97.5 The Fanatic Flyers Roundup: Sean Walker Leads List of Trade Candidates
The Philadelphia Flyers lost consecutive home games after a brilliant shutout performance by Sam Ersson on Long Island Saturday night. They slipped to seventh in the Metropolitan Division in point percentage after an overtime loss at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday. However, Sean Walker and other potential trade candidates have dominated Flyers conversations this week.
- Saturday 11/25: Flyers 1, New York Islanders 0 (SO)
- Tuesday 11/28: Carolina Hurricanes 4, Flyers 1
- Thursday 11/30: New Jersey Devils 4, Flyers 3 (OT)
Trade Candidates: Flyers Shopping Sean Walker?
The Flyers are an admitted rebuilding team that will most likely look to move veterans before the NHL Trade Deadline. Who are the early candidates to pack their bags?
The Athletic listed Flyers skaters Sean Walker (5), Morgan Frost (9), and Nick Seeler (22) on the early list of top NHL Trade Deadline targets. Cam Atkinson might also bring some interest if he stays healthy leading up to the March 8 deadline.
Danny Briere acquired Walker as part of the Ivan Provorov trade in what looked like a simple salary dump. The 29-year-old defenseman has played well with four goals and 10 assists in a second-pair role for John Tortorella early this season. Elliotte Friedman of SportsNet reported that Walker’s name is starting to circulate in conversations around the NHL.
The price for right-handed defensemen who can play toward the top of an NHL lineup is typically high. If Walker continues to perform well, the demand will rise, and a first-round pick wouldn’t be out of the question.
However, the Flyers have made it clear that their rebuild isn’t a firesale of all useful veterans with an eye on increasing NHL Draft Lottery odds. They might have interest in keeping an impending unrestricted free agent in Philadelphia and re-signing him during the offseason.
The intriguing choice for Danny Briere will lead to plenty of speculation. Expect to hear Sean Walker and the Flyers in trade deadline conversations in the upcoming months.
Sean Walker makes this a one-goal game. 👀 pic.twitter.com/dZJEXc8wHb— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) December 1, 2023
Cates Suffers Long-Term Injury
Noah Cates will miss six-eight weeks with a lower-body injury. The second-year forward has just one goal and three assists in 21 games this season.
The former NCAA National Champion was one of only three Flyers to play 82 games in 2022-23, his rookie season. He established himself as a reliable shutdown defensive center and received votes for the Selke Trophy (Best Defensive Forward) and the Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year).
His average time on ice has dropped over three minutes per game from 17:46 in 2022-23 to 14:25 in 2023-24. John Tortorella has moved him to the fourth line and over to the wing at times after he played top-six minutes as a center for most of last season.
The injury will presumedly allow Bobby Brink, Morgan Frost, and Ryan Poehling to stay in the lineup every game. Cates will have to overcome a forward logjam to regain momentum when he returns after the New Year.
Flyers, Tortorella Thrilled With Sanheim
Travis Sanheim has become the brightest surprise of the 2023-24 Flyers season. Briere shopped Sanheim during the offseason, and the 27-year-old defenseman only stayed in Philadelphia because Torey Krug enacted a no-trade clause to nix a proposed trade.
“It’s not his play. It’s his mindset. Your play doesn’t change unless you change your mindset. He’s a difference maker now. Last year, he watched. That’s what aggravated me about him. All the footspeed and the abilities and the length, everything about him, and he watched. He’s not watching this year. People are watching him. That isn’t a change of his skill. That isn’t a change of anything physical. To me, it’s mental.” -John Tortorella
Sanheim has two goals and 14 assists in 23 games, and he’s been the team’s workhorse defenseman at even strength and on both special teams units. He has impressed the organization with his determination and a clear benefit of offseason conditioning. However, he’s the same defenseman who sandwiched brutal seasons in 2020-21 and 2022-23 around his Barry Ashbee Trophy season in 2021-22.
The strong start is promising. Sanheim still needs to sustain a high level of play that justifies the $6.25 million annual cap hit he’ll cost through 2030-31.
Unexpected Statistical Success
It’s no secret that the Flyers don’t have the top-line talent to compete with Stanley Cup contenders. It’s one of the primary reasons the rebuild is necessary. However, they have controlled the puck well and spent time in the offensive zone consistently this season.
They finished 23rd in the NHL in expected goal percentage (xGF%) in 2022-23 while 13 of the top 16 teams based on the advanced metric qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Fans usually hear hockey broadcasts claim the “ice is tilting” in one team’s favor, but xGF% gives data and substance to the cliche.
The 2023-24 season has been a different story for the Flyers. They currently sit 7th in xGF% in 2023-24. They’ve offset the lack of dominant, play-driving forwards with strong efforts from accomplished scorers like Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny.
Tortorella credits the offensive transition game for the strong development of a new style of play.
“That has been one of the biggest improvements of our team is transition offense, is stretching and making long passes, is leaving the zone earlier, all the things we’ve talked about through the first quarter. We’re staying with that.” -Tortorella
The veteran head coach sees the long-term picture of the organization. He knows the Flyers will count on top prospects Cutter Gauthier and Matvei Michkov as foundational pieces to correct the lack of top-end talent. In the meantime, the offensive approach is developing well.
“When the ‘Mad Russian’ comes over here and you start bringing in maybe some free agents when the time is right, some more offensive skill. I want that to fall into place when they come in. I want that to stay with this style.” -Tortorella
Part of the rebuild is about identifying strengths. The Flyers might not finish at the top of the NHL in puck possession number over 82 games, but they’ve shown glimpses of ability you might not have thought they were capable of two months ago.
The style Tortorella spoke about is important to develop young talent at the NHL level. It could even help a younger player like Joel Farabee or Owen Tippett break out into a star player.
The Flyers will play a home-and-home series against the rival Pittsburgh Penguins before a three-game Western Conference road swing.
- Saturday 12/2: @ Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 pm on 97.5 The Fanatic
- Monday 12/4: vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 pm on 97.5 The Fanatic
- Thursday 12/6: @ Arizona Coyotes, 9 pm on 97.5 The Fanatic
- Saturday 12/8: @ Colorado Avalanche, 9 pm on 97.5 The Fanatic