The Flyers have dedicated 28 million dollars of cap space to six defensemen, five of whom may actually suit up. By contrast the Bruins spent 30 million on eight defensemen and their unit gave up the fewest amount of goals this past season. The Panthers (with Radko Gudas) spent 20 million, the Hurricanes (with Ghost) spent 27 million. The Flyers have built a terrible defense and it must be addressed if the team is to vastly improve. But it does not appear they can perform major surgery any time soon.
The Tony DeAngelo trade and signing has not proved to be very fruitful, but he is in the last year of his contract and could fetch something at the 2024 trade deadline, if not sooner. This chapter could be closed in the near future with few negative long term ramifications.
Ryan Ellis, and his contract are an issue. It is unlikely Ellis is going to return to the ice. It is amazing to think that Nolan Patrick has played more games since the trade than Ellis. Ellis is unlikely to retire, but his insured contract is an asset for teams that are trying to save money. Teams near the minimum may be willing to take Ellis and his contract to stay above the cap floor, while recouping some of the money via insurance. I would be calling Arizona and Buffalo to try to offload Ellis with the Flyers grabbing some picks in return. The cap saving for the Flyers would allow them to act as dumping ground for bad contracts.
There will not be much support from the youngsters like Ronnie Attard or Emil Andrae. While Cam York fared well statistically this season when on the top pairing with Provorov, he was a -9 in goal differential. Most players in the league struggle against the league’s stars, and York is no different, but it reinforces the view that York, as of now, is average at best and not likely to carry the defensive corps to elite status by himself.
The heart of the issue is the Ristolainen/Sanheim pairing and contracts. To be fair, Risto and Sanheim did not have terrible statistical seasons, in fact Ristolainen had one of his better seasons in 2023, but the numbers were middling at best. Sanheim and Ristolainen are not a shut down pairing or any kind of offensive threat from the blue line. They are below average second pairing that will consistently concede goals to their opponent’s top line.
Winning NHL teams do not utilize 11 million in cap space for that kind of performance. The Flyers do not get contract relief until 2027 when Ristolainen’s deal ends. Sanheim is signed until 2031. The length of the contracts have made a long term, structural roster problem, destroying the Flyers ability to move these players. Barring some drastic change, the Flyers are going to have a tough time until 2027. While the team may want to avoid announcing it publicly, 2027 looks like a good place for the unofficial end of the rebuild.