Better With Popcorn

Coburn's Nightmare Season Likely Ends

General Manager Paul Holmgren announced on Friday that Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn will be out indefinitely with a separated shoulder. With only a handful of games left in the season, this likely means his season is done.

The length of his departure all depends on the degree of his shoulder's separation, but risking further injury in a season like the one that has unfolded makes close to zero sense. Coburn's departure has promped a callup of Adirondack Phantoms defenseman Oliver Lauridsen. 

Originally a steal in the trade from the Atlanta Thrashers for Alexei Zhitnik back in 2007, the 28-year-old Saskatchewan native posted just five points through 33 games—a stark contrast to his 36 point season in 2007-08. His point production has sharply decreased since that point to the lowest it has ever been in his career as a Flyer by far.

A blip in the radar, perhaps, but with a team so starved for defense, they needed Coburn more than ever this season. He has the tools to be a solid shutdown defenseman with some offensive upside. Said tools didn't show up at the start of the season, and they haven't been there since.

He earned the league lead in minor penalties this year, racking up 41 penalty minutes. His most common infraction this season is interference, committing that penalty seven times. High-sticking comes in second place with four infractions.

Plus/Minus can be an arbitrary stat, but in losses, Coburn holds a -14 mark. He finds himself amongst the worst in the business in that stat; his -10 overall is 745th out of 779 players. Most of the players buried that low consist of wingers that play zero defense, or Brian Campbell.

Funny enough (or not, depending on your perspective), many Flyers such as Claude Giroux (-11), Andrej Meszaros (-9), Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek (-8) join Coburn in the depths of the NHL in this stat. Again, arbitrary, but a theme of just how bad this team is defensively.

Putting it lightly, it has been a nightmare season for Braydon Coburn. He doesn't possess that physical edge that he frequently displayed in the playoffs in the last several runs in the postseason.

Where has that 6'5, 220 pound monster defenseman gone? Could he be a victim of circumstance? Head coach Peter Laviolette's aggressive forechecking style does lead to a plethora of odd-man chances against, so this might contribute to it.

Or could it be the defense partners he has been paired with in the absence of Matt Carle to free agency, or more recently, Nicklas Grossmann to his latest injury? This seems more likely to be the case.

Once Coburn left the game after suffering the injury on Friday, the team collapsed completely and depended on Bruno Gervais, Erik Gustafsson and Kurtis Foster (all minuses) to hold the fort. To nobody's surprise, the Flyers let a two-goal lead evaporate, and it ended up costing them the two points at the end of the night.

The propensity of this Flyers defense to turn the puck over, not move the puck out of the zone by themselves and rely on long stretch passes kills them night in and night out. Stretch passes lead to easy neutral zone interceptions, which can lead to odd-man rushes, and subsequently, goals against.

Perhaps this latest injury to Coburn is a blessing in disguise to shield him from further harm. It honestly cannot get much worse for him this season. Three years remain on his four year extension at $4.5 million against the dipping salary cap.

Debates will always rage about whether or not he is "worth" that money, but when next season rolls around, it will be put-up-or-shut-up time for him.

Can he be the future of the Flyers defense? Can he be that franchise defenseman that they crave so much? The answer will fall squarely on the shoulders of a man going through the worst season of his life.

Simply put, while it has been a nightmare season, it will fall on Holmgren to upgrade the defense around Coburn to make it a little easier for him and the rest of the team to simply get the puck out of the zone. The way the team played without Coburn on Friday illustrates how it truly has not been his fault entirely.

That said, with his season done, there is only up to go from here for the Flyers' defenseman. Next season will be important in general, but it may be ten times as important for one Braydon Coburn.