The Flyers Are All In on Cam York

Reflecting on the Flyers transactions last summer, it is very obvious the front office is expecting York to blossom into the team's top player on the blue line.
Apr 11, 2024; New York, New York, USA; Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Cam York (8) warms up before the first period against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 11, 2024; New York, New York, USA; Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Cam York (8) warms up before the first period against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports / Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

The Flyers’ management team in the Comcast era has been pretty good at spitting verbose word salads that say very little. The new regime under Dan Hilferty, Keith Jones, and Danny Briere has said much less but has made things very clear through actions. It took a while to figure out, and more astute people, certainly not writers, have concluded that the Flyers are all in on Cam York.

The first clue the Flyers sent us was on June 6th, 2023 when they traded Ivan Provorov to Columbus.  This trade alone did not send a clear message of the team’s intentions concerning York.  Provorov was a key trade chip that could be sacrificed to jump-start the planned rebuild. Briere extracted a pretty good return, getting a first and second-round pick plus Sean Walker, who would be flipped for another first-round pick. Then take into account Provorov’s pride night fiasco. It could be argued the trade was merely a first step on a rebuild by shipping out a player who could use a change of scenery.

The Flyers told us exactly what they thought of York with their next trade, a trade that did not happen.  While the full details never came out, the Flyers tried to trade Travis Sanheim to St. Louis for Torey Krug. Krug exercised his no-trade clause and the deal was dead. While the headlines fixated on the implications to Sanheim and his place in the organization, the story passed with little analysis of what would have been and what that meant for York.

The Flyers have a clear focus on Cam York's future with the team

If the Sanheim deal had gone through, that would have meant that the Flyers had traded away their top two defensemen from the previous season. Acquiring Krug would not have filled the void, as Krug is more of a middle-pair or bottom-pair player.  The Flyers' top defensemen would have been York. The Flyers would have cleared the deck for York to be their top option, playing top-pair minutes, and trying to tackle top-pair assignments. The priority would have been to surround York with players who could help him take a giant developmental step. Could Krug have been such a player? Krug’s skill set as a mobile player who sees the ice and passes well would have complimented York.

As it happened, with Sanheim still on the team, York still saw plenty of top pair minutes as Sanheim’s partner. But it did look like Sanheim was the lead dog last season, with York playing the role of sidekick. While the pairing played top minutes and played above expectations for a lower-tier team’s top pair, the Flyers did not see a transformative improvement from York. Is it possible that playing with Sanheim limited York’s progression?

Defensively, Sanheim and York share the same weakness which is the inability to take possession of the puck from opposing players. Both still get overpowered by the stronger players in the league, and they are still prone to the occasional mental mistake in defensive coverage. Offensively, Sanheim relies on being aggressive with his positioning and joining the rush. This means Sanheim must position himself deeper. That is not entirely compatible with York’s offensive strengths.

York’s best traits are his ability to quickly find and execute passes in transition. Being paired with Sanheim, after each failed rush where Sanheim is activated, the defense is already set back in their zone.  Even with York’s skills, it is nearly impossible to create an odd-man rush if all of the other team’s players are already back in their defensive zone.  That is what makes the attempt to land Krug for Sanheim so interesting regarding York.

On paper, and the ice, Sanheim is a better player than Krug. But Krug has a shorter contract. If the Flyers thought they had made an eight-year mistake on Sanheim’s contract, it makes sense to trade it to St. Louis for Krug’s contract, a three-year mistake. But I believe there is more to it than just contracts. 

Like York, Krug is a deft passer who can quickly read the ice and make sharp passes in transition. It is easy to imagine the Flyers thinking that York and Krug playing together on the blue line could be the spark to a lethal transition game that optimizes the skills of players like Laughton, Konecny, Farabee, and Tippett. The trade did not go through, Sanheim stayed and York was paired with him for middling results, but there is still conjecture that the Flyers laid the groundwork to realize their vision for York.

When the Flyers traded Cutter Gauthier, the team received a second-round pick and Jamie Drysdale.  Since the Flyers’ hands were forced, it is easy to look at the trade strictly as a salvage/value-preserving move, but there appears to be a strategy in play.  Drysdale is a fantastic skater who sees the ice well and can deliver passes to kickstart the transition to offense. In many ways, these traits mirror those of Krug, even if Drysdale's skills have not completely manifested at the NHL level. 

Perhaps the possibility exists that Drysdale and York will be paired together with the hope being that they become a dynamic pairing in the transition game. York and Drysdale only shared the ice for 97 minutes last season with mediocre results. But there were factors. Drysdale came over at midseason and has not had the benefit of a camp with the team where chemistry is often forged. Drysdale was also injured causing him to miss significant time. Chemistry and familiarity are key to a high-functioning defensive pairing. York and Drysdale had little opportunity to develop familiarity.

Based on the Flyers current roster, York has his best chance, paired with Drysdale, to claim the spot as the team’s top defender. The organization wants York to ascend.  Look for Drysdale and York to play together in camp. Perhaps they should be featured together on the powerplay, where puck movement creates chances. York will need to use this camp to assert himself and must be parted from Sanheim to do so. This may be York’s last chance to fulfill the promise the team saw in him last summer.