More Sports:

May 24, 2024

Flyers stay or go: Will Rasmus Ristolainen be a trade chip or remain a part of the blue line?

Names like Travis Sanheim, Cam York, Nick Seeler, and Jamie Drysdale are all but guaranteed to stay a part of the Flyers' defense, but is there still buzz around Rasmus Ristolainen?

Flyers NHL
Rasmus-Ristolainen-Flyers-Canadiens-1.10.24-NHL.jpg Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

Rasmus Ristolainen missed the last two months of this past season and has had his name pop up on the NHL rumor mill.

The construction of a strong blue line is one of the major keys to the Philadelphia Flyers' long-term vision, and while that aspect of the team – like most other parts – still has a way to go, a few notable names showed signs that things are trending in the right direction. 

But it's on general manager Danny Brière, president of hockey ops Keith Jones, and head coach John Tortorella to determine where that defensive group goes next and what it will look like heading into the 2024-25 season. 

Some names are pretty much guaranteed to not be going anywhere, while others might have some buzz around them in the trade and free-agent markets that will make them moveable over the next couple of months. 

So who stays and who goes among the Flyers' current defensemen? Here's a rundown (with note that all contract terms and numbers are via CapFriendly):

Travis Sanheim

It's actually pretty wild how far Sanheim has come in a year's time.

Last summer, he was just coming off of a horrible season, didn't appear to be meshing well with Tortorella, and looked like he was well on his way out of Philadelphia. 

In fact, he nearly was. 

One "yes" from Torey Krug late last June to waive his no-trade clause, and we're talking about his spot on the roster instead while Sanheim would've been skating over in St. Louis. 

But that trade plan fell through, and proved for the better, too. 

It wasn't perfect – definitely not toward the end with the team-wide collapse – but Sanheim bounced back this past season in a big way. 

He got more familiar and understanding with what Tortorella wanted out of him, packed on some muscle over the summer, shifted to the right side to open up the left for Cam York going into the season, and skated with noticeably more comfort and purpose once it began. 

By the end of it, Sanheim had set new career highs in goals (10), assists (34), total points (44), and average ice time (23:48) while playing in all but one game. He finished with a minus-20 rating for the season, which wasn't helped by a dip in the home stretch from the Flyers stalling out overall, but he admitted afterward that he was battling through injuries for that stretch, which did hamper his skating. 

The key there, however, was that at that point late in the season, the Flyers needed their top defensemen to step up and eat heavy minutes night after night, and Sanheim – alongside York – repeatedly answered the call. 

Sanheim has matured significantly, both on the ice as a player and off the ice as one of the more prominent leaders in the locker room. 

He'll be back for this season, presumably to continue that defensive pairing with York. 

Besides, his eight-year, $50 million contract already kicked in, and it has a no-trade clause.

Cam York

York stayed up with the Flyers and skated in all 82 games for the first time in his career. Like Sanehim, the 23-year old got banged up throughout, suffering a shoulder sprain in February, but remained in the lineup because 1) the Stadium Series game was coming up and he didn't want to miss it, and 2) he didn't want to leave the team shorthanded in the playoff push. 

"I probably should have missed a few games," York said after the season ended"We were both pretty banged up there. But the situation we were in, we had defensemen injured, and when you're right there in the playoff hunt, I think you wanna just lay it all on the line."

And he did, taking on more and more minutes on the top pairing alongside Sanheim as the final stretch of the season wore on, though with the postseason push ultimately stalling out. 

Still, York made a lot of strides as a capable puck-moving, possession-oriented defenseman and figures to still have a lot more room for growth. 

He's young, still has a year left on his current low-cost deal at $1.6 million, and has the skill and potential to remain a part of the Flyers' long-term plans. 

Barring an insane blockbuster deal coming along, York will be back. 

Nick Seeler

Midway through the season, Seeler and Sean Walker – since traded to Colorado – were one of the most dependable defensive pairings in the NHL, and the unbreaking commitment Seeler had to a hard-skating, hard-checking playstyle caught a lot of eyes across the league as the trade deadline approached. 

But the Flyers liked how he was playing and liked having him in the room, so, even at age 30, they rewarded him with a four-year, $10.8 million contract extension in the hopes that he can keep that kind of play up while helping to bring the younger guys along as a veteran presence who hasn't had anywhere near the easiest path as a pro. 

At $2.7 million per, that contract isn't immovable if things ever change. 

But the Flyers did make a clear commitment to Seeler with this offer. 

He'll be back in the lineup on opening night. 

Jamie Drysdale

The Flyers have Drysdale for two more years at $2.3 million per on his current contract and are viewing him with a long-term outlook for the defenseman he could become over the next few years rather than the defenseman he is now at age 22.

