It looked like a perfect match.
Two big guys with skating speed, puckhandling skills and a penchant for jumping up in the play.
Defensemen Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers looked like they were made for each other and through most of the 2019-20 season, that’s exactly the way it went.
In fact, Myers led all defensemen with a plus-17 and Sanheim also finished on the plus side at plus-4. It looked like the perfect complement as the No. 2 pairing behind Ivan Provorov and Matt Niskanen.
But then Niskanen retired, the signing of free agent Erik Gustafsson didn’t work out and things sort of fell into disarray.
It didn’t help that Myers suffered a rib cage injury early in the season and then was shuttled in and out of the lineup by coach Alain Vigneault for sub-par play.
Things hit rock bottom on March 17 during an embarrassing 9-0 loss at the New York Rangers when both Sanheim and Myers finished a rather ridiculous minus-6.
For the season, Sanheim wound up at minus-22 and Myers minus-10.
Granted, the team finished last in goals allowed (201 in 56 games) and was a collective minus-38, but when a defense pairing is a combined minus-32, that’s part of the problem, not the solution.
So what happened?
“I think me and Phil had good stretches, had a good games,’’ Sanheim said during a media Zoom call on Tuesday. “Obviously, you can look at the Rangers game and a couple others where you are minus. Saying that, it’s a team effort and a lot of other areas that were issues as well. We both want to be better. We want to play together. We want to succeed. I can’t pinpoint one area, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that it was all bad.’’
In fairness, Sanheim did improve toward the end of the season and coach Alain Vigneault put him up with Provorov down the stretch.
But might we see Sanheim and Myers back together next season? Sanheim is a left-handed shooter and Myers a right-hander, so the two seem to have some chemistry together.
“You got to jump right back into a full schedule again,’’ Sanheim pointed out. “There’s a lot of areas that were stressful on our group. Me going minus six against New York, to be able to mentally come back the next night and play against the Islanders, that’s challenging. That was a good experience for me honestly. It’s going to make me a better player. It’s going to make me understand those situations better because it’s going to happen again.
“At the end of the day, some of the best players in the world still have off nights, have nights where the puck’s just not going their way. Learn from those areas and be better next season.’’
Myers has shown a lot of potential. It appears he just has to get on the same page with Vigneault.
“Obviously it was disappointing not making the playoffs,’’ Myers said. “The season didn’t go as planned. There were some good things and all we have to do is build off of that. Hit the reset button this summer, have a good summer of training and come back ready for camp.’’
Speaking of camp, if the Flyers start on time with the rest of the NHL on Sept. 22, it should give players such as Myers more time to go over strategy and technique with the coaching staff.
“Definitely,’’ Myers said. “For a while last summer I had to work out at my house. We didn’t really have the ice time we usually do.
“I’m looking forward to seeing my family this summer and forget about it (hockey) for a while. I’ve got a lot of motivation this summer.’’
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I still think AV and his staff are the biggest problem! They couldn’t adapt and failed repeatedly to get this team on track.