The changes that were to come to the Flyers blue line were already starting on the final day of the 2022-23 regular season. That was Justin Braun’s last game in the NHL before retiring.
Braun had returned to the Flyers for his final NHL season after being traded at the previous deadline. In a year that ultimately marked the beginning of a rebuild, Braun played in 51 games, not necessarily blocking the young talent waiting for a chance, while being a mentor in the locker room.
To fill that void, the Flyers signed Marc Staal in the offseason. With 1,101 NHL games in his career, including most recently a run to the Stanley Cup Final, the idea of playing for a franchise trying to build something and helping it grow helped influence the decision.
“Where they’re at and just looking at a way where I can help and be part of something where you’re growing it. Familiarity with Torts and knowing what’s expected of me coming in, just checked a lot of boxes for me,” Staal said. “I’m excited to compete again and come to an organization that has a ton of history and a lot of passion. Getting back into that type of environment again is exciting for me.”
There are a host of young defensemen waiting in the wings for the Flyers. With the departure of Braun, Ivan Provorov, and Tony DeAngelo came the arrival of Staal and Sean Walker. Cam York still spearheads the group of young defensemen, with Ronnie Attard, Emil Andrae, Adam Ginning, and Egor Zamula all competing for spots as well.
Staal is going to be leaned on to help the defensive prospects take steps both on the ice and off it as a professional. However, John Tortorella, who coached Staal with the New York Rangers from 2009 to 2013, made clear that a veteran like Staal would not block kids from getting into games.
“He’s going to be a mentor. He’s going to be an offshoot of the coaching staff with some of the youth,” Tortorella said. “It’s a very young back end. Marc Staal is going to play a major role with them, even if Marc isn’t playing some games along the year. As I stated to him, he’s not going to get in the way of the kids. There’s going to be some nights he’s not going to play. But he’s going to be just as important in those nights and those days leading up to games that he’s maybe not playing in than he is putting the uniform on.
“I think once you get into camp and games, throughout the course of a season is when those types of things come about,” Staal said. “Whether there are questions or leading by example or certain things that go on throughout the year.”
Beyond the level of play it takes to reach the NHL and stay there, Staal can also offer the experiences of two Stanley Cup runs that came up just short, one with the Rangers in 2014 and last season’s with the Panthers. While that run made his offseason shorter than most, it’s an experience he wants to help young players understand.
“The older you get, the less time off you have is usually better. I just felt better going into this camp not having that much time off,” Staal said. “I feel good physically, mentally refreshed and ready to go again. I’ll take that every summer. It was so much fun last year and I just want to let these guys know that’s the best part of playing this game, doing stuff like that. It’s something to work for every day, and I’m excited to get that started.”