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Sanheim contract a reminder: there is no plan

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The Flyers have had an impressive start to their 2022-23 campaign. Led by former Stanley Cup winner John Tortorella, the team, which won all 26 games last season, has already picked up four wins from six tries. Despite a lackluster home loss to lowly San Jose in their most recent game, no one can deny the Flyers exceeded all initial expectations on the ice. It makes it all the more upsetting that their front office is inept as ever. Chuck Fletcher proved for the millionth time that he doesn’t understand player markets by handing Travis Sanheim a massive eight-year, $50 million contract extension, casting doubt on what should be an exciting future with Tortorella .

The problem with the contract isn’t so much Sanheim as how his monster new contract compares to his peers, both in Philadelphia and in the league. Just under a week before Sanheim put pen to paper, far northwest of Calgary, the Flames signed trade acquisition Mackenzie Weegar with the exact same deal that Sanheim received. The difference? Weegar is coming off a career-best season where he was a +40-minute monster for one of the NHL’s top teams, the Florida Panthers. Sanheim, as always, was just there last season. The left-handed shooter posted respectable numbers (31P, +9), but gave no hint that he would finally reach the heights that his size and smooth skating should allow.

Worse, Sanheim’s contract compares unfavorably not only to Weegar, a true top pair, but also to teammates Fletcher has also signed. Rasmus Ristolainen may lack Sanheim’s natural tools, but undoubtedly adds more value with the kind of villainy and physicality that the latter sorely lacks. Fletcher signed “Risto,” whom he brought in from Buffalo for a hefty price, for a relatively cheap $5.1 million AAV. Either the market for slightly above average left-handed defenders has exploded in 4 months, or Fletcher has vastly overestimated the value of Sanheim, who is just 18 months younger than Ristolainen and not noticeably more effective than him.

Even Ivan Provorov, the Flyers’ only stable blue-line presence for a few years now, is only making $500,000 more than Sanheim’s revised contract. Provorov, another Fletcher signee, may never have reached his superstar potential, but is undoubtedly a far superior player to longtime teammate Sanheim. Their negligible pay difference hardly reflects this.

With five spots in the defensive corps (Provorov, Deangelo, Ristolainen, Zamula, York) all but locked in for 2023-24 and beyond, why on earth was locking up Sanheim now essential? The sixth-year man was on an expiring “prove it” deal where he only proved that his flashy offensive zone traps couldn’t mask a soft defensive presence. Fletcher, who paid a first-round pick and up for Ristolainen’s expiring contract, should know better than anyone that a team desperate for a healthy blueline body would have gotten decent value for Sanheim.

Dealing with the former Calgary Hitman at the deadline to a team whose injury situation caused them to overpay in draft capital should have been a no-brainer. There are plenty of interim 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 non-existent market to the punch on a big deal for a player Flyers fans know better than to expect a breakout; they’ve been burned by that hope too many times before.

Fletcher should have been gone when Alain Vigneault’s brace ended in disaster. He should have left when an unrebuilt Flyers team was the fourth-worst team in the league. He sure should have been gone when he didn’t even present South Jersey-born superstar Johnny Gaudreau with an offer sheet. Instead, Comcast’s indifference allowed Fletcher’s half-hearted attempts to build a competitor out of a suitor again, this time to the tune of $50 million.

Photo: Yong Kim/Investigator