Flyers analysis

Flyers have to be intrigued by the potential of a healthy York-Sanheim pair

Despite being banged up later in the season, the Flyers' top pair combined for 20 goals and 74 points

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Travis Sanheim understands that things can change from the end of one season to the start of the next.

He played primarily alongside Cam York in 2023-24, forming a pair that took on big minutes down the stretch.

Something to build on in the future?

"I'm not sure what the case is moving forward, but I love playing with him," Sanheim said at his end-of-the-season press conference last month. "I hope that we can continue to play together."

Part of a rebuild is trying to find answers and sustain them over time. Why wouldn't the Flyers keep York and Sanheim together to start next season? Especially when you think of what they can do without injuries testing their mettle.

On Feb. 15, York suffered a grade 2 AC joint sprain to one of his shoulders. The 23-year-old didn't miss a game all season, putting up 10 goals and 20 assists in 22:37 minutes per game.

From the beginning of March to the end of the season in mid-April, only three NHL players saw more minutes per game than York's 25:06: the Canadiens' Mike Matheson (25:58), the Capitals' John Carlson (25:57) and the Kings' Drew Doughty (25:14).

"I think Yorky took huge steps this season," Sanheim said. "For me, I think everyone knew the skill set that he had. I think the maturity of his game that developed this season, the way that he played without the puck, his checking, his ability to make plays under pressure, his ability to make plays when the game's on the line I think are all big steps that he took this season. And I was fortunate to be able to play with him."

Sanheim appeared to injure his left knee on March 9. He was seen at times wearing a brace and pushing through discomfort during games. It's uncertain if that was the exact or only injury that plagued him. While Sanheim had some maintenance days throughout the rest of the season, he played in 81 of 82 games, missing only one because of an illness.

The 28-year-old finished with career highs across the board, featuring 44 points (10 goals, 34 assists) and 23:48 minutes per game. And this was after the lefty shot was moved to the right side just a few days before training camp.

Over the final quarter of the season, the Flyers had to rely heavily on York and Sanheim. Their back end was depleted by the trade of Sean Walker and injuries to Nick Seeler, Jamie Drysdale and Rasmus Ristolainen.

"We were both pretty banged up there, but the situation we were in, we had defensemen injured and when you're right there in the playoff hunt, I think you want to just lay it all on the line. I think we did that," York said. "Kudos to [Sanheim], he had a pretty serious thing going on there. We had to battle and grind, but just proud of how we handled that. Not an easy situation when you're playing 25-plus [minutes] a night."

The Flyers lost nine of their last 11 games and were eliminated from the playoff race on the final day of the regular season. But York and Sanheim more than held their own as the minutes piled up. In the team's final 20 games, each had eight points, while York was only a minus-4 and Sanheim a minus-5.

"Obviously playing a lot, a little banged up, as well, battling through some injuries, there was a lot at stake," Sanheim said. "In saying that, I think me and Yorky fully wanted that. We wanted to be carrying the load, we wanted to be a big part of it. For the most part, I thought me and Yorky played pretty well. It's disappointing with the outcome, but I'm happy with how me and him played down the stretch."

At his end-of-the-season press conference last month, when asked about the Flyers' rebuild possibly being expedited, Danny Briere mentioned York and Sanheim as reasons for optimism.

"Cam York, the way he has taken his game to an extra level," the Flyers' general manager said. "Travis Sanheim, how he has stepped up big time after being challenged last summer."

After a rocky offseason showered in trade speculation, a determined Sanheim raced out of the chute with 16 points over the first 17 games. He had a minus-20 rating to end the season but was asked to do a lot for a team that finished with two rookies in net and a minus-26 goal differential.

"The way I attacked my offseason, obviously based on a lot of things that went on, used it as motivation," Sanheim said. "Came in ready to prove a point, ready to show the type of player I thought I was capable of. I thought for that first quarter of the season, that was the best hockey I've played in my career. I would have liked to have played that way for a full 82 [games], that's usually not possible, usually you have ups and downs throughout the course of a season.

"But definitely proud of what I did, what I accomplished. I set career highs in all categories. Those were goals I had coming in, that was kind of what I set in the offseason, so I'm happy with that. In saying that, I'm going to do the exact same this offseason. I'm going to find motivation. I think the last couple of weeks is motivation in itself, where this team wants to get to, what we're capable of. I think we understand we're capable of reaching the postseason."

The Flyers hope the experience pays off down the road for players like York and Sanheim.

"To play in meaningful games and come out on the wrong side of it, you definitely learn a lot," York said. "You definitely want to do everything you can the next few years to make sure that doesn't happen again. Not the way we wanted it to end, but I think there are a lot of positives. This young core is really good and we're going to be really good for a long time."

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