The Tampa Bay Lightning trade deadline will be interesting to watch this season. Over the last several seasons, they’ve been active with deals. It started with Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow. More recently, it has been Tanner Jeannot and Michael Eyssimont. This season, there is a question of what the Lightning should do; buy or sell? Here at Last Word, Kyle Pereira and Jack Pallotta will start a series where they look at some potential trades. Let’s say they buy, who do they get? What do they give up? Today, we look at Sean Walker of the Philadelphia Flyers. He may be an option for the Lightning to add on the blue line.
Tampa Bay Lightning Trade Deadline: Sean Walker
With the recent acquisition of Jamie Drysdale on the backend, the Flyers are taking offers for multiple defenders on the current roster. Walker is an intriguing defender for almost every team at the trade deadline. He became a member of the Flyers this past summer as part of the three-way deal involving Ivan Provorov. While Walker seemed like a throw-in to make the money work, he has proven he is worth the 4-year, $10.6 million contract the Los Angeles Kings handed him in 2020. Walker has played in 283 career games with the Flyers and Kings, posting 64 assists and 85 points.
The 29-year-old defenceman is on pace for his most productive season to date. With the Flyers, Walker has five goals and 13 assists for 18 points in 53 games this season. He is on pace for 29 points, a new career-best. Walker’s breakout performance can be traced to several factors—first, a change in scenery and a new system under Head Coach John Tortorella. Furthermore, this season, Walker has experienced a significant boost in his time on ice per game. He averages over 19.5 minutes of ice time a night, his most usage since the 2019-20 season. Lastly, we must consider that Walker’s contract expires this summer. Players historically perform above expectations in their contract year. With that, why would the Lightning target this right-handed defender?
Walker Scouting Report
Walker is a solid puck-moving defenceman who can jump in on the rush. He has the skating legs to escape opposing forecheckers on the breakouts and get involved offensively. To prove this point further, Walker ranks in the 98th percentile of controlled zone entry percentage amongst defencemen this season (All Three Zones). On the breakout, he ranks in the 52nd percentile of successful zone exit percentage. He plays a consistent and sound two-way game. In addition, Walker can play on both sides of the ice because of his ability to play on his off-side. He allows Coaches to be flexible with their backend.
Despite his solid puck-moving abilities, Walker is known for his talent in defending the rush. While he does not face many targets due to his proper gap control, players prefer to carry the puck in the zone against Walker. He falls in the 96th percentile of zone entry denial percentage this season. When players carry against Walker, he is efficient at denying entries. Walker can be an effective player on the backend for Tampa Bay to close out the season.
While the Lightning continues to survey their options at the trade deadline, the team has improved throughout the season. At the start of the year, defence appeared to be a weakness of the roster. Yet, the Lightning adjusted their scheme and have made leaps and bounds defensively. The team arguably needs more help in the secondary scoring department. However, Walker’s potential presence on the blue line is difficult to ignore. His rush-defending skill can work alongside Victor Hedman on the first pair, similar to Jan Rutta‘s role in 2021. Playing on his right side, Walker can support Hedman and allow him to take more risks offensively.
An asset of Walker’s is his intelligent hockey IQ, which allows him to be smart with his pinches and risks. He can recognize when to push for offence and when to backtrack. The Lightning could use a player like Walker to control the pace of play at even strength, something the team has lacked throughout the season. Overall, a role on the second defence pairing is reasonable for Walker, but why might this idea not work for Tampa Bay?
The Concerns For Walker
What is there not to like about a 29-year-old defencemen having the best season of his career at a cheap cap hit? In the context of this scenario, there are a few. Walker is on an expiring contract and will likely hit the free-agent market this summer. He is due for a pay raise coming off his best performance yet. Furthermore, the asking price for Walker is high. According to Darren Dreger, the Flyers plan to demand a first-round pick for Walker’s services. The Lightning can not afford to sacrifice their minimal future assets, especially for a pure rental. Unless Walker has ambitions to stay in Tampa long-term, the deal may not be as beneficial for the Lightning as one may think.
What It Would (Likely) Take To Acquire Walker
The Flyers will likely not retain any salary on Walker’s contract, but with Mikhail Sergachev likely heading to LTIR, the Lightning now have some cap flexibility. The David Savard trade made by the Lightning in 2021 serves as the framework for a potential Walker trade. In this deal, three teams were involved to work out the salary cap. The Lightning sent a 2021 first-round pick and a 2022 third-round pick to Columbus. Then, a 2021 fourth-round pick to Detroit to retain 50% of Savard’s cap hit. In this case, Walker makes half the money compared to Savard at the time, The Lightning would have to ship out their 2026 first-round pick to the Flyers. Below is a hypothetical trade offer for Walker, a player on Tampa Bay’s radar.
Tampa Bay acquires: Sean Walker (D)
Philadelphia acquires: 2026 first-round pick
How Both Sides Benefit From the Trade
With Mikhail Sergachev likely sidelined for the season, the Lightning may need another defenceman to bolster the blue line. Walker comes at a relatively cheap cap hit of $2.65 million. While Sergachev’s services will be dearly missed by the Bolts, the team now has $8.5 million to spend at the trade deadline. From the Flyers’ perspective, Jamie Drysdale is the future of the back end in Philadelphia. The philosophy of selling high applies to the Flyers in the context of the scenario. Fetching a first-round pick for an asset that was thrown in a trade to make the money work eight months ago is brilliant asset management. The Lightning finds a replacement for Sergachev while the Flyers flip a short-term asset for draft capital.
Tampa Bay Lightning Trade Deadline: In Or Out On Walker
Throughout his career, Walker has overcome plenty of adversity. He appeared in six games during the 2021-22 season due to a torn ACL injury. Moreover, further back in time, Walker was considered undersized and was not selected at the NHL entry draft. After playing four seasons of NCAA hockey, Walker earned his spot in the Kings’ organization. The Lightning could use the resilience of Walker in the locker room. However, this trade does not make much sense for the Bolts.
With Erik Cernak returning to the lineup, the Lightning have a solid group of six defencemen. With the acquisition of Walker, the Lightning would have seven NHL-ready defenders, including the rising rookie Emil Martinsen Lilleberg. Tampa Bay can not surrender another first-round draft pick for a rental. The Lightning are better off finding secondary scoring for a cheaper price, a major concern for the team in the grand scheme of things. With Walker on Julien BriseBois’ radar, only time will tell.
Advanced percentiles via AllThreeZones (paid subscription required)
Lightning tracked stats via Last Word (Kyle Pereira and Jack Pallotta)
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