October 13, 2022. Opening night for the Philadelphia Flyers, who were gearing up to take on the New Jersey Devils. Just hours before puck drop, 26-year-old Travis Sanheim re-signed with the club for a wopping eight-years and $50 million ($6.25 million per season). He had a career season during 2021-22, finally adding defensive consistency to his game while embracing his offensive capabilities.
As the 2022-23 season has progressed, Sanheim has regressed to a concerning level which makes the fact that his extension doesn’t kick in until the start on next season a real bad look on general manager Chuck Fletcher.
Re-signing him doesn’t even necessarily reflect solely on his play. It’s the timing of the signing, it’s the length of the deal, the roster depth at left-handed defenseman, and the potential return they could’ve landed at the deadline that made the extension baffling.
The fate that should’ve befell Sanheim felt rather self explanatory. Don’t re-sign him and deal him at the trade deadline for picks then give up-and-comer Cam York the reins behind Ivan Provorov. It was the path of least resistance and the smartest management of both salary cap and assets.
Ironically, one of Chuck Fletcher’s other worst moves was the massive eight-year, $62 million extension, also signed a year early, that has aged like milk. At least Couturier won a Selke trophy and had some of the best seasons of his career right before he signed, so, even though the exact outcome was the feared ending for Couturier, there was at least some basis to re-sign hm.
Sanheim didn’t even have that.
The Flyers theoretically value the 2023 draft. They may have destroyed their own positioning due to their slightly better than expected season, but they refused to trade JVR last summer with their 2023 first round pick attached to clear his cap to land Johnny Gaudreau. With Sanheim being the only noteworthy player on the roster with an expiring contract, you’d think they’d be eager to part ways with him at the deadline and acquire another pick or two in a stacked draft.
His value as a trade piece significantly outweighed his contributions to the roster. It’s probably the most frustrating part when it comes down to the extension.
It has since been theorized that they re-signed Sanheim so they’d still have one of their two top lefties under contract if they opted to deal away Ivan Provorov this summer. While that is feasible and could very well be their thinking, re-signing him on opening night still doesn’t make much sense.
Cam York’s emergence has also made the decision to re-sign Sanheim look worse. Going into the year York was tasked with overthrowing Sanheim and locking down a top four LHD spot. Despite the fact he was stuck in the AHL for two months, it didn’t take long for him to establish himself as possibly the best blueliner on the team upon his recall in Mid-December. He’s been playing next to Provorov as the top pair RHD (his off side) for most of his recall, though through the last few games in late February has been playing as the second pair LHD while Sanheim’s play has spiraled out of control.
York ended up being successful in supplanting him right before the trade deadline. Literally the exact perfect outcome that should’ve led to Sanheim getting dealt at the deadline.
But, ya know, they re-signed him in October.
At the end of the day, Sanheim’s just nothing special. At his peak he’s a slightly above average puck mover who is prone to defensive mistakes. He had a decent overall season last year on both sides of the ice, but it was also the outlier of his career and signing the guy early based on last season’s production rather than waiting for the completion of the 2022-23 season bit them really hard.
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.
They had to to weigh the futures of York and Zamula, plus the $6.25 million in cap the team saves, plus any assets they’ll receive trading him at the deadline, versus Sanheim being a kinda decent number three defenseman on a Cup-caliber team, which the Flyers are not.
The front office apparently didn’t do any of that.
Another masterclass in GMing by Chuck Fletcher. This extension will be a lasting middle finger long after he’s gone.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: NHL.com