Friday, June 13, 2014

Loyal to the end: Timonen back for another year

Neither wild horses, the promise of staving off the bumps and bruises, discomfort and fatigue of carrying the defense for another season nor the lure of his native Finland, could keep Kimmo Timonen away.

On Friday, he and his hockey club ended months of speculation by signing a one-year contract agreement with the Flyers, meaning the 39-year-old pending unrestricted free agent will be back patrolling the blue line for his eighth season in Philadelphia.

"I think the biggest key is whether Kimmo thinks he can play and whether Kimmo has enough in the tank to go through another offseason and be in shape in September," said Flyers GM Ron Hextall. 

An ESPN source indicates that the deal is for a base salary of $2 million with another possible $4 million in bonuses, but there was something greater at stake which led to his decision to return.

"For me, it really wasn't about the money. I wanted to see how I felt, I went away and thought about if I could really do it, to be able to play at a high level," Timonen said at an afternoon conference call with local media members. The biggest thing (about staying) is my family really likes it there, so they were on board saying 'play one more year, go for it.'"

The five-time Barry Ashbee Trophy winner as the club's top defenseman, Timonen saw his playing time cut by almost a minute per contest (from 21:46 to 20:20) and effectiveness reduced last season, one in which he still recorded six goals and 29 assists in 77 regular-season contests. Those six goals were his most since 2010-11.

However, he looked labored at times and picked up a lone assist and was a minus-2 in a seven-game, first-round loss to the New York Rangers.

"Kimmo’s going to dictate that, in part," offered Hextall when asked how many minutes his most-respected defenseman will play. "We had a wide range of conversations, and we had conversations on different things like roles, and where he sees himself and where he fits."

Heading into his 16th -- and presumably final -- NHL season, the former 10th-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings back in 1993 has racked up 117 goals and 454 assists over 1,092 games with the Predators and Flyers since arriving in North America for the 1998-99 campaign.

At 38, Timonen carried an incredible $6 million salary for his previous one-year pact, which outpaced all other battery-mates last season, including the newly-acquired Andrew MacDonald, who now has a $5 million cap hit following his recently-awarded multi-year extension.

Despite his advancing age, it's not a stretch to believe that Hextall might be throwing Timonen more money than he's worth, just to acknowledge his time served. If the deal is accurate as reported, it's a promising sign that Hextall understands the vagaries of the cap world slightly better than his predecessor while honoring a solid player.

"I will say to his credit that the first time he talked to me about coming back and playing, he said I understand the situation we’re in, and in saying that, I want to play for the Philadelphia Flyers and nowhere else," Hextall added.

What the deal doesn't address, is the need for the defense to have an anchor who is in the prime of his career. Braydon Coburn is the longest served of the corps, but has shown he's not a leader either on-ice or in the dressing room. Mark Streit will only enter his second season here, McDonald hasn't been here for a half-season yet, and Nick Grossmann has enough trouble staying upright and skating.

Say what you want about why he feels this way, but Timonen sees things differently, and if he didn't, then it's reasonable to assume he wouldn't have ventured back to North America for any other team. 

"I like the team. I like our chances. We have a fairly young team and we contend every year. The biggest thing is I still want to win the Stanley Cup," he intoned.

That loyalty and belief stands in sharp contrast to the litany of recent ex-Flyers who have had less say in their transaction process and eventually went on to win the Cup multiple times. He did admit, in talking with other players and personnel in the offseason, that he was advised to keep playing if a team wanted him and he was still mentally and physically invested in hockey. Naturally, he went to the Orange and Black first and naturally, they'd have him back in a second.

It will be Philadelphia come September, and in typical understated Finnish fashion, Timonen isn't looking for a farewell tour or special treatment for his final go-round for a franchise which has most likely given him less than he has given it. 

"When I come to camp, I don't want to think that I'm 39. I want to feel like I'm one of the guys. I still want to play a lot of minutes. Anything after that, it's up to the coaches in the way they want to use me."
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