Coming off the heels of a six game exit in the first round of the playoffs, the Flyers knew what they needed to work on, and so did their fans. Too many times did they witness the puck getting lost between Brandon Manning’s feet. Too many times did the fans see Radko Gudas make an errant pass and have it get picked off and turned back the other way. Heck, even Ivan Provorov made a few uncharacteristically bad passes, obviously due to his bad shoulder.
The performance of the Flyers blue line was sub-par. Period. Too many miscues, penalties, you name it. It was a bad series overall for the defensemen on the Flyers. The most puzzling part about the defense, however, is not the players decision-making, but the coaches. Dave Hakstol decided to scratch Travis Sanheim in the last couple games of the series, even after Sanheim showed maturity beyond his years in the first few games.
Regardless, the Flyers now stand with five defensemen on their roster. They have Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere, Andrew MacDonald, Robert Hagg, and Radko Gudas. That leaves room for 2, maybe even 3 defensemen to slot in and fill out the pairings.
Indications are that now that Ron Hextall has a little bit of money to spend, upgrades could be coming through the free agency market. No, that doesn’t mean Dale Weise caliber players, that means there could be a high caliber player coming to the Flyer’s blue line this summer. The likes of Jack Johnson, Calvin de Haan, even John Carlson will be discussed, but don’t expect Hextall to overspend for any of those three. He has always been adamant about the price having to be right in order to strike a deal, so expect the big names to be out quick due to the bidding war that is sure to ensue.
That leaves a potential of two more spots that need to be filled on the defensive side of the puck. Samuel Morin was all but guaranteed a spot, but won’t return to action until late winter of next season due to a torn ACL. He may be able to finagle his way into the lineup upon return, but that would still mean that for the first 3-5 months of the season, the Flyers would need someone to fill that role.
Enter Travis Sanheim, again, and newcomer to the call-up talks, Philippe Myers.
Sanheim and Myers are two of the most highly touted defensemen in the Flyers system right now, and have shown what they are capable of by being the top pair for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on their run to the eastern conference finals in the AHL. They are both big bodies, Sanheim standing at six feet three inches, and Myers standing at six feet five inches. The Flyers have been lacking that kind of size for a few years, and could use some big bodies in front of the net to clear the way, especially if Carter Hart is to make his presence felt at the pro level as well.
Sanheim is all but a lock to make the roster coming out of camp next year. Unless Hextall pulls yet another rabbit out of his hat on draft day and picks up one of the top three defensemen in the draft, don’t expect to see Sanheim picking up more minutes with the Phantoms. Last year with the Flyers, he posted two goals, eight assits, for a total of 10 points during the regular season, adding a goal in the playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins as well.
Myers, on the other hand, would be new to the NHL, and could be just what the Flyers are looking for in a defenseman. Myers is big, as mentioned before, and he is a right-handed shot, something the Flyers lack right now on the blue line. Myers could also soak up some penalty-kill minutes, giving guys like Provorov and Gostisbehere a breather. Obviously he won’t be depended upon like Provorov was, but Myers could become an integral part of this team for years to come. With Samuel Morin being out for an extended period of time, this is Philippe Myers’ time to shine, and prove that he can hang at the NHL level.
With that being said, the pairings should remain pretty similar to what they were this past year, with the only change being Sanheim substituting in for Manning, maybe even Hagg being bumped down to the third pairing with Gudas and Sanheim playing alongside MacDonald on the team’s second pairing. Myer’s stands to be the 7th defenseman, but that could change if Radko Gudas decides to fumble the puck around on a more consistent basis than this year’s playoffs.
There are some detractors out there, who think neither of these defensemen belong on the Flyers next year. By that, I mean I’ve seen one, and boy was that an interesting argument. Now that we’ve been able to look past one game in the Calder Cup playoffs, and assess these two blue liners based off of their actual body of work over the course of a whole season, compared to one game, I think it puts things into perspective a little more than the contrary.
Don’t expect to see Sanheim and Myers on the same line together if they both make it into the NHL next season. However, expect to see them donning the Flyers logo on their chest come the end of October.
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports