Flyers
From savior to waivers, Shayne Gostisbehere’s Flyers career has seen it all. But has it seen its end? We’ll find out at noon tomorrow. (Len Redkoles-NHLI via Getty Images)

Somehow, nearly losing to the Buffalo Sabres is not the most frustrating thing that the Flyers have done within the last twenty-four hours. Well, it’s close. In a stunning move, the Flyers announced that defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere has been placed on waivers.

There are so many angles you can take this news it’s hard to wrap your head around all of them. Gostisbehere has two years left on his six-year deal after this season at a $4.5 million cap hit, per CapFriendly. There are nineteen teams with at least that much cap space. Plenty of solid players making big money like Tyler Johnson ($5 million for three more years) and Adam Henrique ($5.825 million, also three more years) have passed through waivers unclaimed due in part to the financial burdens caused by COVID-19.

A lot of teams are outright refusing to take on money right now, and with two full years left on his deal, claiming Gostisbehere isn’t exactly a risk-free move. Though the potential reward of revitalizing Gostisbehere seems likely to intrigue someone enough to take the risk. There’s a decent chance he gets claimed, but it’s certainly not a lock given the financial implications.

How Has Gostisbehere Played This Season?

Gostisbehere has played just about everywhere in the Flyers lineup this season. After missing the first six games of the season on the league’s COVID list, Ghost received an immediate look with Ivan Provorov on the top pair. it was a risk coming off a nightmare 2019-20 season that saw him healthy scratched repeatedly down the stretch and in the playoffs. But Ghost was definitely a pleasant surprise early in the year. His two-way game improved dramatically, and he and Provorov seemed to have rediscovered some of the chemistry during their magical 2017-18 runs.

However, even though Gostisbehere’s offense has returned (6 points in his last 9 games), his defensive play has fallen off a little bit. Gostisbehere has and never will be an elite defender. But at his best, he masks that through puck possession and offensive instincts. Ghost’s possession numbers aren’t incredible this year, (48.49% Corsi, 51.01% xG at 5-on-5, score and venue adjusted), but he hasn’t been an outright liability, either. Though it’s worth noting just two of his eleven points have come at 5-on-5.

You could argue he’s been one of the Flyers’ better defensemen this year, which is more a statement of how awful the Flyers’ defense as a whole has been. You know it’s bad when Gostisbehere goes from being healthy scratched three straight games right to the top pair. The Flyers’ defensive problems obviously stem beyond one player. But the coaching staff and front office have determined they don’t think Gostisbehere can do enough to help it improve.

Remembering the Ghost Bear

Whether or not another team claims him, this move officially signifies a stunning fall from grace. Gostisbehere lit the world on fire after a mid-season call-up in November 2015, scoring 46 points in 64 games. Quickly earning the nicknames “Ghost” and “the Ghost Bear” from his last name and elusive play-style, Gostisbehere set an NHL record for longest point streak by a rookie defenseman and longest point streak by a Flyers rookie at 15 games. He scored four overtime winners, assisted on another, and finished second in Calder Trophy voting behind Artemi Panarin. He earned a spot on Team North America for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in the fall. The 2013 3rd round pick out of Union College appeared to be a star in the making.

Unfortunately, the good times didn’t last forever. Gostisbehere went through a sophomore slump in 2016-17, scoring 39 points while being healthy scratched multiple times by then-head coach Dave Hakstol. That got to Gostisbehere. In his exit interview after the team missed the playoffs, Gostisbehere said, “I’m going to make plays and I don’t care if I get yelled at but I’m going to play my game and make my plays. People can look at i(t) as risky but most of the time it works out for me.”

It sure seemed like Gostisbehere was right about that the following season. Ghost scored a career-high 65 points, the fourth most by a defenseman. He finished 10th in Norris Trophy voting. It seemed like things were back on track. But then Gostisbehere sputtered out a season similar to 2016-17 in 2018-19. His chemistry with Provorov disappeared, and Ghost dropped down the lineup as a result. Ghost only scoring 37 points and was healthy scratched near the end of the year. With Alain Vigneault hired less than a month after that scratch, there was hope a new coach could set Ghost back on the right path, making last year was a pivotal test for Gostisbehere’s future.

