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Flyers Mailbag: Is Shayne Gostisbehere overrated?

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You asked, and we answered.

Heather Barry - SB Nation ©

Well, they’re still in it. Thanks to losses by both the Montreal Canadiens and the Carolina Hurricanes, the Flyers are still not mathematically eliminated heading into their contest with the Hurricanes tomorrow. But, prior to all that action, we went and asked the fine folks of Twitter dot com for some questions to discuss, and you folks, as always, delivered.

Starting off with a biggie. No, I don’t think so, and that’s not to say that I think he’s had a good season by any means — he hasn’t — but I do believe that the player we saw last season was the real Shayne Gostisbehere, and, well, he was very good last season. And I know there’s the pattern of “one good year, one bad year” that people like to use when discussing Ghost, but I don’t see it that way. His 2016-2017 campaign was an anomaly of a season where he’d been doing all of the right things, getting none of the puck luck, and getting scratched by a bad coach. So this, to me, is one bad season out of four. And it’s not even that bad.

Yes, his flaws have been on display recently in a big way. However, prior to the big mistake he made in the third period of the Flyers’ game against the Maple Leafs, he was having a positive night. In the second period especially, he was setting up plenty of scoring chances, making smart reads defensively, and was continuously getting the puck out of the Flyers’ own and starting an attack the other way. On the season as a whole, Gostisbehere has a Corsica-adjusted 49.54 Corsi-For percentage (CF%) at 5-on-5, and a +2.2 CF% relative to his team. He grades out similarly in weighted shot metrics, with a 49.27 Expected Goals-For percentage (xGF%), +1.02% relative. Unsurprisingly, his PDO (on-ice shooting percentage plus on-ice save percentage) sits at 97.64, a full two points lower than his expected PDO, which is based on the quality of shots both for and against the Flyers while he’s on the ice. Visually he hasn’t looked good for the majority of the season, but even with those struggles the Flyers have performed better with Gostisbehere on the ice versus when he’s been off of it. He can be, and has been, a top pair defenseman in this league. Getting him to play at that level again will be the challenge moving forward.

Tying this into our first question, my immediate reaction is no, mainly because I do not see Jacob Trouba’s highs being as monumental as Ghost’s highs. Still, such a swap would see the Flyers add a good, right-shot defenseman who’d play in the top-four and likely carve out a role on the penalty kill. That’s ... pretty ideal. But here’s the thing: Trouba’s statistical profile this season is worse than Ghost’s. From HockeyViz, at 5-on-5 the Jets have generated about league average offense with Trouba on the ice, -1% threat, up from the team’s -7% without Trouba. However defensively, both with and without Trouba, the Jets have seen 4% higher threat relative to the rest of the league. He hasn’t moved the needle defensively at all this season. Gostisbehere on the other hand, has reduced the amount of dangerous chances that the Flyers give up.

HockeyViz
HockeyViz

See that dark blue blob in the first visualization? Notice how it’s on the right side of the ice, right where Gostisbehere plays? Yeah, that’s no coincidence. I understand why so many people are down on Ghost, I am as well based on my own super high expectations, but my take on a Ghost for Trouba one-for-one swap is that the Flyers would be downgrading.

Well if Gostisbehere’s sophomore season is a sign of things to come, Gritty will have awful luck, not participate in a couple of games, and start to be doubted by everyone. OK, sorry, we’ll be moving on from talking about Ghost now, I promise.

I have a prediction, well, maybe it’s more just what I want to happen rather than a prediction. But, with the hope that universe is reading this very post, maybe my wish can be granted. So, million dollar idea: Hart & Grit, a Flyers TV mini series where Carter Hart and Gritty do, I don’t know, anything. You know those videos of Gritty and Scott Hartnell that we got to watch this season? Those, but purposefully cheesier. Anyway, who wouldn’t watch that? Please give this to me, it’s all that I want.

Well that and eternal happiness for Hart. Two very simple requests if you ask me.

Without a doubt in my mind I believe this team’s biggest need is another top-six center. I like Nolan Patrick, I think he’s going to be very good, but at the same time I am nowhere near comfortable starting next season with him as the Flyers’ second line center. In my unrealistic dream world, the Flyers sign Brayden Point to an offer sheet this Summer and have one of the best one-two punches in the league at center with him and Sean Couturier. Now, if that very easy to do, very reasonable ask isn’t met, I guess I could see them making a play for Kevin Hayes, assuming Winnipeg doesn’t decide to re-sign him. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous about the idea of potentially signing Hayes to a long-term deal after him scoring at a 68-point pace this season after never surpassing 50 in his career prior. His shot metrics are positive this year as well, but again this isn’t a case where his history suggested that a breakout was imminent.

