger's defense partner, Matt Carle, in free agency.
They replaced those two by trading for Luke Schenn, a 23-year-old who has not lived up to being the No. 5 overall pick in the 2008 draft, and signing journeymen Bruno Gervais and Kurtis Foster.
Foster is 6-5, 225 pounds. Schenn is 6-2, 229 pounds and led all NHL defensemen in hits last season with 270 for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
They join a group that already includes Braydon Coburn (6-5, 220), Nick Grossmann (6-4, 230) and Andrej Meszaros (6-2, 223).
Laviolette said each of those players uses his size differently. Foster, for example, is known for a heavy slapshot from the point, while Grossmann excels at clearing the crease on penalty kills.
"Regardless," Laviolette said, "it's a lot of man to get around or to go through or try and go over."
The players themselves said not to sell them short because of their size, though.
"I think we've got pretty good mobility," said Coburn, the team's longest-tenured player as he enters his seventh season in Philadelphia. "Our team is an attack-oriented team. We're a team that moves and we've got guys who can skate. I think we've got a good combination of skating and size back there."
The Flyers' best defenseman, after all, is 5-10 Kimmo Timonen, whose specialty is his puck-moving ability.
Timonen, who turns 38 in March, made his fifth All-Star game last season. He has been paired with Coburn in recent years but has practiced alongside Schenn in camp so far. Coburn has been paired with Grossmann, and Meszaros has played with Foster.
"He's so smart out there," Schenn said of Timonen. "He's such a calm presence. … To get the chance to practice beside him so far, I think it's been awesome."
Timonen's age is a concern, especially during a condensed season due to the lockout. Also, Meszaros is coming off an offseason Achilles injury.
But the team's depth on the blue line should be a strength. Due to injuries, 13 defensemen played for the Flyers last season, and many of them are back this year.
In addition to their top seven, the Flyers have six more defensemen in the organization who have NHL experience. That includes two young players who could challenge Foster for the No. 6 spot once they get healthy: Erik Gustafsson (foot) and Marc-Andre Bourdon (post-concussion syndrome).
"Whoever's playing well is going to be playing," newly named captain Claude Giroux said, "so we're not too worried about that."
Whoever is in the lineup, fans shouldn't expect the Flyers to change their attacking style to compensate for their lack of an elite defenseman. Team chairman Ed Snider said earlier this week that he thinks the Flyers will "tighten up" defensively, but Laviolette said not to read too much into that.
"I think teams always want to play good defense," the coach said. "They always want to take care of their own end.
"I can tell you that the first thing I said to my team is that we're going to attack. We're going to put pucks behind and we're going to go after it. We'll do that. But that doesn't mean that we can't take care of our own end."
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