As previously mentioned, he basically bombed it. Gostisbehere registered just 12 points in 41 games. His underlying numbers somewhat fell off a cliff (51.04% Corsi, 46.49% xG). That’s despite starting 60.31% percent of his face-offs in the offensive zone (3rd most of 177 NHL defenseman, min. 600 5-on-5 minutes). And he missed all but one game from January 7 to March 9 after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee (the same knee he tore his ACL in the AHL in 2014). Gostisbehre could’ve returned sooner, but with the Flyers surging, Vigneault didn’t want to break up his top-six. And while there were times in the bubble where he looked like his old self, Gostisbehere was healthy scratched for eleven of sixteen playoff games.

As mentioned, Gostisbehere has looked a bit like his old self at times in 2021. But with not nearly enough consistency to be the 20-minute a night player he was in 2015-16 and 2017-18. He’s still an outstanding power-play quarterback (12th in PP points since 2015-16 with 104). Many people have theorized that a change of scenery could bring out the Ghost Bear Flyers fans once fell in love with. It looks we’re about to find out if they’re right.

What Happens Now?

The salary cap definitely plays a role in this decision. General manager Chuck Fletcher probably could’ve traded Gostisbehere if he was willing to retain salary. But Carter Hart, Travis Sanheim, Nolan Patrick, and Scott Laughton (the lone UFA on that group), among others, need new contracts this summer. Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux (both UFAs) will be up the next year. Cap space is already at a premium for the Flyers and likely will be for a while.

If no one claims Gostisbehere, his $4.5 million cap hit will be the reason why (though he only makes $3.25 million this year and next in actual dollars). If he clears, the Flyers would then be able to move him on and off the taxi squad like they’ve been doing with waiver-exempt players to bank more cap space. The Flyers currently have $2.7 million in cap space, the 22nd most in the NHL. Vigneault noted as much when discussing the move.

From this comment, AV doesn’t sound particularly worried about the possibility of Gostisbehere being claimed. I hope he’s right.

If you’re not familiar, here’s how waivers work in the NHL. Every team can place a claim on Gostisbehere within the next 24 hours. If no one places a claim, Gostisbehere remains in Philly. Should one team place a claim, they’d get Gostisbehere at his full contract. If multiple teams place a claim, the team with the worst record/highest waiver position receives Ghost and his full contract.

The Buffalo Sabres, who the Flyers play tomorrow, have top priority as the league’s worst team. They have only $1.7 million of cap space right now but could clear up more by placing Jack Eichel or Jake McCabe on long-term injured reserve. That’s right; it’s possible Gostisbehere could be playing against the Flyers as soon as tomorrow night.

It’s certainly sad to see Gostisbehere’s Flyers career, which started on such a historic high, potentially end this way. As he emerged as a dynamic talent at Union College, Gostisbehere, Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Samuel Morin, and Robert Hagg were heralded as the saviors of the Flyers blue-line. Phil Myers eventually joined that group, too. While all but Morin dressed for Philly’s first series-clinching win since 2012 in the bubble, it’s say to safe they haven’t lived up to the lofty expectations.

Maybe Ghost’s contract scares off potential suitors and he gets another chance to turn things around in Philly. It’s a very plausible if not probable scenario. And the one bright spot, if he is claimed, is that it could unfurl a red carpet for top prospect Cam York to walk down to make his NHL debut sooner rather than later. But this feels like the final nail in the coffin of any chance for the elite Shayne Gostisbehere we all know and love to ever resurface in Orange and Black.

(Perhaps) one final time: 👻🐻

😭😭😭

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Advanced Stats via Natural Stat Trick; Salary Cap Info from CapFriendly