Flyers, Sanheim avoid arbitration with new contract


No arbitration hearing was needed for the Flyers and Travis Sanheim.

The two sides came to an agreement on a new deal Saturday as Sanheim signed a two-year, $9.35 million contract.

The 25-year-old Sanheim was a restricted free agent this offseason and coming off of a two-year, $6.5 million bridge contract. Earlier this month, the Flyers filed for salary arbitration in negotiations with Sanheim. The hearing date was scheduled for this upcoming Thursday, the last day for arbitration hearings.

Like a lot of teams, the Flyers will be right up against the cap to open next season, but they'll have different ways to be cap compliant when they finalize their roster ahead of the Oct. 15 opener.

Despite a challenging 2020-21 season, Sanheim is an important piece to the Flyers' present and future on the back end. He was a first-round pick in 2014 and has the ability to play in all situations. Before last season, Sanheim had made positives strides in consecutive years as more was put on his plate.

Last season, the Flyers suffered instability throughout their defensive group last season. The club ended up surrendering an NHL-most 3.52 goals per game and owning the 30th-ranked penalty kill at 73.1 percent.

Sanheim had rough moments confidence-wise and was relied upon heavily at even strength and shorthanded. He finished with 15 points, a minus-22 rating and a career-high 21:53 minutes per game. He also played his most-ever minutes per game on the penalty kill (2:07) and his fewest-ever minutes per game on the power play (0:33) for a full season.

"You don't make the playoffs, I think everyone's got to improve, everyone needs to be better," Sanheim said in May at his end-of-the-season press conference. "A lot of areas that I'm going to work on this summer and continue to try to grow my game, try to get better at various areas of my game. I think I had a pretty good start, pretty consistent for the first couple months. Obviously, COVID hit there and as a group, we got a little bit uneven through the middle; March wasn't a good month and wasn't a good month for me, as well.

"There are challenges along the way — every team, every player handles them differently. Those are good experiences for me and something that I'll learn from. I've just got to be better going into next season. I played with a lot of different partners this season, so that was a new challenge for me. I played the left, played the right, played PK, played a little bit of power play — a lot of different roles for me and something that I can grow on."

Over the last three seasons, Sanheim leads Flyers defensemen in points at even strength with 66. That figure ranks in the top 30 among all NHL defensemen during that span, just behind guys like Mikhail Sergachev (68), Miro Heiskanen (68), Jaccob Slavin (67) and Jared Spurgeon (66).

But after the Flyers gave up more goals than any other team in hockey last season, they'll want Sanheim to improve at killing plays in the defensive zone by using his size and length. When he does, he knows how to push the puck up ice and keep the opposition working in its end of the rink.

This season, Sanheim should have more balanced responsibility with the club's offseason acquisitions of Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen and Keith Yandle. Solidifying and deepening the back end was an emphasis of general manager Chuck Fletcher's summer.

"We feel it's important to make our team more competitive. To get more competitive, we felt we needed to add some right-shot defensemen to our club this year to complement [Ivan] Provorov and Sanheim and to kind of slot everybody in the right spot," Fletcher said last month after the Flyers traded for Ristolainen. "We feel if that group can improve, then our team will improve."

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