The winds of change are getting ready to blow for the Philadelphia Flyers as the post-Chuck Fletcher era takes off with the 2023 offseason. One area of the team that could look very different next season is the defense, something the team has been trying and failing to build since Ron Hextall’s arrival in 2014.
There are some prospects waiting to make the jump while some veterans could be shipped out, which could indicate the defense could very well turn into a major work in progress next season, having to take a step back and assess some of their current young guys before proper additions are made in the future.
Here’s what next season’s defense group could end up looking like-
Cam York – Rasmus Ristolainen
Egor Zamula – MacKenzie Weegar
Nick Seeler – Ronnie Attard
If it feels underwhelming… well… because it is. The young, untested players possess an unknown ceiling and the remaining vets aren’t exactly top guys but rather sturdy depth pieces. In a perfect world, they would sprinkle their rookies into an already built defense and let them from from there. But the Flyers don’t exactly have that luxury. The are going to have to lay their cards on the table, figure out which young players stick and do whatever is necessary to build around them from there.
There are obviously three big names missing from the unit, that being Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim and Tony Deangleo, but all three have potential reasons for their dismissal during the summer.
It’s been about a year since the theories about Ivan Provorov’s future began to swirl. He survived the 2022 offseason and hasn’t exactly gotten significantly better under new coach John Tortorella. With interim GM Danny Briere enacting a “rebuild” it puts a value on every player on the roster, and Provorov becomes one of their top trade chips. The role he plays on the team is significant. Not everyone can easily eat near 30 minutes of ice time every night. He may not be a legitimate number one guy, but he’s not exactly an everyday plug-in either. Moving him not only needs to be calculated, but they need to get a massive return for it to make sense. Do they do it? Is the relationship too fractured to be repaired? Does it make the Flyers a better team without him?
Sanheim’s contract with the Flyers was supposed to expire at the end of the 2023 season, but thanks to an eight-year extension signed on opening night, he may be stuck here for the foreseeable future, unless they swap bad contract for bad contract in hopes that a change of scenery will do a new player good. In the past, we’ve looked at MacKenzie Weeger, who is on an identical contract and hasn’t meshed with his new team the Calgary Flames after being very good with the Florida Panthers previously. He is a right-handed defenseman, so at the bare minimum he better fits the construction of the roster than Sanheim would at this point in time.
The Flyers took a shot on DeAngelo last summer and he has basically turned out as many expected, an offensive contributor that can’t play defense to save his life. Ronnie Attard, who excels on the offensive side, is waiting in the wings and will, in the very worst case scenario, be as bad defensively as DeAngelo. Though he’ll more than likely surpass DeAngelo’s ceiling and will do it at a $4 million less price tag. The RHD market is rather poor this summer and DeAngelo’s offensive production with only a one year commitment should entice more than one team to acquire the guy.
Is Ristolainen a top guy? No. But he’s been overall much better than many folks are willing to admit.
Is York a top guy? Maybe. It’s a little too early to tell either way, but he’s earmarked as the next man up regardless.
It’s a not great top pair, that in an ideal world wouldn’t happen, but until there is some kind of suitable replacement on either side internally or via trade or free agency, it may just have to be a makeshift tandem for the time being. It would of course help if Weegar looked liked his old self to eat into Ristolainen’s responsibilities.
Zamula will have to prove himself in the NHL next season. He’s developed quite a bit as the Phantoms’ number one guy upon his demotion and York’s promotion earlier in the season. While he may not have top pair potential, he could very well be a more than serviceable third pair guy with second pair potential. With Nick Seeler more than likely sticking around for some reason but not really capable of playing higher in the lineup, Zamula can get a proper trial run on the defense as the second pair guy.
Next season will more than likely be about trial and error. With a “rebuild” underway, there should be no pressure to go out there and desperately try to add another right-handed defenseman via trade or free agency to attempt to lock down the top spot once again like Chuck Fletcher did seemingly every summer. Though, if one pops up, hopefully of the younger up-and-coming variety, it is an option the should consider.
But it does mean that Zamula and Attard need fair shakes. They’re the current top NHL-ready prospects and neither really got a chance to play regular NHL minutes this season. Zamula got 14 games, but averaged just 13 minutes of ice time and spent a fair amount of time scratched during October and November.
Attard was the last guy sent down during training camp after impressing the coaching staff during the preseason, but he never played an NHL game or got recalled (as of this writing) this season. He has since had a very good season in Lehigh Valley, blending his offensive abilities with newly found defensive talents. For a team that has been looking for a point-producing defenseman that also won’t get blown out of the water defensively, Attard may finally be that guy.
Even if a full teardown and rebuild isn’t in the cards for the Flyers, the 2023-24 season could be very similar to the 2022-23 campaign. Lots of youth and lots of experimentation could make for a rough season, but it also means they could come out on the other side a much better team if the cards fall their way. And if they don’t they’ll at least have a clear idea as to who is part of the future foundation and who is just cannon fodder in yet another lost season.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: espn.com