It feels like just yesterday the 2015 seventh overall pick joined the Philadelphia Flyers roster, but somehow Ivan Provorov is seven seasons and over 450 games into his NHL career. He’s been the backbone of the defense since day one, but that role has not come without its ups and downs over the years. As the number one defenseman on the blueline, he faces pretty heavy scrutiny when things go wrong, and considering how bad the Flyers have been over the last few seasons, he has become the de facto public enemy number one for most of the fanbase.
After a tense end-of-season press conference where Provorov ruffled some feathers by refusing to answer a few baited questions, it sure seemed like there was a fracture growing between he and the team. But the offseason came and went with no fire to the original smoke.
He returned to the team and made it through training camp and the early days of the regular season with seemingly no issues, and his play resembling the Provorov we expect him to be.
Then the Flyers did something intriguing.
They re-signed 27-year-old Travis Sanheim to an eight-year deal right before the puck dropped on opening night, which creates a very congested, very expensive left side of their defense and reigniting the questions about Provorov’s future.
Provorov, who turns 26 in January, is under contract for two more seasons at a $6.75 million cap hit. It’s a very good deal considering the role he plays on the team. But with Sanheim’s deal clocking in at $6.25 million per year, the Flyers can’t really afford to have $13 million invested in their top two left-handed defensemen.
Now, the combined cap hit isn’t the end of the world. With the flat cap era about to finally end, $13 million will seem less and less of a burden as time goes on. Each player’s respective cap hit is actually pretty decent. Top defensemen are getting some of the largest contracts in the game today, with values regularly exceeding $8 million. 17 players are making $8 million or above and an additional eight are making more than $7 million a season. Both Provorov and Sanheim’s contract AAVs are in a good value range, especially for the respective roles that they play. Provorov would be the 27th highest paid defenseman and Sanheim’s new dollar value would put him as the 37th.
More so than money, one of the only positions the Flyers are deep at internally is left-handed defenseman, where rookies Cam York and Egor Zamula knocking at the NHL door, as well as prospect Emil Andrae on the radar for the future, and that’s not even including some of the lesser prospects like Linus Hogberg, Adam Ginning and Mason Millman all lingering in the system as well.
Cam York found himself in the AHL to start the season after butting heads with John Tortorella during the preseason, and even though Zamula made the NHL roster to start the year, he has been used sparingly in favor of veteran Nick Seeler, who is also under contract for next season as well. Because of the clog on the main roster, they’ve managed to stifle two of the organization’s top prospects in the name of playing the vets. Sanheim’s expiring deal was supposed to be a clear path for York to earn a full-time gig as well as saving a bit of money on the blueline. Though since they just committed to him for another eight years, it means they either have no interest in the kids snagging NHL spots anytime soon, or the attention shifts to Provorov in order to open a spot on the left side.
Here’s a spoiler for anyone in the “Trade Provorov” camp- It’s gonna be ugly. As evidenced by the Arizona Coyotes’ struggles to move Jakob Chychrun, who’s younger, cheaper and in the same player tier as Provorov, there isn’t going to be an easy suitor for the Russian defenseman.
“But the Coyotes asking price is high” I hear you yell at your screen. But that’s the point. He’s a player they don’t have to move, they’d be parting ways with him purely for gaining assets, meaning they only pull the trigger in a deal that they deem proper value. That would be a similar situation to Provorov, who they’d be dealing essentially to open a spot for a prospect, which would be a huge gamble, so the asking price on Provorov should be high to help swallow such a big decision, especially since his play is back at a respectable level.
The original Provorov trade rumors sparked up because of his declining play. He struggled through the last few seasons, feeling the blow of the disarray the team was in more than most players. But he has undergone a quiet renaissance under new head coach John Tortorella and defense partner Tony DeAngelo. Believe it or not they put Provorov in a position to succeed and he is excelling. Crazy.
And that raises the question- is his job safe since his play is back to expected levels, or is it just raising his trade value?
Technically, either of those outcomes are positive. It’d certainly be better and easier to trade him if his play was strong, but it’d also make it a bigger gamble from the Flyers’ perspective to move on from him. And if they decide to keep him they’d have their number one defenseman back at number one defenseman levels.
Right now in early November, it does feel unlikely Provorov gets moved during the 2023 offseason. Though as the season progresses, anything is possible, especially if the team tailspins before the campaign comes to a close. It’d be such a gigantic, unnecessary gamble that unless a can’t miss offer lands at their feet, trading Provorov feels like a guaranteed move that will do more harm than good.
Do the Flyers trade Provorov? Can they win a potential Provorov trade? Can Sanheim play undisputed number one minutes in Philly? Can a trio of Sanheim, York and Zamula be good enough to replace Provorov by committee in the short term while they all figure out their new roles?
Those are some serious, potentially franchise-altering questions Chuck Fletcher and friends will have to look in the mirror and ask themselves before any deal is made.
The Flyers have worked themselves into quite a situation at LHD. With a few prospects being cast aside this season, and with all three of Provorov, Sanheim and Seeler signed for at least next season as well, it’s hard to see a future where any of the youngsters are NHL regulars any time soon. Unless the coaching staff can get over their love affair with Seeler, the only way any prospect cracks the lineup on a full-time basis would be moving Provorov, but if Provorov is playing close to his peak, do they even consider moving him? The over abundance of good players is a nice problem to have, but trusting the Flyers’ front office to make the right call with this situation moving forward is a tall ask considering it was their own incompetence that creates such a state of affairs to begin with.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: nhl.com