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Flyers: Is a Veteran Defenseman Required in 2024-2025?

Flyers' Erik Johnson (Heather Barry Images, LLC)
(Heather Barry Images, LLC)

John Tortorella likes an established veteran mentor in his lineup.

This season, he vouched for Marc Staal. Staal, 37, wasn’t meant to be in the lineup each night. He played in 35 games with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2023-2024. However, he excelled in his role as a mentor. Egor Zamula is a younger defenseman who learned from Staal en route to his best season.

“Those guys with big experience in the league. It’s fun to play with these guys because sometimes he tell you something funny in the bench, after crazy shifts especially, with Staalsy [Staal]. I will remember that. I can’t tell you what he says, but it’s something special, and I will remember these two guys for my life because it’s my first year, and I play with these people [with] this big experience. Old guys, but you see, still guys playing.” – Egor Zamula; 4/17/2024

Zamula, during his 2024 exit interview, mentioned how Staal kept him loose on the bench. Staal wasn’t the only veteran on the defensive unit. At the 2024 NHL Trade Deadline, Daniel Brière traded a fourth-round pick to the Buffalo Sabres for Erik Johnson. Johnson, 36, scored the final goal of the season for the Flyers in a loss to the Washington Capitals, 2-1.

Is a grizzled defensive veteran a requirement next season? The defense includes Jamie Drysdale, Cam York, Travis Sanheim, Nick Seeler, Rasmus Ristolainen, and, pending an extension, Zamula.

As the roster stands, a seventh defenseman could be Louie Belpedio. He isn’t a grizzled NHL veteran; Belpedio, 27, played 16 games in the NHL between the Flyers and the Minnesota Wild since the 2017-2018 season. However, his game translated on the ice at the NHL level much better than both 35+ year-old defensemen.

Why a Veteran Defenseman Isn’t Required

When you consider York and Drysdale are under 25, there is an argument for a veteran defenseman. On the ice, however, the investment hadn’t translated. In his exit interview, Staal entertained the thought of retirement but hasn’t committed. Considering the history between Tortorella and Staal, how easy would it be for Staal to stay connected to hockey as a position coach or mentor off the ice? Sanheim, Seeler, and Ristolainen are leaders in a position to be mentors on defense.

On the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, there are prospects and skaters on expiring contracts at the end of 2024-2025 who contributed more effective minutes. Ronnie Attard, a restricted free agent at the end of next season, impressed in his 12 games. Belpedio, an upcoming unrestricted free agent, led the Phantoms’ defense with four points (4A) in the 2024 AHL Calder Cup Playoffs.

Instead, lean into the youth. Philadelphia has established starters, and they have defensemen, albeit a dozen games in 2023-2024, who proved to be more valuable on the ice than the grizzled veterans.

It’s time to take the training wheels off, and that can only happen if contract availability allows them a spot on the Flyers versus the outside looking in on a veteran mentor.

Why a Veteran Defenseman Is Required

A lack of a veteran defenseman means the Flyers are betting on the stabilization of the health of the current unit.

Unfortunately, that’s a losing bet. Firstly, never bet on the stability of health upon the opening night to maintain itself throughout the regular season. Secondly, there are many reasons to suspect a veteran placeholder is worth an affordable deal for the season.

Some things to consider are the volume of shots Seeler blocks in a season, the fact that Ristolainen has never been available for an opening night in Philadelphia, and the recurring injury history for Drysdale. Half of the starting defense could be unavailable at anytime, depending on the situation. Maybe the Flyers supplement that with recalled players. But, considering how the triumvirate managed the roster this season, they’ll want a seasoned defender to help supplement.

Also, there are some moving parts. Will Ristolainen be moved this offseason? Will Adam Ginning remain in the farm system? Does Zamula receive an extension? Two of those names directly relate to the defensive unit in Philadelphia.

If the Flyers deal Ristolainen, allow Zamula to walk, and lose Ginning to Sweden, there is suddenly a heavy reliance on Attard in an unfamiliar pairing with Emil Andrae. A veteran defenseman is required in this situation, especially since Andrae would be much better off pairing with Oliver Bonk until 2025-2026 in Lehigh Valley.

Closely Examining the 2024-2025 Flyers Defense

Based on the contracts through 2025, here is what a defense looks like in Philadelphia:


Sanheim, York, and Seeler have regularly played on either side of the ice. This season, Sanheim and York each proved they are most comfortable on the left side of the ice. Drysdale, Ristolainen, and Attard reside on the right side.

Based on the current contracts through 2025, this says the Flyers should consider another short-term veteran defenseman. In 2025-2026, the story is a lot different.

Veteran Options

Jack Johnson, 37, played 80 games this season and averaged 13:34 in nine NHL Stanley Cup Playoff games. He is a former Stanley Cup champion with the Colorado Avalanche. An upcoming unrestricted free agent, Johnson would be a cheap option for Philadelphia at $1mil or less. By his standards, this was an average season for him defensively, but he contributed 16 points (3G, 13A).

Alec Martinez, 36, played 55 games this season and averaged 16:50 in six NHL Stanley Cup Playoff games. He is a former three-time Stanley Cup Champion with the Los Angeles Kings (2) and the Vegas Golden Knights. Martinez did miss some time this season with lower-body and upper-body injuries but was healthy enough for the postseason. If the Golden Knights are to part ways with Martinez, he would be a low-risk option for the Flyers. By his standards, this was a rough season for Martinez, but he contributed 17 points (4G, 13A).

Kevin Shattenkirk, 35, played 61 games this season and averaged 12:57 in six NHL Stanley Cup Playoff games. He is a former Stanley Cup champion with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Another upcoming unrestricted free agent, he’ll cost about as much as either Johnson mentioned in this article. He might be the best option of all the cheap, veteran, upcoming unrestricted free-agent defensemen. By his standards, Shattenkirk proved he still contributes with 24 points (6G, 18A).

Robert Bortuzzo, 35, played 27 games this season. The St. Louis Blues traded him to the New York Islanders in December, then Bortuzzo missed three months with a lower-body injury. The Flyers probably stick with Johnson instead of pursuing Bortuzzo, but he does tick the box of a trusted veteran presence who also is a former NHL Stanley Cup champion.

Staal, whether he retires or not, should be an afterthought. If Philadelphia sticks with the veterans they know, then Johnson makes sense.

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