Flyers' Timonen still underappreciated

PHILADELPHIA -- Even the spotlight of hockey's most watched television program hasn't changed the fact one of the most talented defensemen of this era remains under the national radar.

Three episodes into HBO's "24/7," you have not seen any clips of Kimmo Timonen openly questioning the creation of the universe or comparing his dog to a hot girl.

That would draw attention to himself. And that's the last thing he strives for.

No, Kimmo Timonen is just doing his thing again this year, and, like his previous 12 NHL seasons, that's being a terrifically efficient player, a superb teammate and a respected leader.

All without fanfare.

Oh, his story has been written many times. He tops the list of underrated players each and every year, even though he long ago stopped being underrated by anyone in the game. But it's his quiet demeanor that has kept the 36-year-old Finland product from crossing over to a bigger spotlight shared by the likes of Zdeno Chara, Nicklas Lidstrom and his injured teammate Chris Pronger.

Asked by ESPN.com on Sunday after the Flyers' practice on the outdoor ice whether he's grown weary of the "underrated Kimmo Timonen" line of questioning after all these years, he smiled and shrugged.

"It's really not up to me," Timonen said on the eve of the Winter Classic. "It's media created. I go out there and do my job. If somebody recognizes that and says, 'He's a good player,' then great. But if nobody does, nobody does. It's not up to me. I just do my job."

And he does it consistently, night in and night out, year after year.

"He's our anchor back there," Flyers GM Paul Holmgren told ESPN.com on Sunday.

Andreas Lilja has developed a great appreciation for Timonen's abilities now that they are teammates.

"When you play against him, you think he's a good player, obviously," Lilja said Sunday. "But now when you play with him, you get the opportunity to see him every day, it's unreal how good he is with the puck and skating-wise. He buys himself time, that's what good players do, they buy themselves time."

High praise from a Swede to a Finn, I told Lilja, who chuckled. But Lilja was just getting warmed up.

"He reminds me of Lidstrom a little bit," Lilja said. "Same type -- they never really run anybody over and they never get run over -- they're always in the right spot and one step ahead of everybody else. It's fun to watch him play."

That's right, he said it: Lidstrom. There's no higher standard as far as comparisons go in this era for a defenseman. Similarly, neither defenseman often makes the highlight reel because it's not about end-to-end rushes or a big bodycheck. It's about the simple play, the right pass, mistake-free hockey.

And like Lidstrom, it's about quiet leadership, actions speaking louder than words, universal respect in the dressing room.

"Kimmo just goes about his business," Holmgren said. "I don't think he's a real vocal guy, but trust me, he's a guy that our young players are looking at in terms of how he does things and the way he prepares. ... He's a role model."

But is he still underrated? Surely, not. Just a little underappreciated.

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.