The Flyers have gotten off to an impressive start to their 2022-23 campaign. Led by former Stanley Cup winner John Tortorella, the team, which won all of 26 games last season, has already notched four victories in six tries. Despite a lackluster home defeat to lowly San Jose in their most recent outing, none could deny that the Flyers have exceeded all early expectations on the ice. This makes it all the more upsetting that their front office is inept as ever. Chuck Fletcher proved for the millionth time that he has no understanding of player markets by giving Travis Sanheim a massive eight-year, $50 million contract extension, casting doubt over what should be an exciting future with Tortorella.
The problem with the contract is not Sanheim so much as how his monster new deal stacks up with his peers, both in Philadelphia and around the league. Just under a week before Sanheim put pen to paper, far to the northwest in Calgary, the Flames signed trade acquisition Mackenzie Weegar to the exact same deal Sanheim received. The difference? Weegar comes off of a career-best season where he was a +40, minute-eating monster for one of the best outfits in the NHL, the Florida Panthers. Sanheim, as ever, was simply there last season. The left-handed shot posted respectable numbers (31P, +9), but did nothing to suggest he would finally reach the heights his size and smooth skating should allow.
Worse yet, Sanheim’s contract compares unfavorably not just to Weegar, a bonafide top-pair guy, but to teammates that Fletcher also signed. Rasmus Ristolainen may lack Sanheim’s natural tools but undoubtedly adds more value with the sort of nastiness and physicality the latter severely lacks. Fletcher signed “Risto,” who he brought in from Buffalo for a steep price, for a comparatively cheap $5.1 million AAV. Either the market for slightly above-average left-handed blueliners exploded in 4 months, or Fletcher has badly overestimated the value of Sanheim, who is just 18 months younger than and not appreciably more effective than Ristolainen.
Even Ivan Provorov, the only steady presence on the Flyers’ blueline for some years now, makes just $500,000 more than Sanheim’s revised contract. Provorov, another Fletcher signee, may not have ever reached his superstar potential but is undoubtedly a far superior player to longtime teammate Sanheim. Their negligible difference in salary hardly reflects that.
With five spots on the defensive corps (Provorov, Deangelo, Ristolainen, Zamula, York) all but locked in for 2023-2024 and beyond, why on earth was locking up Sanheim a must now? The sixth-year man was on an expiring “prove-it” deal where he proved only that his flashy offensive zone traps could not mask a flabby defensive presence. Fletcher, who paid a first-round pick and more for Ristolainen’s expiring contract, should know better than anyone that some team desperate for a healthy blueline body would have forked up decent value for Sanheim.
Dealing the former Calgary Hitman at the deadline to a team whose injury situation made them willing to overpay in draft capital should have been a no-brainer. There are ample stopgap options in free agency, like former Flyer Radko Gudas, or in-house, where Nick Seeler remains under contract for next season. Instead, Fletcher beat a nonexistent market to the punch on a big deal for a player who Flyers fans know better than to expect a breakout from; they have been burned by that hope too many times before.
Fletcher should have been gone when doubling down on Alain Vigneault ended in disaster. He should have been gone when a non-rebuilding Flyers squad was the league’s fourth-worst team. He certainly should have been gone when he failed to even present South Jersey-born superstar Johnny Gaudreau with an offer sheet. Instead, Comcast’s indifference has enabled Fletcher’s floundering attempts to build a contender out of a pretender once again, this time to the tune of $50 million.
Photo: Yong Kim/Inquirer