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Flyers' deals for Coburn, others, make defensive corps priciest in NHL

The best way to make a goaltender in today's NHL look good - without paying the biggest name the most money - is to have the best defense.

The Flyers added Jody Shelley (above), Andrej Meszaros, and Sean O'Donnell to bolster their defense.  (AP Photo/ David Duprey)
The Flyers added Jody Shelley (above), Andrej Meszaros, and Sean O'Donnell to bolster their defense. (AP Photo/ David Duprey)Read more

The best way to make a goaltender in today's NHL look good - without paying the biggest name the most money - is to have the best defense.

By opening up their checkbook on the first day of free agency yesterday, the Flyers did just that by assembling the most expensive defense corps in the NHL. They did so with the additions of Andrej Meszaros in a trade from Tampa Bay and the signings of Braydon Coburn and Sean O'Donnell.

The Flyers now have $22.9 million tied up next season among six defensemen.

Most of the NHL's top teams spent money on defense yesterday: Pittsburgh shelled out $45 million in long-term deals for Paul Martin and Zybnek Michalek; while New Jersey added Henrik Tallinder and Anton Volchenkov for $39 million. Vancouver added the elusive Dan Hamhuis for $27 million, and Ottawa netted Sergei Gonchar for $16.5 million.

After signing Michael Leighton to a 2-year contract extension on Tuesday night, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren's biggest item remaining on the offseason checklist was to re-sign Coburn, a restricted free agent.

Coburn, 25, signed a 2-year, $6.4 million contract that will make him the Flyers' fifth-most expensive defenseman next season, behind Kimmo Timonen, Chris Pronger, Matt Carle and Meszaros.

It's a big raise from the $1.3 million Coburn earned last season, which Holmgren acknowledged earlier in the week was a bargain for his minutes and role. The two sides weren't close to an extension during the regular season and for much of the offseason.

"I wouldn't say it's been stressful," Coburn said. "I think Mr. Holmgren and my agents did a good job of hammering out a deal, and it got done. I think everyone was pretty optimistic that it was going to get done, and I think it got done in a pretty timely and good fashion.

"I like the group we've got, and I think with [yesterday's] additions, I think that definitely makes our 'D' corps . . . It's got to be one of the top in the league, I would think."

Just before the Flyers re-signed Coburn, they added a more expensive option in a trade with the Lightning. The Flyers traded a second-round pick in 2012 to Tampa Bay for Meszaros, 24, who brought with him a 4-year deal with $16 million remaining.

Meszaros (pronounced MEH-zahr-ohsh) found success early in his career with Ottawa - with 35 or more points in three straight seasons - but had not lived up to expectations in Tampa the last two seasons after signing a big deal.

Few expected the Flyers to target Meszaros.

"I was surprised, for sure," Meszaros said. "I did not expect that. But that's hockey, it's hockey life; trades are part of it. I'm excited. Philadelphia is always a tough team to play against, and now I'm joining them, so it's great."

Aside from 2008-09, when he missed time with shoulder surgery and a fractured jaw, Meszaros has missed only one game in his other four seasons in the NHL. Last year, he had six goals and 11 assists as a minus-14 in a disappointing season, but is known for his big shot from the point.

"We figured the marketplace was going to be north of 4 [million] for the defenseman that we were looking for," Holmgren said. "We really like him. He's still got a lot of upside. I think fitting in with our group here, it's just a real good fit. We're very pleased to have him. We jumped on that."

The Flyers strayed off the beaten path again to sign O'Donnell, another free-agent defenseman, who played the last two seasons in Los Angeles with the Kings.

O'Donnell will earn $1 million this season - a $250,000 cut from his pay last season - but has the opportunity to earn more with performance-based bonuses. He will be relied upon by the Flyers as the anchor of their blue-line unit, likely as the sixth defenseman.

O'Donnell, who will turn 39 in October, came to the Flyers with the high recommendation of Chris Pronger. O'Donnell and Pronger were defensive partners in 2007 when they helped bring a Stanley Cup to Anaheim.

"We've been friends for a long time, and he can be very persuasive," O'Donnell said of Pronger. "He thought it would be a good fit. I'm at a point in my career where the dollars are what they are. It was just a matter of finding a spot where I could fit in on that bottom pair and really make a contribution."

O'Donnell, who has finished with a minus rating only twice in 15 NHL seasons, said Holmgren contacted his agent within the first 5 minutes of free agency, opening at noon yesterday. He was a plus-14 with 15 points last year for the Kings.

He made it clear he came to Philly not just to play with Pronger, but to win.

"This isn't really about money, this is about I'd like to win one more time," O'Donnell said. "If I didn't think Philly was in that group of teams that was right there on the cusp, I wouldn't have signed with Philly. I think I can really bring a steady presence to that last defensive unit."

Overall, it was a busy day for the Flyers, who can either sign one more forward or head into next season with the expectation of using someone from the Phantoms.

"We're very pleased with what we did," Holmgren said. "We significantly upgraded our defense. There's still guys out there. We'll continue to look around and listen and see if there's a fit, whether it's a trade or through free agency, but we're always looking to make our team better. We think we made our team better today, but we'll continue to look."

For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at