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Bailey: Time Is Now for Flyers to Separate Sanheim and York



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The Philadelphia Flyers need to find a way to get Cam York involved more offensively. (Photo: AP)

You may have read the headline and gotten confused. Why would the Philadelphia Flyers, a team in pole position to make the playoffs, split up their top defense pairing now?

The answer is simple: Travis Sanheim and Cam York are two defensemen who can bring offense at a moment’s notice. When they’re on the ice at the same time, only one of the two can be at their best for the Flyers.

This is not something I started feeling yesterday, but the absence of Jamie Drysdale (upper-body) is going to exacerbate the Flyers’ need to facilitate offense in different ways. With Drysdale out of the picture for however long “week-to-week” takes, the Flyers are left with only Sanheim, York, Nick Seeler, Sean Walker, Egor Zamula, and Marc Staal.

Aside from Sanheim and York, Walker is the only one who can consistently activate in the play, get his feet moving north, and make something happen in possession.

Plus, the Flyers won’t really be missing anything special in this Sanheim and York pairing. Per Moneypuck, 21 defense pairings in the NHL have played 600 or more minutes together this season. Sanheim and York are 18th out of those 21 in expected goals percentage (xGoals%) with 47.7%. In a nutshell, that means that when these two are on the ice, the Flyers are expected to score less than half of the goals that are scored.

Indeed, this is not an isolated stat and does not contextualize who Sanheim and York are playing with and against at any given moment. However, Seeler and Walker have an xGoals% of 55.6% in 590 minutes together. There’s a stark contrast between the two pairings.

For those who are skeptical of advanced stats, I raise you this: Sanheim and York have been out-scored 21-38 when on the ice together, per Natural Stat Trick. Seeler and Walker have out-scored their opponents 30-25 when on the ice together.

The solution for the Flyers? It’s a small sample size, but I’d have Sanheim and Zamula join forces. In 91 minutes together at 5-on-5, the duo has out-attempted their opponents 109-67 and dominated high-danger chances to the tune of 24 for and 10 against.

By doing this, Sanheim can get active in the offensive zone most of the time, while Zamula keeps his cover and stays in position for that long-range wrister that he’s so good at using.

Obviously, Seeler and Walker will remain a pair, provided one or both of them aren’t traded ahead of the 2024 NHL trade deadline. If that happens, the burden falls to prospects like Emil Andrae and Ronnie Attard.

York posted excellent results with Rasmus Ristolainen, who is on the shelf and not an option at this moment in time. That leaves Staal as the only option for the Flyers, which is fine.

As the elder statesman of the group, Staal knows by now that his foot speed is lacking, but he can make up for it by anticipating the play and positioning himself accordingly. Giving Staal regular minutes is not without risk, but the Flyers brought him aboard to steady the ship in desperate times like these.

For the Flyers, it comes down to a choice: continue onward with middling results, or experiment with success.

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