Predicting the Future of the Flyers’ Defense

Heading into the 2022-23 season, the path ahead for the Philadelphia Flyers defense seemed obvious. They trade Travis Sanheim, who was on an expiring contract at the trade deadline for some extra assets heading into a critical draft, then promote York to second pair LHD, Zamula stays on their third pair and Ronnie Attard joins on the right side when Justin Braun leaves, either at the trade deadline or when his contract expired at the end of the season.

It seemed like a no-brainer and fit the “transition year” the Flyers were going for. Move the vets for picks then transition the kids to the NHL after a little extra seasoning in the AHL for the year. All three of their top prospects would have a spot going into next season.

But then they re-signed Travis Sanheim to an eight-year deal and all of a sudden the plain and obvious becomes overly complicated. Now, the top four of Provorov, DeAngelo, Sanheim and Ristolainen are all locked up for next season, with three of the four locked up until at least 2025.

We’ve already explored the idea of trading Ivan Provorov, which in of itself raises more questions than answers. So assuming he’s safe, both Sanheim and Ristolainen just signed long-term extensions with the club in 2022 and Nick Seeler is under contract in 2023-24 as well, they’ve left the prospects on the outside looking in, and not a lot of space or money to make legitimate outside upgrades either. It really paints a very limited picture when it comes to potential changes for the future.

Right now, during the 2022-23 season, the defense has looked like-

Provorov – DeAngelo

Sanheim – Ristolainen

Seeler – Braun

Provorov and DeAngelo have been hit or miss together, thanks mainly to the sheer amout of time they’re asked to defend on a nightly basis, Sanheim hasn’t quite lived up to the mark he set during the 2021-22 campaign, Ristolainen has been Ristolainen, and the duo of Seeler and Braun have had their highs and lows, though have been fine all things considered, with Seeler playing much better than he did last year.

Given how bad the rest of the team is, it’s hard to properly assess the current unit. On paper, it’s a good-but-not-great corps that is being picked apart by other teams by the lopsided nature of talent on most other teams. The third pair could use an upgrade and the right side, which Fletcher has ttied time and time again to fill, keeps backfiring.

There’s still hope all three of their top prosects in York, Attard and Zamula all see NHL action as Flyers, and it falls on the shoulder of Ronnie Attard developing into a legitimate top guy.

They could go-

Provorov – Attard

Sanheim – Ristolainen

York – Zamula

It’s a completely in-house solution that they have the pieces for, though considering the kids can’t get chances as is, it’s difficult to believe they’ll all magically enter and maintain spots on the main roster any time soon. Zamula is the only one to clock NHL minutes this season, but he’s played primarily on the third pair on the right side despite the fact he’s a natural lefty. It’s a bonus if they can develop him to play either side, but it’s also hindering any early success he has as he learns how to play his off-side.

He’s still early in his career, but Attard seems to flash potential similar to DeAngelo, an offensive-minded defenseman that can hold their own in the D-zone. The problem is, this wouldn’t be feasible until 2024-25 when DeAngelo’s contract expires, and that’s also assuming the Flyers don’t just re-sign him to a lifelong extension as well.

The vibe from the team is they don’t like Cam York at all, and Zamula, who Tortorella continues to express interest in, has struggled to actually get ice time at the NHL level, and when he has it’s been mainly on his off-side. Considering they have Provorov and Sanheim under contract forever anyway, there isn’t exactly an opening at LHD in the short or long term to begin with.

Though with so much money committed to this roster, there isn’t much room for external upgrades. Patching the defense is not atop the priority list at the moment when 2023 free agency rolls around. There are righties available like Matt Dumba and Damon Severson if they would choose to insulate Ristolainen and DeAngelo, but they simply don’t have the cash to add one of them individually unless they trade another defenseman first.

Realistically, the post-trade deadline and 2023-24 defense is probably going to look very similar, with only Justin Braun likely moved on from.

Provorov – DeAngelo

Sanheim – Ristolainen

They’ll remain the top four because they’ve got no other choice. Then the last two spots will be fought over by the remaining four players

Seeler – Zamula

That’s probably how this season finishes out, it’s possible one of York or Attard are brought up and platooned as the seventh D-man with Zamula, but they may not get consistent ice time until next season.

All three of Zamula, York and Attard are currently on expiring entry-level deals as pending restricted free agents, so they’ll all be back with the organization next year (barring a trade) when it’s likely York and Attard grab the third pair spots and Zamula continues to cycle in as the seventh man. Though Tortorella has spoken highly of both Attard and Zamula despite following that up by neither getting regular minutes, but he sure didn’t seem fond of York after training camp.

Whether anybody likes it or not, the Flyers defense is set for at least the near future. The problem is, there are way too many bodies and only six roster spots. There are ways to utilize the youth they’ve been stockpiling if they really wanted to, but those signs just haven’t been there yet. So for the time being, they’ll keep cobbling along with a mix of lackluster veterans and hopes and dreams, the same approach they’ve been taking for almost a decade now, and just have to keep their fingers crossed one of their prospects develops into a solid player that gives John Tortorella no choice but to play him.

By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)

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