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Grading the Flyers’ Erik Johnson Trade With Sabres

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New Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Erik Johnson won the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 2022. (Photo: AP)

The Philadelphia Flyers acquired some veteran defensive depth ahead of Friday’s 3 p.m. NHL trade deadline, parting ways with a 2024 fourth-round pick in order to pull off a surprising Erik Johnson trade with the Buffalo Sabres.

Johnson, 35, is now playing for his third team in two years after a long career with the Colorado Avalanche and a recent pitstop with the Sabres. The 16-year NHL veteran was also once teammates with Flyers general manager Danny Briere back in the 2014-15 season, nearly a decade ago. Briere played 57 games with Johnson that year, scoring eight goals and four assists in his age 37 season.

So, what does Briere, who knows what Johnson can do first-hand, feel Johnson can bring to this Flyers group at the age of 35?

“We removed a pretty big piece in Sean Walker. The guys have worked extremely hard to get us to the point they’ve gotten us to this year. I’m not expecting and asking Erik Johnson to replace Sean Walker,” Briere started. “What we’re looking for from Erik is to bring his experience. The fact that he’s played for a long time, the fact that he’s played a lot of playoff games, the fact that he’s won a Stanley Cup. Hopefully he can share a little bit of that with our group, our young group.

“Especially on defense right now with all the injuries, too, that we have, it’s a pretty young group. We’re hoping that he can share a little bit of his experience with our team. That’s kind of the reason behind it.”

It looks like Johnson is set to make his Flyers debut against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, though one could feasibly argue that it would be far more beneficial to get Adam Ginning, who was sent down to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Friday, into these games. Ginning, alongside Phantoms defense partner Ronnie Attard, held his own against the Florida Panthers on Thursday night.

The Flyers should have realised that good results against the league’s best team is a pretty good litmus test for where these kids are at in their development.

That said, Attard did remain with the group, while Ginning, a left-shot, was sent back to the AHL. With the Flyers still carrying only six defensemen, Attard is going to get at least one more game with the NHL club.

The Flyers did make the paper transaction of assigning Attard to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, making him eligible to participate in the AHL playoffs. Nick Seeler is eligible to return from injured reserve as soon as Monday if his placement on injured reserve is retroactive to March 4.

When Seeler returns, the Flyers will be carrying seven defensemen. If Attard goes back to the AHL, the Flyers can keep seven defensemen by activating Rasmus Ristolainen or Jamie Drysdale. Right now, it looks like one or the other will return, but not both.

In the interim, Johnson gives them insurance on the right side, as well as a championship pedigree. Even Marc Staal, for all his exploits, never went all the way. While I don’t love the price, I think the Flyers made the right decision with the Johnson trade.

Grade: B-

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