An apparent candidate for the best move the Philadelphia Flyers made in the offseason was acquiring defenseman Sean Walker from the Los Angeles Kings. In a three-way trade that was meant to get the Flyers started in their rebuild by sending off veteran Ivan Provorov, their defense has arguably been better than what it was before. A driver of the Flyers’ defense, he has been sensational early in the season for Philadelphia.
Walker Provides Offensive Spark
In his own zone, Walker isn’t exactly a notable difference-maker. His game has been modeled by his ability to pinch offensively and make good decisions around when to peel back and help recover the puck in the neutral zone. His mind has helped the Flyers become a relentless team offensively, and it has helped them beat several contenders. Without him, the Flyers would not be winning hockey games at the rate at which they have so far this season.
Walker’s aggressive play on offense has allowed him to flourish. When he is on the ice, the Flyers have been a fantastic team offensively. When paired with Nick Seeler, who has been his most common linemate so far this season, he holds an expected goals percentage of 66.3. In terms of expected goals for per 60, he is on four of the five best pairings for the Flyers. The offense simply clicks when he is on the ice, and that isn’t a coincidence.
Walker has been intelligent when it comes to being aggressive. He chooses the right times to pinch offensively, but is also smart about choosing when it is a better time to flee to the neutral zone to try and prevent an oncoming attack. Many defenders that will try to perfect his style will end up conceding goals because of it. Odd man rushes ensue, and there can only be one scapegoat when that occurs.
Walker has perfected his style and has made some great teams pay for it. Teams who are generally pretty good with defensive zone exits can struggle, and he makes that happen. His offensive numbers might not blow anyone out of the water with him consistently hovering around a pace of 30-40 points this season, but his impacts go far beyond points. His teammates are scoring more goals when he is on the ice, and he helps to keep defenses on their heels. Going from playing anywhere between 16 and 20 minutes to start the season to now being on the ice from 20 to 24 minutes a game, he has seen his role skyrocket thanks to his positive impact on the team.
Walker Making Flyers’ Scheme Work
The Flyers have employed an aggressive scheme offensively, and it has fit Walker like a glove. Pinching often and well, the Flyers’ forechecking has worked because of what he has brought to the team.
You need the right players to be able to make a certain system work. The Flyers do not have the same star talent as other teams in the league, so it is important that they try to eliminate the variables that those players bring. A role player’s dream is to be able to be a massive contributor despite not being as gifted as the best players in hockey. Walker is coming from a team that felt his $2.65 million price tag was too pricy, and he has since become a vital piece for Philadelphia.
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If the Flyers had a different player in Walker’s role, they might not be seeing the wins that they have. Obviously, their entire roster helps make their scheme successful. Each piece matters, and all of them have done a good job of carrying it out. It just so happens that the defender has been the epitome of what his team is trying to do. There is no question that Flyers’ head coach John Tortorella has started to grow a liking for his game, especially with how much ice time he has been getting.
The Question of a Trade or Extension
Since the Flyers are in the early stages of a rebuild, it might seem pretty obvious that the team and its general manager (GM) Danny Briere want to ship off the 29-year-old defender. With one year left on his current contract, the Flyers have a few months to determine whether they want to keep him and give him an extension, or trade him away to get some help with their rebuilding process. It might seem like selling him is the only option, but with how well he has slotted into the Flyers’ defense, it will be almost impossible to replace him.
Generally, the whole point of a rebuild is garnering as many draft picks as possible in order to help the future of the team. On top of trading players, getting a top prospect in the draft makes it so future rosters have something to work with. That comes with losing games, something the Flyers have not done a lot of recently. Extending a player like Walker goes in the complete opposite direction of what a general rebuild looks like, even if he might be playing at his best in Philadelphia.
Hard decisions have to be made in a rebuild. There is legitimate potential that if the Flyers can get a few more assets on their team, they could be a playoff contender as soon as next season. However, a few non-superstar players will likely not make the Flyers a Stanley Cup contender, at least within the next few seasons. If the Flyers are serious about their rebuild, conversations around keeping or selling Walker are important. It might be painful to see a team that nobody expected to come anywhere near the playoffs play so well and still end up selling off players, but that’s how winning rebuilds have generally worked.
The Flyers wouldn’t necessarily be wrong in extending Walker, but that would mean a more passive attempt at a rebuild. There are vast definitions of what a rebuild could be, but the most successful ones involve drafting several high-end prospects. If the Flyers start contending too early, they might be losing out on some great players down the line. Teams like the Vegas Golden Knights have found success without drafting a superstar player, so keeping good players shouldn’t be entirely out of Briere’s radar. The final choice with Walker will be very telling as to where the rebuild is headed.
Simply put, the Flyers would not be as successful as they have been in the early going of their 2023-24 season without the help of Walker. He has carried out the Flyers’ schemes perfectly, putting them in a solid position as they look to continue their winning ways.