Breaking: Flyers Agree to 2-Year Contract with RFA Travis Sanheim
Chuck Fletcher has made his mark on the present state and future of the Philadelphia Flyers all month long. Hello Kevin Hayes, Matt Niskanen, Justin Braun, Cam York, and others. Goodbye, Radko Gudas, Andrew MacDonald, Jori Lehtera, Corban Knight, and more. However, the time has come for Fletcher to shift his focus towards the Flyers young talent of today, many of who are seeking massive paydays this summer.
The Flyers have five key RFAs to sign - Travis Sanheim, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Ryan Hartman, and Scott Laughton. Well, they had five. Though Fletcher said that he was making progress with all five after the draft, the first domino officially fell Monday. Travie Sanheim became the first of that group to agree to a new contract, signing a 2-year deal with an AAV (average annual value) of $3.25 million.
Sanheim was selected seventeeth overall by the Flyers in the 2014 NHL Draft, the first ever pick by Ron Hextall as Flyers GM. Sanheim made his debut in the 2017-18 season. It was up and down year for Travis, as he struggled to find consistent playing time. He earned a spot, then lost it, and was sent down to the AHL in January. Injuries gave him a second chance, and Sanheim reclaimed his spot, which he ultimately lost again during the playoffs.
However, Sanheim truly broke out a year ago. Playing in all 82 games, Sanheim scored nine goals and twenty-six assists for 35 points. More importantly, he spent basically the entire second half on the Flyers top pair, skating on the right side paired with Ivan Provorov.
Travis is an offensive defenseman, known for his puck-moving and offensive instincts. He has also posted strong advanced metrics, driving play relative to his teammates in each of his first two years. Ideally, he'd probably be better suited on the Flyers second pair, and there is a good chance he starts there, paired with either Shayne Gostisbehere or Justin Braun (assuming Niskanen gets the first look alongside Provorov).
One of the downsides of the Flyers big shopping spree has been rapidly decreasing cap space. With the NHL's announcement that the cap will be only $81.5 million for the 2019-20 season (it was believed to be $83 million as recently as a few weeks ago), Sanheim's deal leaves Philaelphia with just over $18 million in cap space, with the aforementioned four key RFAs and a backup goalie still needed to be signed (or traded).
The Flyers may have preferred to go long-term with Sanheim, but because of the Flyers tight cap situation, a bridge deal made more sense. Fletcher can probably hand out a 6+ year deal to Konecny or Provorov (likely not both). His days of acquiring roster players for next year are likely done, unless a player like Shayne Gostisbehere is shipped out to acquire more cap space.
It will be interesting to see where Sanheim is when this deal is up. He will still be an RFA, and will almost certainly command a raise. But the question is what is his true ceiling? Can Sanheim survive, maybe even thrive, in the top-pair minutes he was tasked with last year? Or is he merely a solid top-four defenseman with above average puck skills?
Both are valuable players to have, but one is certainly better than the other. Over the course of this deal, Flyers fans will see the real Travis Sanheim, whoever he may be, stand up at some point. Regardless of who he becomes, he is already a very good player well worth the price. Sanheim should be a staple of the Flyers backend for many years, well more than just two, to come.