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Flyers Season Report Card: Defensemen

It’s no secret that the Flyers defense as a whole struggled for a sizable chunk of the season. They bled high-danger chances, and with largely below-average goaltending, the Flyers dug themselves into a massive hole.

Fortunately, it seems there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Led by Travis Sanheim’s rapid development, the defense corps has a lot to like for next season and beyond.

These ratings are given to the seven defensemen the Flyers used for the majority of games.

Travis Sanheim: A-

The 23 year old finished his first full NHL season with 35 points (26 assists) and offensive talent to rival any Flyers blueliner.

Sanheim showed more of a knack for quarterbacking a powerplay than teammate Ivan Provorov, though he didn’t get a lot of time on either unit. Living up to his first-round pedigree (17th overall, 2014 Draft), Sanheim’s confidence to make flashier plays increased with each night.

30 of his 35 points came at even-strength. Defensively, Sanheim graded out well, with just about 50/50 possession statistics playing 20-25 minutes per game. His even-strength success came despite the majority of his deployment coming in the defensive end (52.4% of faceoffs).

Sanheim is due a new contract as a 2019 RFA. Should he sign quickly, he’s been invited to Worlds. He had a good season, and leaves us a promising outlook for the 2019-20 campaign.

Radko Gudas: B+

Radko is the veteran of the bunch at just 28 years old. He may have just had his most consistent season to date, posting some of the best defensive numbers among Flyer defenders.

Via Benjamin Gabrych’s research, Gudas ranked seventh lowest among team defensemen in high-danger chances against. Say what you will about hit totals, but Gudas ranked among the NHL’s leaders in the category alongside teammate Robert Hagg for the majority of the season.

Notoriously trigger-happy, Gudas fires pucks from the point on what seems like every time he touches the puck. This is great for his Corsi ratings, and he legitimately kept a lot of opposing chances to the outside and away from his net.

Despite all of this, his future in Philadelphia remains uncertain. Under contract for one more year at a $3.35M cap hit, Gudas may be pushed farther down the depth chart if he isn’t sent away as part of a trade package. GM Chuck Fletcher stated that he will be looking to add a veteran defenseman to the mix, and guys like Phil Myers and Sam Morin will be pushing for regular ice time.

Phil Myers: B-

Myers impressed the Philadelphia fanbase after playing 21 games with the big club. It’s his first taste of the NHL, and he looks poised for a good “sophomore” season.

By no means is his NHL spot locked in– all he’s done is given himself some extra brownie points– but Myers certainly looked as though he belonged. At 6’5″ tall, Myers’ reach proved highly effective at disrupting blue-line entries.

Watch Myers reach around the attacker, poke the puck free, and get body position to take it the other way.

Before his call-up, the undrafted rookie was a leader among all defensemen in the AHL in even strength, 5v5 scoring. In all, Myers totaled 33 points in 53 AHL games this season. In a couple of weeks, it will have been one year since he racked up 66 minutes of playing time in a single game.

Ivan Provorov: C+

This was probably the most disappointing follow up season on the roster.

Just one year after pacing all NHL defensemen with 17 goals, the 22 year old recorded career lows in assists, points, and the lowest CF% (Corsi For % at Even Strength) of his three year career.

While he’s never missed a game since joining the Flyers, Provorov was a ghost of his former self for a large portion of the early season. Things began to look up as the season progressed– he seemed to be fighting the puck much less often. Rumors of his shoulder injury from the previous April swirled, but Provorov isn’t one to admit that.

Provorov’s down year could prove massively helpful for Philadelphia’s salary cap. It’s expected that number 9 signs his new deal in the coming days, but the numbers are more of a mystery. There’s nothing to worry about, however. Provorov has openly expressed his love for the team and Philadelphia.

The Flyers need Provorov at his peak potential if they hope to contend next season.

Shayne Gostisbehere: C-

“Ghost” is becoming the popular trading chip for armchair GM’s in the fanbase.

His lowest point total of his career came despite generally positive possession metrics across the board. His offensive zone deployment was, coincidentally, the lowest of his career at “just” 56.8%.

Gostisbehere is another defenseman that Philadelphia needs to have a bounce-back season. He’s still the best powerplay quarterback on the team, despite Sanheim’s emergence.

He played arguably the most physical game of his career outdoors at the Stadium Series, possibly a show of frustration. Ghost is a leader in the locker room at just 25 years old, with a relatively cheap cap hit for his role on the team. That being said, the Flyers would like to have him north of 45 points with the talent surrounding him next season.

Andrew MacDonald: D

As the season progressed, MacDonald continued to be outplayed in all facets of the game. Playing just 47 games, MacDonald tallied nine assists and zero goals for his lowest point total since 2015-16.

Playing the fewest minutes per game of his ten year career (16:24) by a wide margin, MacDonald isn’t anything more than a plug and pray seventh defenseman. At a brutal $5M cap hit, he’s certainly a buyout candidate– but with the current cap situation of the Flyers, Chuck Fletcher may ride out the final year of the deal.

The locker room seems to enjoy having him around, and he managed to find himself wearing the alternate captain’s “A”, but MacDonald is cooked.

Robert Hagg: D-

Hagg hits people. In fact, he led the NHL in hits by a defenseman.

That’s great and all, but that pretty easily translates to “Hagg never had the puck, and spent the majority of his ice time chasing the puck carriers”.

While still a young defender, a position that can take years to develop, Hagg’s shot and possession metrics were– to be polite– garbage. He ranked among the very, very bottom of the NHL regarding advanced statistics.

He won’t be very missed if his lineup spot were to be overtaken, but, while rare, Hagg showed flashes of skill in the offensive zone.

A highlight from last season, yes, but it wasn’t exactly a highlight season for him.

To Hagg’s credit, he produced 20 points. That’s tied with Radko Gudas for fourth among defensemen on the club. All of his points came at even strength, and his penalty minutes (63) are inflated via multiple phantom high-sticking calls.

If Hagg can clean up his defensive work, he’s a solid, third pairing guy on a cheap deal. At 23 years old, there’s still plenty of time for him to be a productive player. The Flyers shouldn’t quite give up on him yet.

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