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Carchidi Column: For Flyers, the Best Trade They DIDN’T Make

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Travis Sanheim. Philadelphia Flyers. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Defenseman Travis Sanheim has thrived in the season's first 16 games, showing the Flyers it would have been a mistake to deal him. Photo: AP.

Sometimes, the best trades are the ones you don’t make.

Take the Philadelphia Flyers and defenseman Travis Sanheim, for instance. (Please take him, the Flyers seemed to be saying as they tried to revamp their defense in the summer.)

The Flyers were reportedly set to deal Sanheim and Kevin Hayes to the Blues in late June for veteran defenseman Torey Krug and a first-round draft pick.

But the trade hit a snag because Krug, 32, would not waive his no-trade clause. The biggest reason was that he has three children under four and didn’t want to uproot them. In addition, he is close with his teammates, and he didn’t want to go to a team in a total rebuild.

The Flyers, who were trying to make the deal just before Sanheim’s eight-year, $50-million extension and no-trade clause went into effect, should send Krug a thank-you card.

Sanheim, 27, remained with the Flyers, put on 15 pounds, and his play in the first 16 games has been outstanding, even earning praise from coach John Tortorella, who isn’t easy to please. He is joining the rush more, and setting up timely goals. The easy-going Sanheim has 14 points, including  team-leading 12 assists, in 16 games.  He is eighth among NHL defensemen in scoring, and is third in average time on ice (26:03) per game, behind only Washington’s John Carlson (26:23) and Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty (26:15) heading into Thursday.

His contract and $6.25 million annual cap hit, which looked like an albatross during his poor 2022-23 season, is now looked at much differently.

“I wanted to prove to them it would have been the wrong decision”

— Travis Sanheim

Sanheim, along with his high-scoring, locker-room next-door neighbor, Travis Konecny, and goalie Carter Hart, have been the best players on the 8-7-1 Flyers. Sanheim could be playing his way onto his first All-Star team.

Several things have transformed Sanheim into the Philadelphia Flyers’ top defenseman. First, the Flyers traded Ivan Provorov and gave him more responsibility. Secondly, he is playing with a boatload of confidence thanks to his early-season play.

I’ve saved the most important reason for last.

Chip on Shoulder

Sanheim, who loves being with the Flyers and never wanted to leave Philadelphia, is playing with a chip on his shoulder. He is intent on showing the Flyers they would have made a huge mistake by dealing him. Intent on showing them they shouldn’t have even considered trading him to St. Louis.

“I signed a contract with this team and obviously wanted to be here for a really long time,” Sanheim said. “It sucks when your name is out there (in trade talks), but this is a business. Once I got past that, obviously it’s motivation. I wanted to prove to them it would have been the wrong decision.”

Sanheim said the trade talk was “only difficult for about a week,” adding he knew he wouldn’t be dealt after his contract kicked in on July 1.

After the almost-trade, he sat down with the brass, cleared his head, and began preparing for the season.

“I came in motivated and wanted to prove last year wasn’t me,” he said. “I feel like I’ve done that so far.”

Different player

Sanheim, who didn’t want to use a foot injury sustained in the summer of 2022 as an excuse, had just 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists) last season. At his current pace, he would reach last year’s point total in Game 26. And he is producing while mentoring a new defensive partner (Cam York) and playing his “off” side on the right.

“Obviously, with added minutes means more responsibility,” said Sanheim, who had four blocked shots in the Flyers’ impressive 3-1 win Wednesday in Carolina. “Just showing up each and every night and trying to take that next step. Just trying to run with it right now, and things are working well.”

Asked what is  different in Sanheim’s game this year, defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen said, “I think everything. He’s like a new player. He’s taking charge and leading the way back there. It’s fun to see the way he’s been playing.”

“His confidence is a lot higher,” Hart said. “He’s always had that talent and that skill level in his tool bag. Just his confidence is starting to emerge. I think this is his seventh year (it is) in the league and … and it’s really cool to see him take it to the next level and emerge into a top defenseman.”

The 6-foot-3 Sanheim acknowledged he is “super confident” and “trying to make as many plays as I can” when he’s on the ice.

“I’m feeling it right now. It feels great,” said Sanheim, who was the first player drafted (first round in 2014, 17th overall) in Ron Hextall’s tenure as the Philadelphia Flyers’ general manager. “Hopefully it’s something I can hold onto for a long time.”

If he does, this will probably go down as the best trade general manager Danny Briere didn’t make.

Sam Carchidi writes a weekly column for Philly Hockey Now. He and Jeff Hare are working on a TV series on the Flyers’ glory days, tentatively called Bullies: A Love Story. Carchidi can be reached at samcarchidi55@gmail.com.

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