As opening night approaches and the final few roster cuts are made, there have been some interesting developments occurring on the Philadelphia Flyers’ blueline. Veteran defensemen Nick Seeler and Justin Braun, 29 and 35 respectively, are set to be the third defensive pair on opening night. They “beat out” youngsters Egor Zamula, Cam York and Ronnie Attard for those spots.
Braun capturing the third pair RHD role over Attard isn’t much of a surprise, but on the left side, veteran Nick Seeler, who signed a two-year extension with the team back in May, starting over both York and Zamula is a bit eye raising.
The problem is, a Seeler-Braun pair in the NHL while York and Zamula both get demoted accomplishes exactly zero goals for the Flyers. The veteran pair certainly isn’t going to help the NHL squad win games, and neither one of Zamula or York are getting NHL minutes to continue the the next steps of their development.
York, who turns 22 in January, came into camp almost a lock expected to make the opening night roster on the third pair. Though he didn’t have the best camp and a few blunders during his final preseason game against the Islanders seal his fate when Tortorella personally called out his lackluster play.
The Flyers have a lot of stock invested in Cam York and want to make sure he’s 100 percent ready before leaving him to his own devices in the NHL so they’ll give him a little while longer to sharpen his teeth in the minor leagues. Ok. Fine. But why also demote Egor Zamula?
Zamula, who will turn 23 in the spring, has 83 games of AHL action under his belt over the last two seasons as well as 12 NHL games dating back to April of 2021. Considering he and York are both back in Lehigh, that means Zamula will be relegated to the second pair in the American league. What good is that doing him right now? If he was the unquestioned top lefty in the AHL and could get even more minutes in every situation, great! But there’s a good chance York will take priority in those roles, meaning Zamula is essentially just random guy in the AHL instead of a worthwhile prospect.
At least getting him some reps in the NHL while York marinates a little longer would make sense. Outside of physically putting on a few more pounds, there’s very little growing Zamula has left to do at the AHL level, especially if he isn’t the bonafide number one LHD.
This may also be the biggest test of just how Tortorella’s system of accountability works. If Zamula and York were sent down to send a message while Seeler theoretically earned him NHL spot, does the accountability work the other way if one of York or Zamula play well early in the AHL and Seeler inevitability doesn’t? Do the deck chairs get swapped accordingly or do we only see Zamula or York in the big league again if or when injuries occur?
Accountability will be the long-term story line this season. It’s something the fans have been begging for, and when done right, can be a big boost and just what this franchise needs. But, it’s could also be a mask, a disguise for just playing veterans over the youth without a proper development plan in place.
It is very possible both Zamula and York overtake both Seeler and even potentially Travis Sanheim within the year. There could be an actual method to the madness, and approaching the situation with a cautious optimism is fine. But we’ve seen vets favored for NHL ice time while prospects were stuck in AHL purgatory before; a throwback to the glory days of our friends Ron Hextall and Dave Hakstol.
At the very root of what it is the Flyers are trying to sell this season as, a development/transition/stabilization year, makes sense. But questioning whether or not the coach and general manager can properly see through a transition year also acceptable. The reality is, the Flyers have been in a psudo-rebuild since 2014 and ever since it’s been one step forward, one step back. While the overall foundation feels much more stable this time around, whether or not the front office can put one foot in front of the other and actually make tangible progress toward their end goal of returning the Flyers to their former glory is a very valid question.
There’s going to be many steps that need to be taken and it will very much be a day-by-day developing story over the next six months. It could very well go right or it could go wrong in a hurry. The organization from top to bottom will need to prove this year is different, and the handling of York and Zamula will shine a light on their thought patterns more than any other player(s) this season.
All in all, it’s a disappointing situation all around. It’s disappointing that York didn’t show up to camp and definitively earn a spot over depth bums like Seeler. It’s disappointing the “play the kids” mantra didn’t even make it to one regular season game. Hopefully the tides shift once the AHL season gets going later this month and this problem shakes itself out in the wash, but in the meantime, it’s not a good look for the Flyers in a situation that should’ve been rather easy to figure out.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: inquirer.com / usatoday.com