The blueline is a mess right now. Turnovers galore followed by blown assignments, there isn’t much to be positive about when it comes to the defense. Sure, it hurts that Philippe Myers is out for another few weeks. It’s unfortunate that the three million dollar man Erik Gustafsson keeps losing the puck in his skates. It is also terrible that the Flyers are relying on third-pairing players to fill the void on the first pair with Ivan Provorov. The list goes on.
The Flyers have reserves. They have Mark Friedman filling in while Phil Myers is recovering. While he isn’t quite what Myers is, he’s filling in as well as you could expect. Samuel Morin, while technically a left winger now, could transition back to defense if need be. Lo and behold, former 60-point scorer Shayne Gostisbehere is waiting in the wings for another opportunity.
Ghost was in COVID protocol this past week, but was cleared after the team left for Boston. Gostisbehere is skating with the team, but it remains unclear if he will get the opportunity to slot back into the lineup. With the defense struggling, now might be the time to see if Shayne Gostisbehere has anything left to offer. At this point, why not? He’s signed through the 2022/23 season, so he could be in it for the long haul anyway. The guy has shown glimpses where he can provide a much-needed boost offensively. While the defense is lacking, what’s the harm in injecting him into a lineup that already is having problems on that side of the puck?
Early NHL Career
Drafted in the third round of the 2012 NHL Draft, Ghost signed his entry-level deal two years later in 2014. Slated to play the 2014/15 season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Gostisbehere suffered a torn ACL that ended his year. He would heal up and rejoin the team the very next season. After one month of the 2015/16 season, Gostisbehere was called up to the Flyers. He recorded an assist in his first ever game, and tallied his first goal in his fourth NHL game. Shayne recorded 46 points in 64 games that season, the 17th most among NHL defensemen. He was second in Calder Trophy voting to Artemi Panarin. Ghost started out his career better than most could have imagined, giving everyone hope that the Flyers had found their pillar on the blueline to build around for years to come.
He followed up his rookie campaign with 39 points in 76 games. You could call it a down year or a sophomore slump. Reality is, Ghost was then considered a player to plan against. Teams had their eye on the 23 year-old defenseman and did whatever they could to prevent him from landing on the scoresheet night in and night out. While proving difficult, they still managed to hold him to seven goals and 32 assists on the season. Promptly after the 2016/17 season, Ghost signed a six year extension worth $27 million, $4.5 million annually.
The 65-Point Season
Gostisbehere entered the 2017/18 season with something to prove. After signing a solid extension (thanks Ron,) Ghost came out guns blazing, posting the best numbers of his career to-date. He finished the season with 65 points in 78 games, good for fourth among defensemen in the NHL. His $4.5 million annually was beginning to look like a bargain considering the output and things were looking up. His partner for a majority of the year was Ivan Provorov who amassed the most points in a season to this date, 41 points in 82 games.
Flyers fans and analysts alike began to think the Flyers had their top pairing for the foreseeable future. Gostisbehere and Provorov were fantastic that year, accounting for almost 59% (106 of 181) of all points scored by the 10 defenseman who suited up for a game that year. Provorov was blossoming before our very eyes, and Gostisbehere was the offensive dynamo that we knew he was capable of being.
2018 and Beyond
Gostisbehere came into the 2018/19 season with expectations sky-high. Even after a sub-par playoff outing against the Penguins during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, fans were expecting him to return to his regular season form. He began the season with four points in the first 10 games, a slight dip from his 11 points in his first 10 games the season prior. An injury in late January had him miss a handful of games, but he came back and put up eight points in 13 games during the month of February.
Over the course of the rest of the season, Ghost posted nine points (3g, 6a) in the final 17 games. Of course, not bad numbers for a defenseman. However, he posted 28 less points during the 2018/19 campaign in the same amount of games as the season prior. Not the dip fans wanted to see, but there were bigger concerns. Gostisbehere’s knee injury that he suffered earlier in the season was still bothering him. While his defensive play was never his strongest asset, it had seen a noticeable dip over the course of the season.
After the 2018/19 season, the Flyers changed things up in a big way. With Chuck Fletcher now at the helm instead of Ron Hextall, Fletch brought in Alain Vigneault as the new bench boss along with Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun to help bolster the blueline. With the new acquisitions, Gostisbehere’s name surfaced on the trading block. The rumor mill swirled all last season. Shayne Gostisbehere fell more and more out of favor in Philadelphia. After playing a good chunk of the games at the beginning of the season, Ghost became a healthy scratch in late November. Early in 2020, Ghost suffered a setback.
His knee injury became too much after trying to play through, so Ghost opted for arthroscopic surgery. The recovery time was three weeks. On February sixth, Ghost returned against the New Jersey Devils. He played that one game and was healthy scratched afterwards. It came about that he was still dealing with issues in his knee and was eventually loaned to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms for a conditioning stint late in February. He returned for one game at the end of the season against Boston, then played in the Tampa Bay round robin game, three games against the Canadiens, and one against the Isles in the playoffs.
What’s Happening Now?
Ghost came into the 2020/21 season the healthiest he’s ever been according to him. Chuck Fletcher seemed impressed by his training camp. Colby Cohen said on the Snow the Goalie podcast that the plan was to pair him with Ivan Provorov to try and regain some of that 2017/18 magic. All that was nixed after Gostisbehere was placed in COVID protocol, eventually disclosing that he had COVID-19. Practice on Monday gave us a glimpse of what we might expect entering Tuesday night’s tilt against the New Jersey Devils.
By the look of things, Shayne Gostisbehere is going to end up slotting in for Erik Gustafsson. Now healthy, it makes sense considering Gustafsson’s play as of late. This begs the question: is this Gostisbehere’s last shot?
It’s a difficult question to answer with just a yes or no. It’s plausible that if Ghost goes out and lays an egg, it could be attributed to the defense just being bad as a whole. If he comes in and the defense starts playing better, obviously it’ll look much better for the 27 year-old defenseman. Ghost is essentially in a win-win situation here. While it may irk fans that Ghost may be given a pass considering many think he’s already been given one too many, it seems he’s being put in the best position to succeed with Ivan Provorov as his partner.
This is the best shot that Shayne Gostisbehere has at reclaiming a regular roster spot. The absence of Matt Niskanen has become more glaring than initially thought, and Gostisbehere is seemingly tasked with filling that hole. While the task is tall, it’s likely his job that he’s playing for. You find out a lot about a player when their back is up against the wall. This season, we could really find out what Shayne Gostisbehere is made of.
Photo Credit – Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire