Travis Sanheim vs Rasmus Ristolainen

It’s not often two polarizing figures end up playing together, but that’s exactly what we have with Rasmus Ristolainen and Travis Sanheim. They’ve drawn a line in the sand in the blame game battle that ensues within the fanbase, and even just through the preseason, the arguments of who is really at fault have already taken off.

Rasmus Ristolainen was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres by the Philadelphia Flyers this offseason as the solution to the second line right defenseman spot. Travis Sanheim was re-signed to a two-year, $9.2 million extension, to reclaim his spot on the left.

Sanheim is beloved in the analytics world for his breakout passes and puck-moving ability in the offensive zone, but he really doesn’t peak the interest of the non-analytics crowd. He doesn’t do much with his 6’3 frame, he’s always in the lower half of the team’s defenseman in hits and is average at blocking pucks, and for an offensive defenseman, he doesn’t actually produce much offense. He’s registered just 22 goals and 85 points in 255 games.

Ristolainen has been a man fed to the wolves in Buffalo. He was drafted eighth overall in 2013 and made the NHL out of his first camp, and by the 2014-15 season was already leading the team in ice time. His revolving door of linemates ranged from Josh Georges and Andrej Meszaros, to Carlo Colaiacovo, and Jake McCabe. He was handling top minutes at even strength and on both the powerplay and penalty kill. But his intimidating physical play is the crown jewel of his repertoire.

From the minute they acquired Ristolainen, it was obvious he was brought in with the idea of being deployed with Sanheim. It’s no secret that this was a questionable move from the get go.

In a perfect world, these two would compliment each other nicely. A big, physical stay-at-home defenseman and a puck moving offensive defenseman. But that feels like a long shot to occur on a nightly basis. Both are prone to defensive breakdowns, Ristolainen’s typically coming when he gets out of position to throw a check and Sanheim because his playing style is far too passive as a defenseman.

The question has to be if Ristolainen can provide the physicality for the two of them and if Sanheim can provide the puck moving. Finding ways to be equally aggressive in their respective jobs but smart enough to know when to rein it in and focus on the defensive task in front of them.

But it’s not impossible things could work out. For the most part, with the exception of that goal in the Boston game where they broke down in front of the net, there wasn’t any flagrant issues with the two during the preseason. Now, things could always get worse when they’re facing an NHL squad instead of a preseason roster, but it is possible that there is enough brain cells shared between the two of them that everything could end up working out in the end, or at least not blowing up in their faces every time they’re on the ice.

Despite the battle lines drawn, at the end of the day they’re not as different as people like to think. A defenseman’s job is to play defense, make it as difficult for the opponent to score as possible and do your part to keep the puck out of your net. Both of them fail to carry their responsibilities on a semi-regular basis. If you could somehow combine these two players together, you’d have a top defenseman on your hands, but individually you’ve got two players with mile-long rapsheets containing their past screw ups. All we can hope for is a peaceful co-existance during the season and the two can forge some kind of symbiotic relationship on the Flyers’ second pair. It’s their best chance for success. If not, well, we’re in for a long season.

By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)

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