The Flyers’ Defensive Makeup Downfall

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Flyers' Tony DeAngelo
PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 28: Philadelphia Flyers Defenseman Tony DeAngelo (77) passes the puck during the second period of the National Hockey League preseason game between the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers on September 28, 2022, at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

Think of the top ten defenses in the NHL. Which teams come to mind? Here they are in order:

  • Boston Bruins (~$28.92mil)
  • Dallas Stars (~$22.92mil)
  • Carolina Hurricanes ($22.23mil)
  • Winnipeg Jets (~$27.56mil)
  • New Jersey Devils (~$23.75mil)
  • Colorado Avalanche (~$25.23mil)
  • New York Rangers ($25mil)
  • Toronto Maple Leafs ($19.7mil)
  • Vegas Golden Knights (~$27.99mil)
  • Minnesota Wild ($26.02mil)

Those are the top ten defenses determined by total goals allowed in 2022-2023. The figure represents the money invested in the defense against the salary cap, not including any injured players on long-term reserve.

The Philadelphia Flyers are the 11th most expensive defense in the NHL, excluding Ryan Ellis. A lineup consisting of Ivan Provorov, Cam York, Travis Sanheim, Rasmus Ristolainen, Nick Seeler, Tony DeAngelo, and Justin Braun totaled ~$24.18mil. That’ll be more expensive than the Maple Leafs, Devils, Hurricanes, and Stars. Those teams are in a position to clinch a postseason berth greater than a wildcard.

Seventh in the NHL Metropolitan Division, the Flyers remain eight points out of the second wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference.

Undoing a lot of wrongs is the only way to help a rebuild. Without question, Philadelphia should be selling at the deadline. Chuck Fletcher saddled defensemen with ugly contract extensions in a flat-cap era, which is catastrophic.

The Defensive Makeup

At the inception of a rebuild under John Tortorella, the Flyers played eight different defensemen in 2022-2023. Egor Zamula is another prospect Tortorella spoke highly about, making the opening night roster over York.

Defensively, the foundation isn’t there to protect the goaltending. Most of the defensemen in the lineup find their strength in joining the rush or hovering along the blue line for a shot on goal. Philadelphia is burnt toast in transition because of a defense-second approach.

Even in those areas, the Flyers aren’t excelling.

Fletcher traded a 2022 fourth-round, a 2023 conditional third-round, and a 2024 second-round pick for a 2022 seventh-round pick and two seasons of DeAngelo. DeAngelo began on the top pair with Provorov but tumbled to the bottom with Seeler. A powerplay playmaking specialist, DeAngelo had the same purpose Erik Gustafsson did in 2020-2021, but with worse defensive optics. He’s hardly the only offensive-minded defenseman on this 2022-2023 roster, considering Provorov, York, Ristolainen, and Sanheim all featured on the powerplay lately.

True defensive defensemen are sorely lacking in Philadelphia. Braun and Zamula might be the only ones that fit those roles, both not prevalent in the Flyers lineup. They’ve acted as seventh defensemen, with Zamula relegated back to the AHL to get more meaningful minutes. Seeler stabilizes the third pair, picking up the defensive slack for DeAngelo. Fringe NHL players at varying stages of their careers represent the stay-at-home defenders, exploiting how Fletcher grossly undervalues a Tortorella system requirement, protecting the defensive zone.

Fix the Defense

Between the 2023 and 2024 NHL Trade Deadlines, there’s no reason not to move at least half of the featured defensemen this season.

Braun and Seeler could move as early as the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline. Fletcher isn’t in a rush to move Seeler, who has another season on his contract with Philadelphia at $775k. Any return on Braun is worth it, even for a 2023 sixth or seventh-round pick. If the Flyers were to trade Seeler, the return could be a 2023 third-round pick.

Reports swirled about Provorov being frustrated, and many wondered if a change of scenery was afoot. He would represent the best return for Philadelphia if traded ahead of the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline, but those rumors took a backseat. He has two more years left on his deal with the Flyers, but the relationship between him and the franchise began to fissure in 2021-2022. Teams will be interested, and Fletcher can take all offers since Provorov doesn’t have a no-trade or no-movement clause.

Again, DeAngelo will be a tough sell. Don’t expect him to be gone ahead of the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline or even the offseason. His contract ends next season, and DeAngelo could be a powerplay playmaker a team rents as they enter the postseason with limited repercussions from the salary cap. To regain anything spent on DeAngelo, Fletcher has to sell at the 2024 NHL Trade Deadline.

Finishing 2022-2023

Let’s say Seeler and Braun swap for mid and late-round draft picks at the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline. What would Philadelphia look like without them?

  • Provorov-York 
  • Sanheim-Ristolainen
  • Zamula-DeAngelo

Nothing about the defensive makeup alters.

Sending away Seeler and Braun shaves $1.775mil. Hardly any cap space clears via the defense. Until Fletcher understands and acquires what Tortorella needs to run his defense successfully, the Flyers are at an expensive deficit. Not only the aforementioned price tag, but if Philadelphia doesn’t snag players who understand the significance of a defense-first mentality, they’ll continue their trend of a 24th ranked goal deficit (-31) into deeper, worse off depths.

(Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)