Every time it seems as though the Flyers have hit rock bottom and can’t possibly make any more stupid decisions, they go ahead and top themselves. Last week Brotherly Pod Co-Host and TFP correspondent Anthony Di Marco reported that the Flyers have their sights set on re-signing 26-year-old defenseman Travis Sanheim, whose current contract expires in the 2023 offseason.
Sanheim, who played the best hockey of his career during the 2021-22 season, has been fed two consecutive bridge contracts by the Flyers, the most recent being a two-year, $4.6 million AAV deal. If they choose to re-sign him, you can expect a bloated AAV, probably hovering around the $6 million range.
“So If he’s potentially their best defenseman, why trade him?” I here you yell at your screen.
Well, for one thing, the 2023 draft is supposedly going to be a good one, and the Flyers apparently feel that way too. They just chickened out of dealing away JVR and his $7 million cap hit because it meant parting ways with a 2023 draft pick.
If Sanheim continues his strong play during the season, he’d be an excellent trade chip come deadline day in the spring as potentially the best left-handed defenseman on the market. He’d almost assuredly net them an extra first round pick in 2023 to a team that feels they’re one piece away from the Cup.
Though, dealing away expiring contract for extra picks has been a concept the Flyers’ front office just doesn’t seem to grasp. They have made this mistake with Sean Couturier, Rasmus Ristolainen and Scott Laughton over the last few seasons, opting to re-sign them all instead of trade them for assets at a trade deadline. Do they have the self control to break the streak and actually deal Sanheim for a draft pick or two in the loaded 2023 class?
More than just the potential value they could get via trade, taking a look at the roster, LHD is one of the only points of prosperity when it comes to depth in the organization, and re-signing Sanheim is going to halt the development of players that could ultimately be better than him in the long run.
If Sanheim does return for next season and beyond, how does the rest of the defense shake out?
Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Cam York and Egor Zamula are your top four, all capable of playing in the NHL in 2022-23, not to mention Emil Andrae, Linus Hogberg, Mason Millman, their top prospects behind the NHL ready players, who could all reasonably be ready for NHL ice within the next few seasons.
So what’s the plan?
A top four of Provorov, Sanheim, DeAngelo and Ristolainen is feasible for next season, but having almost $25 million wrapped up long-term is a dangerous game to play, especially if Ryan Ellis magically comes back and they have to juggle his $6.2 million cap as well. It’s a lot of money to pay a corps that has had virtually no success since they were assembled.
Keeping both Provorov and Sanheim cuts the legs out from York and Zamula, who are then destined to be depth players or AHL tweeners.
Do they then trade the youngsters in favor of keeping the vets? That seems like an easy way to lose a star player for practically nothing. York’s trade value individually seems rather low at this point, but he’s got all the makings of an up-and-coming star. Deal him away as a throw-in in some random trade and it’ll likely bite them sooner rather than later.
Do they trade Provorov to keep Sanheim and roll with York and Zamula?
It’s possible, but take a look at the Arizona Coyotes for an example on how difficult it is to play your cards in the modern flat-cap era we live in. They’ve been trying to trade Jakub Chychrun for almost a year now and have not received an offer they deem good enough to part ways with him. So what chances do you give the Flyers to part ways with an older, more expensive, slightly worse version of the same player? Especially when it’s Chuck Fletcher making the decisions.
And could Sanheim even handle the bonafide number one defenseman role?
Sanheim’s play did improve during the 2021-22 season and he saw an uptick in ice time because of it. But Provorov was still deployed to eat the hardest minutes the team faced. Can Sanheim step into the true number one defenseman role? Do they keep him as the second pair LHD and promote York to the number one role? It’s possible, but it’s also a pretty big gamble for the untested 21-year-old.
The fate of Sanheim feels rather self explanatory this point. Don’t re-sign him and deal him at the trade deadline for picks. It’s the path of least resistance, and the smartest management of both salary cap and assets.
Re-signing him doesn’t even necessarily reflect solely on his play. At the end of the day, he’s just nothing special. He’s a slightly above average puck mover who is prone to defensive mistakes. He’s never hit double digits in goals, and hovers around the 25-30 point mark, so he’s not even producing enough offense to be indisposable.
Cam York is expected to, at bare minimum, become a player very similar to Sanheim in the near future, and can be had for one-fifth the cost for the next handful of years. Zamula still has a bit of developing to do, but could easily be a more responsible player in his own end than Sanheim is as early as next season.
Considering the Flyers on the whole have been as terrible as they have over the last few years, cementing yet another member of the team who had blood on his hands for its lackluster state is a mistake. Why this organization feels as though they have to double down on the mistakes they make rather than accept defeat and move on is completely puzzling.
This team that is desperately searching for cap space continues to shoot themselves in the foot by throwing wheelbarrows of cash to mediocre players. This is their chance to walk away from one player from the previous generation. Give the reins to the youth they’ve been stockpiling, snag an extra draft pick and save a few extra bucks in the process.
There’s no reason Travis Sanheim should be a Flyer in 2023-24.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: nhl.com