The Philadelphia Flyers completed their last important piece of offseason business on Saturday. General manager Chuck Fletcher announced that the team avoided arbitration by re-signing defenseman Travis Sanheim.
The deal is for two years, with an average annual value of $4.675 million. It will carry the 25-year-old to unrestricted free agency.
“We discussed all options,” Sanheim told the media on Monday. “Ultimately, with the situation that we were in with the cap, I think it just made more sense to do something short term.”
Sanheim’s arbitration case was one of just two that was team-requested, along with Kevin Fiala of the Minnesota Wild. The clock was ticking to get a deal done before Sanheim’s arbitration hearing on August 26.
The Ins and Outs of Salary Arbitration
Arbitration hearings can breed hard feelings. The player’s representatives present the case for why their client deserves the best possible contract. The team counters with evidence to try to bring that number down.
As a result, it’s rare for players to reach the hearing stage these days. Arbitration eligibility is now used as more of a tool to create a deadline for both sides to come to terms. That can be on a one or two-year deal, as an arbitrator would award, or something more long term.
This year, 19 players had arbitration hearings scheduled, but no case made it that far. Sanheim was the last player to settle.
In 2020, the only player to have an arbitration hearing was winger Tyler Bertuzzi of the Detroit Red Wings. Per the Detroit News, Bertuzzi requested $4.25 million and the Red Wings countered with $3.15 million. The arbitrator came down closer to Detroit’s number, at $3.5 million.
Despite playing just nine games last season before suffering a back injury that required surgery, Bertuzzi got a raise this summer when he signed a new two-year extension with a cap hit of $4.75 million per season.
According to CapFriendly, Sanheim’s deal will pay him $4 million in the 2021-22 season, then $5.35 million in 2022-23. All funds will be paid in salary — there are no signing bonuses. CapFriendly’s closest comparable contract is the two-year deal that a just-turned-26-year-old Ryan Pulock signed last November with the New York Islanders, at a $5 million cap hit.
The two Manitobans share similar draft positions — Pulock was selected 15th overall in 2013, while Sanheim went 17th in 2014. When his contract was signed heading into last season, Pulock had amassed 33 goals and 125 points while averaging 20:43 of ice time over 290 NHL games. Sanheim is at 85 points in 255 career games, with 19:27 of average ice time.
Another interesting comparable is 25-year-old Neal Pionk of the Winnipeg Jets. He was undrafted but has established himself as a regular top-four defenseman over the last three seasons, with 117 points in 226 games with the Jets and the New York Rangers, and 22:12 of average ice time. After filing for arbitration this summer, Pionk and the Jets settled on a four-year deal with a cap hit of $5.875 million.
Flyers Cap Crunched
A longer-term deal for Sanheim likely wouldn’t have come in quite that high. But even at $4.675 million, the new contract puts the Flyers under some pressure with respect to salary-cap compliance.
After Carter Hart inked his new three-year contract earlier this month, Fletcher was left with just over $4 million remaining for Sanheim. Since the new deal pushes the team above the $81.5 million salary-cap ceiling for the 2021-22 season, CapFriendly is now showing the Flyers will a 22-man roster instead of the maximum of 23.
Smaller rosters have become relatively common tools for cap-strapped teams to save space. That can mean actually carrying fewer players at the NHL level, or swapping waiver-exempt players down to the minors on off days between games. The Flyers are set to open their season with four home games over a relatively leisurely nine nights. With their AHL affiliate just 75 miles away in Allentown, they’ll have the luxury of being able to make those quick moves as needed. That should help them start amassing extra cap space right away.
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The Flyers allowed more goals than any other team in the NHL last season. One issue that arose was consistency of the defense pairings; Sanheim played with numerous partners over the course of the year.
With the offseason additions of Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen and Keith Yandle, it’s expected that the back-end pairings will be more consistent in 2021-22.
“I think that was something that they looked at and wanted to address,” Sanheim said. “It’s difficult playing different partners, different positions, whether it’s left or right. I think to be able to kind of settle in and find some chemistry with somebody is going to make each other better and make our team better.”
Watch for Sanheim to start out on the left side with the big, physical Ristolainen.
“I’m excited to get to know him, potentially play with him,” Sanheim said. “I know our forwards have hated to play against him and go up against him every night. So if he can bring that to our side, it can be a great pair.”