2021 was a year to forget for the Philadelphia Flyers. As far as the defense goes, this upcoming season is a shot at redemption. Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher made it his mission to avenge the mistakes made last offseason, adding some veterans to the blue-line in a bid to stabilize the ship. For young defenseman Travis Sanheim, that might be all he needs.
This past weekend, the 25-year-old signed a new two-year deal with the team that drafted him. Sanheim played in 55 games for the Flyers last year, struggling with consistency at the best of times. He made too many costly mistakes and struggled to match his opponents’ physicality. His three goals were the lowest since his first year in the NHL, and a -22 rating doesn’t exactly scream ‘elite’. The team’s save percentage with Sanheim on the ice stood at .872, which simply has to change moving forward.
However, not all of Sanheim’s struggles should be attributed to his individual play. The Flyers lost Matt Niskanen last offseason and were unable to do enough to find a viable replacement, instead looking to Eric Gustafsson, which proved to be a bad decision. Sanheim often found himself on a line with Phil Myers, handling even-strength duties and skating more minutes than most. This meant that he’d often end up shuffling sides and linemates throughout the season, making it hard to really find a groove. This was something that the former first-round pick discussed in a conference call today:
I think that was something that they looked at and wanted to address. It’s difficult playing different partners, different positions, whether it’s left or right. I think to be able to kind of settle in, find somebody, find some chemistry and somebody going to make each other better and make our team better.
The players brought in will all tick the right boxes for Alain Vigneault. Ryan Ellis will partner Ivan Provorov on the back of a slightly down year due to battling a shoulder injury, but that shouldn’t overshadow the fact that he’s been as solid as blueliners come throughout his career. Alongside Sanheim will be Rasmus Ristolainen, who brings the size, strength, and aggression that Sanheim is often critiqued for lacking. With two new veterans gracing the locker room, the Philadelphia Flyers look poised to at least right the wrongs of last year.
I think just taking it to the next level. I think you got guys that have been there, done that. Ellis has played a lot of big games. I think we’re going to rely on those guys to come in and settle things down a little bit. I think we need that. There were certain nights there where maybe we ran into being a younger group. Sometimes you need that voice or that calmness and somebody that’s done it before. I think we’re going to learn a lot from those guys. I’m excited to not only meet them but learn from them as well.
Sanheim might only be 25, but he’s been around the team long enough to become a somewhat reliable part of the defensive machine. Since his NHL debut, he’s recorded a total of 22 goals and 63 assists, playing in 20 Stanley Cup playoff games in the process. While the team have made a real point of adding veterans into the mix, Sanheim’s familiarity with existing teammates and experience on the team will undoubtedly thrust him into a position that’s just as beneficial to the new guys as it is those younger than him – a leadership role that Sanheim is more than excited to take on.
I think you’re starting to establish yourself more. You’re starting to feel like you’re grabbing a bigger piece of the pie. For me, leadership is a part of that and being able to show that with my experience and what I’ve kind of been through along the way that I can step up and start to provide that role.
If it’s a bigger piece of the pie Sanheim wants, then that may explain why the Flyers sought it best to give him a salary increase over the next two years. His production as of right now may not warrant one, but if Fletcher has removed and fixed the external factors, then he may well play up to and beyond that value as the blue-line finds some serenity after a tumultuous 2020.
Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre