The Philadelphia Flyers are having a rough 2021 campaign thanks in part to the state of their defense core which has underperformed all season. One of the biggest disappointments on the blue line is 25-year-old fourth-year defenseman Travis Sanheim. He is in the last year of his two-year bridge deal he signed in 2019 that pays him $3.25 million a season. He will be a restricted free agent this summer.
Sanheim may not be the worst player on the ice, even though he’s close, it’s the fact he’s a nondescript defenseman who doesn’t bring much substance to the table. His offense isn’t prevalent, with just 20 goals and 79 points to his name in 233 NHL games, and the defensive aspects of his game are atrocious, regularly blowing coverage and failing to bring any physicality to the table despite his 6’3 frame. He’s a fine puck mover and his possession numbers are decent, but he fails at the “defense” part of his job as a defenseman.
So why shouldn’t the Flyers re-sign Travis Sanheim? Well, first and foremost, his next contract could be an issue for the Flyers cap space for years to come. With the impacts from the coronavirus expected to hamstring the salary cap for at least three or four more years, the Flyers are going to have to be more calculated with who they hand big contracts out to.
Sanheim may ask for a bit of a decent raise from his current $3.25 million, which was relatively high for a bridge deal to begin with. Originally, I predicted a 5x$5 extension for Sanheim this summer, and while that seems high right now given his underwhelming season, he could still reasonably seek a contract in the $4 million range.
For the kind of damage Sanheim’s potential extension can do, look no further than Shayne Gostisbehere. Ghost is a fine player, but he no longer brings worthwhile offensive contributions to the table and his defense more often than not isn’t good enough to earn him significant ice time. Partner that with his $4.5 million cap hit for two more years and he not only doesn’t provide much value to the team, but he’s not an easy player to trade away because his cap his is too high for most teams to take on in full.
The Flyers may not have to lose Sanheim for nothing though. As a restricted free agent, the Flyers will control his rights this summer if they qualify him. They could deal his rights or pull a sign-and-trade. We’ve talked in the past about using Sanheim as a trade tool in the upcoming expansion draft to entice Seattle to take on a big contract like Jake Voracek or James Van Riemsdyk, and that still seems like the best option.
Seattle GM Ron Francis knows that every team will be looking to ditch that one bad contract on the books and, especially in the flat cap era, they will leverage their willingness to take on cap space with extra assets to make that happen.
For example, Francis will take a look at the Flyers roster and say “well we’ll take Aube-Kubel but if you want us to take Jake Voracek, you’ll have to make it worth our while.” And with that, Chuck Fletcher will ball up under his desk scared to death to make a move before Brent Flahr comes into his office and has to console him before he finally picks the phone back up and says “Fine, if you take Jake Voracek we’ll give you Travis Sanheim” and just like that the Flyers kill two birds with one stone.
Just imagine Sanheim’s play doesn’t improve from the lackluster state it’s in now. He signs a five year extension at $4 million and in a few years they want to ditch his contract in order to re-sign Phil Myers or Joel Farabee but they can’t because he’s vastly overpaid and nobody wants to take on his salary.
The Flyers still have two defensemen in the system that could reasonably be top guys, that being Cam York and Egor Zamula. If they both make the NHL and succeed over the next calendar year or two, it could push Sanheim down the depth chart. An overpaid defenseman who once had promise now he’s being paid $4 million to be the fifth defenseman. Sound familiar?
Maybe Travis Sanheim turns his game around. It seems unlikely as he’s still making rookie mistakes 230+ games into his career, but maybe one day he’ll figure it out. He may be worth a roster spot and an extension. But that’s a risk Chuck Fletcher and the Flyers can’t afford to take right now. Save the money, invest in a real top defenseman in the free agent or trade markets this offseason and cut your losses with Sanheim as a trade chip for Seattle to take a big contract off the books.
It’s about cap management for the Flyers from here on out. As the team stirs in mediocrity, investing more time and money into the current players on the lineup doesn’t make too much sense. If Chuck Fletcher really wants to improve the defense this offseason, there is one easy way to do it- Don’t re-sign Travis Sanheim.
Just my two cents though.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: inquirer.com