Kings Should Make Flyers’ Sanheim Their Top Target

It’s no secret that the Los Angeles Kings have been searching for an improvement on the left side of the defense for some time now. The highly coveted young, elite, puck-moving, left-shot defenseman has been a huge talking point for fans and writers alike. Jakob Chychrun has dominated these conversations recently, for good reason, but there’s another name people should start discussing. That is Philadelphia Flyers’ blueliner, Travis Sanheim. Not a name I would have expected to be available until TSN’s Darren Dreger reported on this.

I’d be shocked if this deal, or any deal of this magnitude, happens before the trade deadline. Sanheim should be the Kings’ No. 1 target heading into the offseason if he’s available.

What the Kings Would Get in Sanheim

Sanheim would tick all of the boxes for the Kings. He’s young, a great puck mover, is on a team-friendly deal through next season, and while his production isn’t amazing, there’s room for it to grow. He is an analytics darling, and whether you love or hate analytics, his numbers are very impressive. His 7.8 even-strength offensive goals above replacement (EVO), a measure used to determine a player’s overall impact on their team offensively, is far greater than any Kings player — 3.3 points above Sean Durzi, the Kings’ leader. He isn’t all offense, either, with his 3.1 even-strength defensive goals above replacement (EVD), surpassing all Kings players except Mikey Anderson. This leaves Sanheim with 1.7 wins above replacement, better than any Kings defenseman.

Travis Sanheim Philadelphia Flyers
Travis Sanheim, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Sanheim’s numbers only get more impressive as you dig deeper as well. His 9.14 zone exits per 60 and 76.3 percent exit with possession percentage, would put him right next to Durzi as the team’s best puck mover, with roughly one less exit per 60, but a slightly better percentage of exits with possession. He also posts good defensive metrics, allowing just 3.6 zone entries with a chance against per 60 minutes. This is slightly above the league average of 3.5, but nothing to be concerned about. The biggest knock against getting Sanheim would be him not helping the Kings’ struggling power play much, as he gets very little power-play time, and doesn’t do too much when given that time. With Brandt Clarke, Jordan Spence, Durzi, and even Helge Grans, all still developing, I don’t think it’s an issue.

Travis Sanheim, Philadelphia Flyers
Travis Sanheim regularized adjusted plus/minus (RAPM) chart (Evolving-Hockey)

All-in-all, Sanheim would come in and instantly be one of the team’s best puck movers, is good defensively, and fits the age and contract profile for the Kings. He’s only signed through next season and the team would have to give him a hefty pay raise in the summer of 2023 — that summer also sees Jonathan Quick’s $5.8 million cap hit come off the books, making a Sanheim extension more manageable. He’d be a perfect partner for Matt Roy on the second pairing and would help elevate the team’s defensive group to the next level.

Sanheim vs. Chychrun

As mentioned earlier, Chychrun has been the big name surrounding the team since it was revealed that the Coyotes would be open to trading him. Now, I won’t try to claim that Sanheim is a higher potential player than Chychrun. I’ve said in the past and I still believe that Chychrun has Norris Trophy potential; however, Sanheim brings greater security. With Chychrun, the team is hoping he rediscovers his game from last season and takes the next step to be a consistently elite defenseman. With Sanheim, they already know he is an elite defenseman and there’s no guesswork.

Jakob Chychrun Arizona Coyotes
Jakob Chychrun, Arizona Coyotes (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

That being said, it’s still fair to say that Chychrun is the higher-value asset, as his potential is higher. That’s another reason to target Sanheim instead, though, the cost will be lower to acquire him instead of Chychrun. I’ve been vocal about my desire for the Kings to get Chychrun, but it’s hard to justify giving up the massive haul to acquire him if he is expected to be the second-best defenseman for his entire time with the team. It’s fair to say that Drew Doughty is the better player now, and by the time Chyrchrun surpasses Doughty, Clarke could easily be the best blueliner on the team. Is giving up three or four high-value assets worth a second-pairing defenseman? Probably not.

The Cost of Sanheim

The news of Sanheim possibly being available is still very new, so it’s difficult to know what he would cost. It’s safe to assume he would cost less than Chychrun, but he won’t be cheap. It’s important to remember what the Flyers will be after as well, it’s unlikely that they’re heading towards a full-scale rebuild, and at most will do a small re-tool. Meaning, they’ll want players who’re either NHL ready, or very close to it. I would also assume they would want a defenseman back in the deal. With Cam York easily able to play the left side, a right-shot defenseman could be enticing for the Flyers, a perfect setup for the Kings.

Sean Durzi Los Angeles Kings
Sean Durzi, Los Angeles Kings (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Sure to be an unpopular opinion, this gives the Kings a few good options to trade. Durzi, Spence, and Grans. Realistically, if we’re assuming the Flyers want more NHL-ready prospects, that just leaves Durzi and Spence. Yes, Durzi has been a revelation on the blue line, and Spence has been incredibly impressive this season. It’s also important to remember that both players’ long-term future with the team is still up in the air. In addition to these two, you have Clarke, who will almost certainly be better than both, Grans and Brock Faber. The team is stacked on the right side of defense and could afford to part with a high-value prospect. Of course, one of these players alone wouldn’t get the deal across the line, what else do the Flyers need? Center prospect, once again, perfect for the Kings.

Related: Kings’ Anderson Injury Will Lead to Blue Line Shuffling

If the Kings send one of Durzi or Spence to the Flyers, it means a player like Gabe Vilardi or Alex Turcotte is not heading to Philadelphia, and they’d be getting a B or B+ center prospect. Despite spending a lot of time at wing this season, Jaret Anderson-Dolan would be a good option — he’s lit up the American Hockey League (AHL) this season, and proved during the 2020-21 season that he can play center in the NHL. If the Kings want to avoid giving up an early draft pick, they could also add Rasmus Kupari into the mix, although I’d love for the team to keep him. Again, it’s hard to predict this deal, and maybe I’m overvaluing the Kings’ prospects while undervaluing Sanheim. A package in the ballpark of Durzi or Spence plus Anderson-Dolan or Kupari, and a draft pick that changes depending on the forward should at least start the conversation.

Kings Would Fill a Need With Sanheim

If — and that’s a big if — Sanheim is available, he would fill an organizational need, at a cheaper cost than someone like Chychrun. This is a deal that is more likely to happen during the offseason than at this season’s deadline, but the Kings should start the conversation now. With the team further along in their rebuild than most expected and a big splash over the summer could signal a new era for Kings hockey. This deal could answer a big question for the team, without costing them their highest value assets, a perfect deal if executed correctly.

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