He's an incredibly fluid skater, but has an injury history that followed him from Anaheim, missed around a month after an open-ice check visibly hurt his shoulder, and hinted after this past season ended that he was never entirely healthy to begin with between his time at the start of the year in Anaheim and then his arrival to Philadelphia. 

Hopefully, he gets fully healthy over the summer and can start fresh with the benefit of a full year with the Flyers. 

But fair or not, the player Drysdale becomes is always going to be linked back to former top prospect Cutter Gauthier and how he performs with the Ducks. 

Circumstances forced that trade to happen, and the Flyers intend to keep Drysdale around for the long haul, but that subject is going to be a sore spot around here for a long, long time

Rasmus Ristolainen

That $5.1 million cap hit for three more years is tough, but Ristolainen improved a lot defensively under Tortorella and associate coach Brad Shaw over the past couple of seasons and had some trade buzz approaching the deadline that at the time held a belief that it would carry over into the summer, too. 

It's gone quiet since, on top of Ristolainen quietly going out for the last two months of the season with what was revealed after to be a ruptured tricep, but the draft is usually when trade talks start picking up again, so keep an eye (or an ear) out as the calendar makes its way into June.

Egor Zamula

Zamula is an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent. He's 24, needs a new deal – which shouldn't cost much – and fell out of AHL waiver exemption last year, but the read right now seems to be that the Flyers are intent on continuing to develop the 6-foot-3 defenseman as a long-term project – as they've had for the past several years now. 

He's given them reason to. 

Zamula skated in 66 games this past season and posted 21 points (5 goals, 16 assists) with a plus-3 rating. More notably, he looked a lot more comfortable on the back end in moving and helping to keep possession of the puck, as well as using his size to his advantage. His control of the puck over top in the offensive zone also gave an awful Flyers power play a brief jolt for a bit there in the middle of the season, but clearly, that wasn't sustained. 

Zamula will probably stay on the bottom defensive pairing, but could stand to become a regular part of it rather than how he popped in and out of the lineup throughout certain stretches last year.

Marc Staal

Staal is 37 and came in on a one-year deal as a veteran presence who was aware that he only had so much hockey left and that his on-ice role over the course of the season was going to diminish as younger defensemen learned to shoulder more responsibility. 

That was all right on cue, and in his end-of-season press conference, Brière mentioned that Staal was among the names he doesn't expect to be back.

Erik Johnson

Walker got traded to Colorado in a deadline deal that Brière knew was going to make the Flyers worse in the short-term, but to at least leave them still with a chance in what quickly became a surprise playoff push, he sent a fourth-rounder to Buffalo for some added veteran and Stanley Cup-winning experience in the form of Johnson. 

The 36-year old skated in 17 games for the Flyers as a depth blue-liner, but couldn't help prevent the ship from sinking as it fell out of the playoff race in the season's last couple of weeks. 

Johnson came in as a rental on an expiring one-year deal and will be an unrestricted free agent. 

He said after the Flyers' last game that he enjoyed his time in Philadelphia and wouldn't rule out coming back, but if he does, it would have to be on a short, low-cost term and in a limited role. 

That might not be in the cards.

Ronnie Attard

Attard is 25 and will be under contract for one more season at $850,000. 

He's played respectably down with the Phantoms in the AHL, has gotten looks up with the Flyers, and has been bordering on the NHL roster bubble for a couple of years now, but hasn't made that clear bid for a spot. 

This might be a make-or-break summer for him coming up. 

Adam Ginning

Ginning is in a similar spot, but just over a year younger at 24 and in need of a new deal as an RFA. 

He got a call-up in March, skated in nine games, laid down a big hit on Florida's Sam Reinhart, dodged a probably even bigger one from New York's Matt Rempe that sent him tumbling down to the ice, and scored his first NHL a blowout loss to a basement-dwelling Columbus team as the Flyers' wheels were falling off. 

He's got a spot on the Phantoms, but not so sure there really is one on the Flyers, which renders his future unclear.

Emil Andrae

Andrae made the team out of camp but got overwhelmed at the NHL level and was sent down to the Phantoms after the first few games. 

Defense can be hard, and defensemen can take an especially long time to develop. Andrae is 22 and still one of the more prominent prospects in the Flyers' current pipeline. Just give him time. 

Louie Belpedio

Belpedio is a 28-year old career AHLer who is under contract for one more year. More than likely, he'll return to the Phantoms for this coming season, but he does deserve mention just for that quick hot streak he went on from out of nowhere back in November.

He was always going to go back to the minors, he and the Flyers both knew that, but that was still a nice early-season surprise in a mostly surprising season (yes, for good and bad). 

And hey, he'll be there in the event the Flyers do need him again.

Forwards | Defensemen | Goaltenders

Follow Nick on Twitter: @itssnick

Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports