THE FLYERS are in trouble.
Less than 2 weeks after nearly bolstering their blue line enough to make them the odds-on Stanley Cup favorite with the attempted addition of Shea Weber, the Flyers' defense corps took its second blow of the summer on Tuesday when Andrej Meszaros went under the knife.
Meszaros, 26, underwent surgery at Thomas Jefferson Hospital to repair a torn Achilles' tendon. According to the Flyers, Meszaros suffered the injury last week while training in his native Slovakia. The surgery was performed by noted foot specialist Dr. Steven Raikin.
Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said Meszaros will be out "indefinitely."
In the presumed absence of Chris Pronger and with top minutes-chewer Matt Carle bolting for Tampa Bay via free agency, the Flyers were clearly counting on Meszaros to have a bounce-back season after he missed nearly the entire spring because of a herniated disc in his lower back.
That plan has been blown into a million pieces at this point. And the options from here are less than inviting.
While recovery rates can vary based on the athlete, sport and severity of the injury, it would not be entirely unreasonable to suggest that Meszaros could be sidelined for the entire regular season. Phillies slugger Ryan Howard, of course, missed the better part of 9 months. Former Flyer Justin Williams missed a little more than 3 months last season with his Achilles' tear.
You just never know.
"You've really got to keep a positive outlook, because it's tough," Howard told NBC10 on Tuesday when asked to give Meszaros advice. "For me, I was laid up for 2 months, in the boot. Do what the doctors say and try to be positive."
Regardless, the Flyers, who failed to land Weber when Nashville matched their $110 million offer, now have a serious hole in their lineup. The dropoff after Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Luke Schenn and Nick Grossmann is severe — and that is assuming both Timonen and Grossmann will be completely healthy. Grossmann underwent knee surgery this summer and Timonen, 37, finished the playoffs nearly on one leg.
Both Coburn and Schenn will be counted on for important minutes next season.
Meszaros was the Flyers' Barry Ashbee Trophy winner as the team's best defenseman in 2010-11. Since injured players cannot be "locked out," Meszaros will receive his $4.75 million salary in full this season, whether or not the NHL and NHLPA can come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement.
The Flyers also will receive a salary-cap cushion for his $4 million cap hit, to be spent on a replacement player, should he be added to the long-term injury list.
For the Flyers, money isn't the worry. It's the quality of Meszaros' replacement. Right now, the best option is on the trade market — by acquiring a player like Keith Yandle, from Phoenix. The Coyotes reportedly were shopping him at the June draft.
There are few interesting names left on the free-agent market, with the exception of Carlo Colaiacovo, who helped the St. Louis Blues to an NHL-best 165 goals-against last season. Colaiacovo, though, has the same issue as Meszaros: his body is unreliable. In his last 5 NHL seasons, he has averaged just 59.4 games. There is a reason he is still unsigned.
The rest of the market is full of depth players — and the Flyers already have more than they can count with veterans Bruno Gervais and Andreas Lilja, and green hands Marc-Andre Bourdon, Erik Gustafsson and Brandon Manning.
For now, the Flyers need to seriously evaluate their back end. Short of Coburn and Co. morphing into a group of Bobby Orrs, Ilya Bryzgalov is guaranteed to have his hands full next season. And that's scarier than a bear in the woods.