Flyers Facing Dilemma on Defense with Matt Carle Gone, Chris Pronger Out and Ryan Suter Off the Market

Flyers Facing Dilemma on Defense with Matt Carle Gone, Chris Pronger Out and Ryan Suter Off the MarketZach Parise and Ryan Suter may have finally signed on Wednesday, but that doesn't mean free agency is over.

On the contrary, those signings should mean even more activity is on the way, as the teams that lost out on the top two players on the market will now be scrambling to salvage something from the next tier of free agents.

That won't be easy though, as those pickings are pretty slim and have already gotten slimmer. Late on Wednesday, Tampa Bay swooped in and signed defenseman Matt Carle to a six-year, $33 million deal before the losers of the Suter sweepstakes could set their sights on arguably the only other impact defenseman left on the market.

With Jason Garrison (6 years, $27.6 million) and Dennis Wideman (5 years, $26.25 million) already signing with Vancouver and Calgary, respectively, and Carle now committed to Tampa, the second tier of free agent defenseman is now pretty barren.

That's not good news for the Flyers, who had hoped to land Suter and were counting on keeping Carle. Now, with Chris Pronger still out with concussion issues and Carle in Tampa, the Flyers are without their entire top pairing.

They settled for Bruno Gervais on a two-year, $1.65 million deal on Thursday, but that's simply a stopgap measure. He's more suited to being a sixth or seventh defenseman, which is where he'll likely slot in on Philadelphia's suddenly questionable blue line.

The Flyers will have to hope that 37-year-old Kimmo Timonen can hold up as a No. 1 defenseman, and that Luke Schenn can get back on track playing with his brother after regressing in Toronto. The Flyers do have Braydon Coburn, Andrej Meszaros and Nicklas Grossman, so the cupboard isn't completely bare, but it's definitely not as strong a unit as one would want in front of Ilya Bryzgalov after his shaky first season in Philadelphia.

Tampa may end up regretting the Carle signing even more than Philadelphia. Like the Flyers, the Lightning were desperate to shore up a defensive corps that contributed mightily to Tampa's fall from the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011 to missing the playoffs in 2012.

But they may find out that Carle is only suited to a top-pairing role when he has the likes of a former Norris and Hart winner like Pronger skating with him. Carle contributes some offense (35-plus points in each of the last three seasons) and at 27 there's still room for improvement in that area, as he did put up some big numbers in college. He won the Hobey Baker Award in 2005-06 after an 11-42-53 line in 39 games in his final season at the University of Denver.

But in the pros, Carle has been more of a support player than a true star. He's getting star money now with a $5.5 million cap hit for the next half dozen years, and unless Victor Hedman, the No. 2 overall pick in 2009, can emerge as a legitimate No. 1 defenseman, the pressure will be on Carle.

It could be worse though. Neither the Flyers nor the Lightning would likely want to trade places with Nashville. The Predators not only lost Suter on Wednesday, but now face the very real possibility of going through the same scenario with Norris finalist Shea Weber, a restricted free agent who just became much less likely to sign on for a long-term extension with Suter's departure.

Have a question for Douglas Flynn? Send it to him via Twitter at @douglasflynn or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

Photo via Facebook/Libor Miratsky

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