The Philadelphia Flyers have had a busy offseason. From drafting a potential franchise foundation piece in Matvei Michkov to moving several players off the team, the 2023-24 version of the Broad Street Bullies will be a different squad than the one that hit the ice last year. No part of their team was affected as much by these offseason moves as the team’s defense.
The Flyers defense has been overhauled. Ivan Provorov, long one of the central cogs of the defense has been traded away. Tony DeAngelo, a local boy who was brought in for his offensive abilities last year, has been released and sent packing in a buyout. In their place, the Flyers have brought in Sean Walker as part of the Provorov trade and Marc Staal as a free agent veteran defender. Cam York is expected to have a much bigger role on the team even though he will be in just his second season. There is a lot of young talent waiting in the AHL to get their chance to prove that they can hack it with the big club; including first round selection Oliver Bonk. One guy who has been overlooked and forgotten this offseason is Nick Seeler
It’s amazing how much a year can change things. It wasn’t that long ago that Seeler was contemplating hanging up his skates. He was aging, didn’t get to play much, and never got much of a chance to prove himself. He was picked up by former GM Chuck Fletcher as a depth piece signing in 2021. In his first season in Philly, he played just 41 games.
With injuries to Ryan Ellis and others during the season, Seeler got a chance to play. He didn’t do anything flashy. He wasn’t dazzling or spectacular. He was just steady and reliable. Seeler rarely made mistakes; something the other blueliners on the team couldn’t attest to. He ended up playing in 77 games last season; third most for defenders behind Provorov and Travis Sanheim. For Flyers who appeared in 50 or more games, he is second on the team with a +1 rating, behind only forward Noah Cates who had a +3. He was also the only defender with a positive rating.
Statisically speaking, Seeler had a good season. While he is not known for being an offensive defender, like DeAngelo, he had the best numbers of his career. He scored a career high four goals with ten assists in 2022-23. His 24 giveaways were second fewest on the defensive corps, behind only York (who appeared in just 54 games.) His 126 hits were sixth on the team and behind only Rasmus Ristolainen on defense. Seeler’s 161 blocks were second only to Provorov for the team lead. And he did all this with averaging just 14:29 on the ice as the Flyers preferred, naturally, to play their higher paid players.
Seeler was expected to be just a depth piece. As the year wore on, he caught the eye of John Tortorella. He got more playing time. He was trusted with doing more. At one point, it was rumored that the Boston Bruins were sniffing around him at the trade deadline for their playoff run (maybe they could’ve used him!). At the end of the season, the Flyers rewarded him as the team’s nominee for the Masterton Trophy in recognition of his hockey journey.
So, with all the movement on this team and the emphasis on a youth movement, why is a 30 year old defender primed for a big season? First of all, he is cheap. He is costing the Flyers only $775,000, the same as youngster Egor Zamula and only about 12% of Sanheim’s salary. That’s value. Whenever you can get a lot out of production out of a guy making almost the league minimum, that’s a benefit for your team.
Secondly, he can be a mentor for the younger players. Justin Braun played the role of mentor for the young guys last year and Staal is expected to fill a similar role this upcoming season. While their leadership is/was valuable, Seeler can be a leader in a different way. He can show the young guys how to overcome adversity and disappointment. He can also show them what it takes to earn the coach’s trust and confidence. Seeler earned that by working hard and listening to what Tortorella had to say. That’s why DeAngelo failed and Seeler succeeded. You work hard and play hard, you will be rewarded.
Finally, for Seeler, his play could end up doing one of two things for him. If he has another year like last year, he could play himself into a contract extension. Staal is only signed on for this season. Seeler brings good bang for the buck. If he plays well and the Flyers want to keep him around, it works out well for both parties. If he plays well, but the Flyers want to bring up one of their younger guys permanently he could be a valuable trade piece, being that he is very attractively priced, and bring in a mid level draft pick similar to Braun in 2021-22. Seeler could then end up on a contender and make a run at a Stanley Cup while the Flyers end up with a good draft pick.
There are a lot of players that have a lot riding heading into the 2023-24 season. Some have high expectations of taking that “next step” forwards, like Owen Tippett and York. Others are trying to bounce back from injuries and show they still have value, like Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson. For Seeler, he is trying to show he still belongs. He’s made a lot of himself this past season. If he continues on this path, he will have another successful season and could see his role on the Flyers increase.