Immediately after trading forward Simon Gagne to the Tampa Bay Lightning for 6’4 depth defenseman Matt Walker, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren attempted to explain his reasoning behind the move.
“When we came out of the Stanley Cup Final loss to the Blackhawks, we had specific objectives in mind,” Holmgren told CSNPhilly.com. “And the No. 1 thing on our list was to improve our defense, and No. 2 on our list was to get a little bigger.”
And he seemingly achieved both this offseason by signing Walker, 6’3 forward Jody Shelley, as well as defensemen Sean O’Donnell and Andrej Meszaros, who both stand at 6’2.
But despite the appearance of greater size and talk from the GM, the truth is in the numbers — the Flyers are no bigger than they were last year.
In 2009-10, counting Gagne, Arron Asham, Lukas Krajicek, Ryan Parent and Oskars Bartulis, the Flyers averaged 6’1, 200 lbs. as a team. Replacing Asham with Shelley, Gagne with Nikolai Zherdev, Bartulis with Walker, Krajicek with Meszaros and Parent with O’Donnell, the 2010-11 Flyers also average 6’1, but weigh in at 205 lbs.
Five pound difference.
In fact, the most adjusted part of the 2010-11 Flyers, the defense, has stayed the exact same height with a 74.4 in. average. The only difference being in the weight, where the current Flyers blue line out-weighs last year’s by 12 lbs.
Oddly enough, it’s the Philadelphia forwards that gain the most by the upgrade in size, trading Gagne (6’0) for Zherdev (6’2) and moving out Asham (5’11) for Shelley (6’3).
But was Holmgren confused when he declared ‘Mission Accomplished’ on gaining bigness? Not exactly.
It is to be noted that actual size in hockey can be much different from how big a skater plays. Although the Flyers didn’t upgrade in literal size, the players that Holmgren brought in, are able to play a much bigger game than the ones they sent packing. Parent and Krajicek pulled the team height average up at 6’3 a piece, but played a much smaller game, scoring a combined 0.77 hits and 1.08 blocked shots per contest on average. Compare that to the inch smaller O’Donnell and Meszaros, who earned 1.25 combined hits and 1.29 blocked shots per game, and the difference is clear.
So, although the projected Flyers lineup isn’t physically bigger than their predecessors, they are mentally bulky and more bruising. And in the NHL, what does size matter if you don’t use it?