There are a lot of things that we all would like to forget about the 2022-23 Philadelphia Flyers season. In short, it was a mess. A new coach with a new system with a few players who weren’t totally buying in. A rash of injuries and a reliance on a crop of young players who were not ready to make the jump to the NHL helped to doom the Flyers right from the start. Nobody exemplified the struggles and frustrations of last season more than defender Travis Sanheim.
It’s not fair to lay the problems of the whole season on one player. It’s not Sanheim’s fault that Travis Konecny missed 20 games, that Sean Couturier was out all of last season, or that Kevin Hayes and Tony DeAngelo were not cooperative with their new coach. However, it is fair to say that Sanheim took some steps backwards.
Prior to the start of the season, Sanheim signed a big monster contract. This is the first year of this contract. He is locked up in Philly for the next eight seasons at a cost of $6.25 million a year. That’s good value for a good blueliner but not good value for one that is struggling. Maybe it was the weight of the expectations that were on him, but he did not perform at a level that seemed worth $6.25 million a year.
Several years earlier, he was looking as if he would be the cornerstone of the Flyers defense for years to come. The 2014 first rounder played every bit the part of a first rounder. In just his second season, 2018-19, he scored nine goals with 26 assists. It was expected that he and Ivan Provorov, another first rounder, would patrol the blue line and make Philly dominant again.
Provorov, however, struggled at times. While the talent was there, he never seemed able to capture it all. Sanheim, also struggled. He has yet to score at the level he did in 2018-19. Last year was, statistically, his worst since being a rookie (if you discount the COVID year because of the games missed). He scored seven goals, matching his tally from the year before, but notched only 16 assists. Sanheim also owned a -5 rating. While it was far from the worst on the team, it was a definite step back.
The bigger issue was that he simply looked lost. Again, to be fair, Sanheim was paired, for large portions of the season, with DeAngelo. DeAngelo, despite the best wishes of John Tortorella, tried to play more of an offensive-first defensive strategy. This often left Sanheim behind and on his own, trying to defend against odd-man rushes. That could take its toll on a player. Eventually, Sanheim was benched in order to shake him up.
This offseason, there were several rumors about Sanheim being moved. It seemed as if just 10 months after inking him to that eight year deal, the Flyers were ready to move on from him. If you believe the rumors, a trade in place had been made with St. Louis.
Whether true or not, the rumors were there and he heard them. He saw his longtime teammate, Provorov, traded away. Could he be next? He came into camp ready and determined to get his mojo back. He wanted to prove he still belonged in the orange and black. One person who noticed was Tortorella.
In a recent press conference, Torts said:
"“You know I’m up his a** here last year, he’s in trade talks. His skill level hasn’t changed, his skating hasn’t changed, what he has changed is his mindset. He has shown us from day one he was going to take control, and he’s done it. I’m happy for him, I’m proud of him.”"
The results are there. In the first seven games of the season, he has one goal with seven assists. That is almost 1/4 of his total points from 81 games last year. He is leading all defenders in points and isn’t far behind team leaders Konecny and Cam Atkinson.
His attitude has turned around. His play is improving. This helps Carter Hart, and whomever else is in net, not have to face 35+ shots a night. This also helps serve as a role model to young defenders, like Cam York and Emil Andrae, who need to learn how to battle through adversity.
The Flyers are more than just one player. One player shouldn’t make or break the team. However, Sanheim getting his confidence back will go a long way into helping this team get back on its feet. Right now, the results have been good. Let’s see if it can translate to all season.