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Should the Flyers Try to Bring Back Sean Walker?

(Heather Barry Images, LLC)

There were several reasons as to why the Philadelphia Flyers collapsed at the end of the 2023-24 season. It can be traced to Carter Hart’s final game, but it can also be linked to the departure of Sean Walker as that also coincided with 3 other regular defensemen hitting IR in quick succession.

Initially just seen as a throw-in in the Ivan Provorov trade last summer, Walker entered training camp with very little expectations, mostly because no one knew what to expect. He had just come back from two major surgeries, had lost his place in the Los Angeles Kings’ depth chart, and was playing on an expiring contract at the age of 29.

To the surprise of many, Walker excelled almost immediately and gave John Tortorella and the Flyers a legitimate second-pair defenseman behind Travis Sanheim and Cam York. Understanding that this season was always going down as a rebuild, as the months kept changing the tone around Walker was changing as well. Seen as trade bait ahead of the trade deadline, the Flyers were well in their rights in trying to extend him beyond this season.

The asking price was steep and Daniel Brière didn’t flinch for a second. He received the coveted first round pick he was looking for but in the process, the Flyers lost a key component to their improved backend. Coincidentally, Rasmus Ristolainen, Jamie Drysdale, and Nick Seeler were all placed on IR, truly depleting the back end right before the trade deadline.

That didn’t deter the Flyers’ plans, although there were several discussions being had with both Walker and Seeler in regard to an extension. Ultimately, they decided to extend the latter and traded the former but it was reported that the Flyers planned to revisit Walker at the end of the season when he ultimately became a UFA.

Both sides couldn’t come to an agreement on term and salary, but they were relatively close and it helped that both parties were interested – rather than it being one-sided. Tortorella even confirmed that much on an appearance on 97.5 the Fanatic on the 17th of March.

Looking ahead to the 2024-25 season, is there room for a player like Walker? Both long and short answers would be a resounding yes. Injury history should have the Flyers slightly concerned about Ristolainen and Drysdale and there is a steep fall after York and Sanheim. Prospects like Ronnie Attard and Emil Andrae should be knocking on the door, but the Flyers need a legitimate second-pair defenseman and there’s already a lot of familiarity with the system for Walker.

Ristolainen has yet to make a season debut for the Flyers in his three years with the club. He played in 66 games in 2021-22, 74 games in 2022-23, and just 31 games this past season. He was ruled out with a mysterious injury and while it was a known fact that he would be sidelined for the foreseeable future, the Flyers initially ruled it as week-to-week. No news filtered out until after the season came to a close and it was mentioned that the hulking Finn had undergone surgery on his ruptured triceps tendon. 

While Ristolainen is expected to be ready for training camp, the Flyers also have to worry about Drysdale, who injured his shoulder twice this past season and is currently dealing with a core muscle problem. Brière mentioned at the end of the season that he might need surgery and should he go under the knife, he won’t be back to 100% until perhaps December – maybe January – with how fickle that part of the body can be.

As for Walker, he scored 6 goals and 22 points in 63 games while holding onto a +9 rating before being traded to Colorado. He averaged 19:36 TOI, had 2 shorthanded goals, 98 blocked shots to 86 hits, a pretty good 35:22 takeaway to giveaway ratio, and an above average CF% and FF%.

His +9 rating was tied for the team lead alongside his partner in crime in Seeler, his 19:36 ATOI was 4th-highest behind just Sanheim, York, and Travis Konecny, and his 98 blocked shots had him 5th on the team behind Seeler, York, Sanheim, and Ryan Poehling.

His role understandably diminished with the Avalanche as he was skating on their third pair alongside Jack Johnson. In 18 regular season games with Colorado, he tallied 4 goals and 7 points, was a +2, and averaged 17:57 ATOI to go along with his 29 blocked shots and 32 hits. In nine postseason games to date, he is without a point, carries a -4 rating, and has averaged 17:54 ATOI for an Avalanche team that is currently down 3-1 to the Dallas Stars in the second round.

Should both sides be in agreement, it shouldn’t take a lot of work to get a deal done over the summer. Walker’s stock was at an all-time high when the Flyers made the trade to begin with, but he hasn’t blown the doors open in Colorado. That has more to do with how loaded the Avalanche are from top to bottom as well as the fact that they don’t need to rely on Walker as much as the Flyers did.

If a deal were to come to fruition, it would most likely be somewhere in the range of 3-4 years and a cap hit somewhere between $4 million and $4.5 million. Is it a worthwhile venture for the Flyers to sign Walker long-term or should they hold off, they have to hope that both Ristolainen and Drysdale are healthy before the season starts, and let Andrae and/or Attard fight for a roster spot.

Flyers fan born in the heart of Leafs nation

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