They could end up signing Matt Duchene as well, and while I do think he’s a very skilled hockey player, as a believer in the inexplicable, he’s cursed. And I don’t want the Flyers to be cursed. Stay away. But one of the other big names potentially leaving Columbus is someone who the Flyers should absolutely be in on, and that’s Artemi Panarin.

A perennial front-runner for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie, Panarin has been consistently great ever since joining the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015, and would instantly become the Flyers’ second-best winger behind only Claude Giroux. It’s been said that he wants to play in New York and to that I say: Philadelphia is close to New York, what if you just visit NYC every so often? That’d work, right? On my off-season wish list, he’s at the very top.

As far a defensemen go, assuming Erik Karlsson signs with San Jose, Jake Gardiner is pretty much the only pending unrestricted free agent that I think the Flyers should pursue. I think stylistically he’d gel very well with Radko Gudas, but if the Flyers were to keep Gudas and sign Gardiner, the blue line would get a little crowded. Then again, they’d also have the potential to ice their best defensive corps in a long time with the following pairs:

Provorov - Sanheim

Gardiner - Gudas

Gostisbehere - Myers

Now that, that’s a defense I can get behind.

Another route they could take on the defensive side of things would be trading for Colin Miller, who’s been a healthy scratch at times for Vegas this season because ... reasons. His value is as low as it’s going to get and he’s a right-shot defenseman on a team-friendly contract that’s always had good underlying numbers. If you live by the buy low, sell high motto, Miller would be a perfect buy for the Flyers this Summer.

Yes, it’d one-hundred percent be worth it. Point just turned 23 years old two weeks ago and may break the 100-point mark this season. And it’s not all because of Nikita Kucherov, Point has been an outstanding player really since his debut. I don’t care who he blocks, I don’t care who Tampa selects with those picks, I’d take Point-Couturier down the middle for the next decade any day of the week. This team is already pretty young and ideally all four of the first round picks going Tampa’s way in this scenario would be late firsts anyway. And if they weren’t, well that’s just a disaster.

They’d be adding a superstar who’s just entered his prime to the team without having to give up a single roster player; those opportunities just don’t present themselves often.

Joel Farabee. Okay, so that was a lay-up, but seriously outside of Farabee, I’d have to say defenseman Egor Zamula. He finished his draft plus-1 regular season with 56 points in 61 games, and has three assists in four playoff games thus far. To put that into perspective, Philippe Myers had 45 points in 63 games during his D+1 season, plus 16 points in 20 playoff games. Zamula, right now, is better than Myers was in each of their respective junior careers and we all know how bright Myers’ future looks. Plus, Zamula pretty much held his own in the Flyers’ preseason as an 18-year old. Sure it’s preseason, but it’s still NHL hockey and that’s impressive. He has the potential to be very, very good.

But maybe the most interesting player to watch will be Mikhail Vorobyev. After being unable to stick in the NHL following a very strong showing in camp and the preseason, can he repeat or better his performance from this year’s camp? And if he can, will he be able to carry it over to the regular season? Those are two big questions that will have to be answered.

Speaking of prospects ...

... Nicolas Aube-Kubel is another one to watch in camp. Does the Michael Raffl signing hinder Aube-Kubel’s chances at making the roster? Yeah, for sure. But I don’t think it means that he has no chance at making the team now. As the roster currently stands, the final two forward lines consist of one of Oskar Lindblom or James van Riemsdyk, Scott Laughton, Ryan Hartman, Raffl, and, if they go out and add a second line center, Patrick. That leaves one, maybe two open spots up for grabs for the likes of Aube-Kubel, Vorobyev, Morgan Frost, and Justin Bailey, among others, to battle for. That’s more names than spots available, but he still could make the team out of camp.

So no, I don’t think Aube-Kubel has been ruled out for next season. But we should assume that his chances have decreased, even if only marginally.

I think it’ll be in play, and I’m certainly not against trading it. It’s time for this team to start being competitive, and if that first round draft pick can land them a top-six center or a middle pair defenseman, they have to do it. Maybe they could do something like package the pick with Robert Hagg and get Jared Spurgeon from Minnesota — that’d be beneficial move to make, even if he’s a bit older than the younger core.

Or, if you’re like me and not enthused about the UFA centers out there, maybe you use the pick to trade for someone like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins from Edmonton to fill the second line center spot in the lineup. The point is, if you can make a trade that helps the team both now, and in the future, you do it. If that type of trade doesn’t present itself, make the pick. If I had to guess, I would guess that the pick does get moved for a roster player.


Thanks to everyone who submitted a question, and apologies if I didn’t answer yours! It’s been a very unusual and incredibly frustrating season, but this team truly can have a quick turnaround with a couple of smart moves during the off-season.

Now go start thinking of plot lines for Hart & Grit, Flyers’ creative team.