Philadelphia Flyers: Where does Travis Sanheim fit in 2021-22?

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

After some initial contention and a narrowly avoided trip to arbitration, Travis Sanheim is back on the Philadelphia Flyers for at least the next two seasons as the proud owner of a new deal worth $9.35 million.

Is that a very nice payday for the former first-round pick? Most definitely, as it makes Sanheim the 65th-highest-paid defenseman in the league when it comes to AAV, but considering the former Calgary Hitman’s role with the team last season, it’s certainly a well-deserved raise.

I mean, we’re talking about the Flyers’ second most relied upon defenseman behind only Ivan Provorov and one of only five players to appear in 55 or more games last season; if Sanheim is expendable, then who isn’t?

But now, with players like Ryan EllisRasmus Ristolainen, and Keith Yandle all set to soak up time on the blue line, where does Travis Sanheim fit with the Philadelphia Flyers this fall?

Sanheim may be more impactful for the Philadelphia Flyers with a smaller role.

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The Philadelphia Flyers did not trade for Ryan Ellis to ride the bench.

One of the most highly respected defensemen in the NHL today, Ellis was brought to the City of Brotherly Love to play at even strength, play on special teams, and most importantly of all, play alongside Ivan Provorov on the Flyers’ top-line.

Is that the correct decision? Heck yeah. Ellis is a top-20 left-shot defenseman in the NHL right now and is a good complement to Provorov’s style of play. Playing him in the middle pairing consistently would be a waste of both money and talent and ultimately limit the team’s ceiling as a result.

But where does that leave Sanheim?

(Drumroll)……. not on the top-line.

I know, I know, talk about an underwhelming development but honesty, sliding Sanheim down to the second-pairing alongside the equally polarizing Rasmus Ristolainen isn’t necessarily a demotion or punishment for an inconsistent fourth-NHL season. If anything, playing a bit less on average may allow Sanheim to be more productive on the ice in distilled action.

Don’t believe me? Well, look at it this way: In 2020-21, Ellis led the Predators in short-handed time on ice and second in Power Play action behind only long-time team captain Roman Josi. Even Keith Yandle, who only averaged 12:45 of full strength time on ice a night last season, led the Panthers in Power Play time last season with 4:26 ATOI.

Heck, even Ristolainen played 2:15 minutes of shorthanded time on ice for the Sabres last season. Granted, his relative Corsi was very bad at -4.8, but he could conceivably soak up a few minutes reserved for Sanheim last season and allow him to take the ice with fresher skates.

Get Sanheim down to roughly 20 minutes of on-ice time per game, and his production could rebound to his 2019-20 highs.

Next. Sean Couturier has become a franchise icon. dark

Typically, teams don’t give a player a notable pay raise to play less. Normally, teams also don’t go to arbitration with their second-best defenseman when they are still under team control as a restricted free agent. Heck, teams also don’t routinely trade former top-two picks for a 30-year-old top-line defenseman on a very rich contract but honestly, has anything about this Philadelphia Flyers offseason been typical? No. While Travis Sanhaim may not be particularly jazzed about how his summer turned out sans his bump in pay, that doesn’t mean his 2021-22 season couldn’t be one for the books capable of propelling him to a long-term extension down the line. If anything, the additions of Ryan Ellis, Keith Yandle, and yes, even Rasmus Ristolainen, could help to set him up for success.