Flyers

Flyers have a Travis Sanheim dilemma

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AP Images

Flyers have a Travis Sanheim dilemma

Defenseman and prized prospect Travis Sanheim will start playing some big minutes again.

It just won’t be with the Flyers right now.

On Monday, Sanheim was reassigned to AHL Lehigh Valley as the front office also recalled Mark Alt to take Sanheim’s spot on the active roster.

Why?

Trust and development.

With the Flyers playing some of their best hockey of the season with wins in eight of their last nine games and the increased importance of gaining necessary points in an air-tight division (as of Monday morning, the Flyers held the East's first wild-card spot with 54 points, one behind Columbus for third in the Metro, two behind New Jersey for second and just seven behind first-place Washington), Sanheim had been relegated as the seventh defenseman and had served as a healthy scratch in eight of those nine games.

“He comes out of the lineup and the team plays well,” general manager Ron Hextall said recently of the 21-year-old blueliner. “Like most teams when things are going well, you really don’t want to change too much. If you look at the whole year with Travis, I think he’s played well with us. He’s had his moments, but he’s a young player and that’s going to happen. I don’t like him sitting and coaches don’t like him sitting, and I’m sure he doesn’t like sitting.”

Prior to the Devils/Capitals weekend series the Flyers swept, head coach Dave Hakstol was asked about the possibility of utilizing an 11 forward-seven defensemen combination as Tyrell Goulbourne has been used sparingly since his call-up. But Hakstol made it clear he wasn’t going to make concessions to accommodate one player.

“We’re not going to do anything to get anybody in the lineup at this point in time,” Hakstol said. “It can’t solely be about that. If that’s a scenario that’s best for our team, then we’ll consider it. What’s the right combination for our team to win a game that day?”

Coming out of the Christmas break, Hakstol started shortening the length of Sanheim’s leash. The rookie played 14:42 of the Panthers game (a 3-2 loss) on Dec. 28. Brandon Manning was fully healed and ready to return from a hand injury the next night in Tampa, a 5-3 decision the Flyers took from the league-best Lightning.

After missing the next five games, Sanheim received another chance with the Flyers playing their first game against the Devils out of the bye week on Jan. 13. All it took was one play in which Sanheim stepped up to check his man along the boards. He subsequently lost his stick, and by the time he grabbed it, the Devils converted an easy goal to take a 1-0 lead.

That came during Sanheim’s second shift as he finished the game playing a season-low 6:02, including just one 18-second shift in the third period.

“They’ve got to earn the trust of their teammates and the coaches, and sometimes that’s a process,” Hextall said. “Some of what Travis is going through is good for Travis. There’s a lot you learn out there. Part of it is the life lesson of you have to earn things. Things aren’t going to be handed to you. Just because you’re a first-round pick or a highly paid guy, you have to learn things. You don’t come out of college and become a CEO. You have to pay your dues, and you have to earn what you’re going to get.”

Travis Konecny and Shayne Gostisbehere learned those life lessons the hard way last season as both young players were pulled out of the lineup after their performance lagged. Hextall believes Sanheim will eventually bounce back and reflect at his rookie season as a valuable learning experience.

“Sometimes the only way they learn is by missing a shift or having their ice cut back a bit or getting sat out at some point,” Hextall said. “Most players have gotten sat out in their career. If you ask most guys, not at the time, they say it was a good lesson. There are a lot of things our young guys are learning right now, not only at this level, but at Lehigh.”

Gostisbehere and Konecny are playing arguably some of the best hockey of their careers right now.

Even if Sanheim has more upside and potential than Manning, the veteran has proven to be more reliable defensively and has even been more opportunistic in the offensive end. In a twist of fate, Sanheim's offensive upside is a big reason why Hextall selected him with a first-round pick in 2014. Sanheim has one goal and four assists in 35 games played this season.

“You've got to get stronger. You make a mistake and if you can’t rebound from it, you're probably not going to be at this level for very long,” Hextall said. “There’s learning curves all along the way. You can’t look at everything in a vacuum. There’s a small picture and there’s a big picture.”

Hextall is right. At this critical point of the NHL season, the bigger picture of winning outweighs the smaller picture of player development.

Flyers goalie prospect Carter Hart added to Phantoms playoff roster

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Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers

Flyers goalie prospect Carter Hart added to Phantoms playoff roster

Carter Hart is joining the Phantoms but don’t expect him to play just yet.

Hart on Tuesday joined Lehigh Valley for the remainder of the playoffs since his junior career ended with the Everett Silvertips losing in the WHL Final.

The 19-year-old will be behind Alex Lyon, Dustin Tokarski, Anthony Stolarz and John Muse on the Phantoms’ depth chart. This is strictly for experience — just like last year when he joined the Phantoms after Everett’s season ended.

In his final season of major junior, Hart led all WHL goalies with a 1.60 goals-against average, .947 save percentage and seven shutouts. He won the Del Wilson Trophy (WHL top goalie) and Four Broncos Trophy (WHL MVP).

Hart is expected to win the CHL Goaltender of the Year award for the second time, becoming the first goalie to accomplish that.

The Phantoms, down 2-0 to Toronto in the Eastern Conference Finals, will host the Marlies Wednesday night in Game 3 on NBC Sports Philadelphia+ at 7:05 p.m. 

Rob's Rants — Golden Knights' success is a good thing

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USA Today Images

Rob's Rants — Golden Knights' success is a good thing

My latest installment of Rob Rant’s focuses on things I just don’t get.

Knight time
I don’t grasp the sentiment that the expansion Vegas Golden Knights' advancement to the NHL Stanley Cup Final is a black eye for the NHL. Maybe I’m a glass half-full guy but I think it’s the best national sports story of the year. They played their first home game just nine days after the horrific shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival on the Vegas Strip that left 59 dead. And their season served not only as a distraction from the incident but as a galvanizer for the city. 

They had the fifth-most points in the regular season. And beat the Kings, Sharks and Jets in the postseason. Not an easy task. General manager George McPhee made smart selections in the expansion draft, including landing a Stanley Cup champion goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury and nabbing a quality winger in James Neal, among other transactions throughout the season. They showed through a smart front office, good coaching and players buying in, you can speed up the process. I love that unlike the NBA where a super team like Golden State is basically a lock to win it again, hockey has a great storyline. Vegas’ success proves that if you do the right thing in the offseason, next year could be your team’s year.           

Style over substance
On the heels of last week’s NBA combine, it’s always puzzled me how much stock organizations in various leagues put on workouts rather than game tape. I get it that to play any sport professionally there is a level of athleticism needed. But I’d much rather see how said prospect did against real game competition instead of a stopwatch or tape measure. How do they think about the game? How do they react when their team is down? What kind of teammate are they? You need look no further than Tom Brady’s 40-yard dash at his combine workout. His career turned out pretty well.    

Off base?
So Odubel Herrera got on base Sunday versus the Cardinals but his 45-game on-base streak was still snapped. Herrera struck out in his last at-bat but because of a wild pitch, he reached first base. The strikeout nullified the act of reaching base and keeping the streak alive, according to MLB rules. But if it’s not an out, and he gets on base, shouldn’t that count toward the streak?     

Loyal royal
The wedding of Price Harry and Meghan Markle this past weekend seemed like a lovely affair. My evite must have went right to my spam. Don’t get me wrong, Harry comes off as a sincere, caring dude who is genuinely concerned with using his platform to better the world. And his new bride is beautiful and an accomplished actress. They seem like a great couple. And I get that the new Duchess of Sussex’s biracial ancestry is of interest to folks.