Just when the future of the Philadelphia Flyers organization feels like it’s reached its bleakest, leave it to Chuck Fletcher to go ahead and turn the screws just a little bit more. He did so by re-signing soon-to-be 27-year-old defenseman Travis Sanheim to an eight-year contract extension with a $6.25 million cap hit.
It’s a Chuck Fletcher contract if ever there was one: it’s fine, could’ve been worse, but it could’ve been so much better, too.
Now the Flyers’ second pair left-handed defenseman is under contract for the foreseeable future. The question is now what?
The long-term effects of the deal simply boil down to whether or not Sanheim can perform at a high level well into his 30’s. The Flyers don’t have a particularly strong track record of that lately with both Sean Couturier and Ryan Ellis aging like a banana, but $6.25 itself is a fine cap hit that will become even more negligible in three years when the cap rises and it becomes an even better number.
But the biggest questions arise in the short-term, when the focus turns to the 2023 offseason, which should’ve been about the Flyers take a big step forward.
They already didn’t have much money coming off the books entering the 2023 offseason, with only Sanheim’s $4.6 million and James Van Riemsdyk’s $7 million making up almost entirety of the cap the team would shed. Now Sanheim’s extension eats up $6.25 of the $11.6 million in free space they had.
The 2023 free agent pool is shaping up to be a strong one, and considering the Flyers are a bottom-of-the-barrel team theoretically rebuilding, next summer could be a time they look to make a big addition or two in order to expedite the winning process. Though that line of thought can be put to bed since they no longer have the cap space. If a legitimate 1C like Dylan Larkin or top scorer like David Pastrnak actually make it to free agency, the Flyers can’t even entertain real discussions because they simply don’t have the money to do so.
“They could make some trades” I hear you yell at your screen, and they very well could… but will they?
Even though the Flyers conspired to rebuild during the 2022 offseason despite selling an aggressive retool to the fans, they didn’t really do anything that would indicate a real rebuild. The overflow of veteran wingers would’ve been a prime opportunity to move one or two and collect some extra draft assets and a little breathing room financially, but that didn’t happen. Instead, the enter the 2022-23 season with two teams worth of wingers, half prospects and half vets, because making decisions is hard.
If they didn’t part ways with guys like Travis Konecny last summer when the situation was right, what should make us believe they’ll do it either at this season’s trade deadline or next summer?
Chuck Fletcher has made it very clear during his time in Philly that he doesn’t value free agents, unless of course you’re a fourth line enforcer like Nic Deslauriers, in which case you get a four-year contract with two years of a no-movement clause. But other than that, his list of free agent signings is practically nonexistent.
At the end of the day, if they actually intend of becoming a better team, they are going to have to clear cap. And the pressure to do so intensifies with Sanheim’s extension. Their fascination with retaining core players of a team on pace for their third consecutive 25-win season is never not baffling.
It poses a rather daunting question that’s been stuck in the back of the mind all offseason- Do they still sell a marginally improved record as a big win to the fans? “Hey guys we won 28 games instead of 25, this group is on the right path, they just need one more year for everything to align” Is something you can totally imagine Chuck Fletcher actually saying, thus bowing out of any pursuit of high-end talent so he doesn’t have to actually do his job. And don’t say it can’t happen, because Johnny Gaudreau remembers otherwise.
It may be much ado about nothing, but Sanheim’s extension could also be a crippling blow to the franchise that is starved of star power. Chuck Fletcher has worked himself into quite a sticky cap situation that needs to be addressed before it rises naturally in a few year’s time. Given his overall lackluster history when it comes to maneuvering though tight cap dollars and minimal worthwhile trade history, for now it totally fine asking what the Flyers’ plan is to actually turn this team into a contender in short order, because all this extension does is further tie their hands to the wheel of an out of control train.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: nhl.com / inquirer.com