It feels weird to talk about what the Philadelphia Flyers are as a team on the ice right now. While the team is certainly not secure with their talent and performances as of late, they are currently on lockdown as five players—and that number might just end up being different in 24 hours—are on the NHL’s COVID protocol list, as the league keeps on postponing upcoming games in hopes for a safer environment.
You can even feel slightly better about this whole situation, with the league finally getting it after teams around the leagues have had their seasons upended by dozens of players getting infected or exposed. There will be increased safety precautions, but discussing everything except the omnipresent gargantuan COVID elephant in the room, comes with a little gross feeling.
Now that I have blurred that line, let’s talk about a player that isn’t getting enough credit for what he’s been able to do in the last year or so. On a Flyers blue line that has been searching for a desperate answer for any player that has a true future with this team other than Ivan Provorov, their long awaited wish of finding a defenseman in the first round of the draft has been answered with Travis Sanheim’s resurgence.
With Matt Niskanen announcing his sudden retirement and his replacement in Erik Gustafsson essentially being a one-way toll booth for any opposing forward, the Flyers have been in desperate need of a defender for the entire season. Just someone to stabilize the six skaters; and to some degree, that massive ask has fallen on the lap of Sanheim. Provorov will always be there and depended on, but the depth behind him has been only somewhat effective because of the long-necked defenseman on the second pairing.
Since Philippe Myers went down with a long-term injury, the majority of Sanheim’s minutes has either been next to Provorov or dragging around the limp body of Justin Braun. And while it has the Small Sample Sprinkle all over it, his time on the top pairing with an offensively-charged Provorov was not very effective with an on-ice expected goals for percentage of 41.27 through just over an hour of 5-on-5 play.
On the other hand, while he’s been the one to take over the offensive duties on his pairing, as Braun glides around the ice looking for anyone to poke-check, it has been more feasible with an on-ice xGF% of 52.36, which is fairly impressive when you consider that the Flyers or their opposition hasn’t scored a goal in the 40 or so minutes they have had with that pairing in play.
While his body might tell everyone that he’s this mean, bruising presence on the blue line, every single other sign is pointing to him being a consistent contributor on the offensive side of the puck, while being responsible in his own end.
Kevin Hayes to Travis Sanheim! pic.twitter.com/vWddhw5NMr— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) August 6, 2020
Not everyone can be prime Erik Karlsson with their point totals, but Sanheim can at least make some plays that make you go “ouuu” and fan yourself over.
Maybe it’s just us being so used to him being around and making the flashes of brilliance that let us forget that he’s been controlling a lot of the offense from the blue line no matter what defenseman he’s next to. While some shiny new toys always get the attention, Sanheim should be regarded as an option that is etched into cement for the Flyers blue line for at least the next few years.
If you like graphs telling you what you should think, just take a load of this:
That’s some bars, let me tell you. In a summary of his last three years, Sanheim has been able to supercharge anything he touches with offensive prowess and still be above replacement level defensively. There is not an area of his game that lets you question his ability. And while he’s technically a second-pairing dude, Alain Vigneault and co. don’t trust the rest of the defenseman enough that his even-strength minutes bulks up into the average for a first-pairing defenseman.
While I want him to stay here forever, I do not wish him the ill will of being a defenseman for the Philadelphia Flyers that will always get shitkicked and blamed for their overall mistakes. The giraffe boy has done no wrong and he’s much better than perceived.
Sanheim was the first Flyer to appear on the NHL’s COVID protocol list in this recent mid-season downturn of events that led to multiple postponements, so all we can collectively hope for is a return to full health and to continue performing like he has. There has been no confirmed reports if he has indeed tested positive or he was just exposed, but with now five Flyers on the list and no real scheduled game in sight that seems feasible, we might just be wishing to watch Sanheim and his friends on the ice for a little bit longer.
While some other people that try to analyze the Flyers as their hobby, want to bash their head in with their remote control trying to think of takes that will make Sanheim look bad, I will simply enjoy the very tall man skate around on his ice and be very good at hockey.
The simple bliss of thinking about this Flyers team.
All stats via Evolving-Hockey